REVIEW: Yamabuki, Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel
Some friends are in town this weekend for Ubergeeklette's christening, and they kindly offered to babysit Ubergeeklette so Mrs Ubergeek and I could have an evening to ourselves. After trying and failing to get a table at Summit House (we have a gift certificate, hence the desire to go there) I called to get a table at Yamabuki.
It took nearly half an hour on the phone to Disney Dining (714-781-DINE) to get through, but once through I was offered my choice of prime dining times -- 7:00, 7:15, 7:30, 8:00... so I chose 7:15. I wondered why it was so open... stay tuned for why.
We pulled in to the Paradise Pier Hotel parking, wandered through the hotel, and out to Yamabuki, the entrance to which is actually outside the PPH.
We were greeted cordially by the usual Cast Member in costume and invited to go to the bar whilst our table was made ready. I ordered an unusually fruity drink for myself, a pear-and-cranberry "martini". The bartender had to look it up, but she got there -- and then, as I sipped the drink (not bad, but I wouldn't order it again, it smelled like pear Jelly Belly beans) the bartender had to try and figure out the new POS (point of sale) system, with help from a Cast Member named Mikiko. Finally, I chimed in with suggestions, and our bill was duly brought to us, by which time our table was ready. Happily, Mikiko was our waitress, which removed some of the stiltedness that can happen with service.
The menu is laid out in first-second-third course format, with first courses being sushi and sashimi, second courses being salads and appetisers, and third courses being mains. We ordered inari, a spider roll and toro sashimi for a first course, then I had ohitashi (cold asparagus and green beans in sesame vinaigrette) and Mrs Ubergeek had a Yamabuki Salad (greens, cucumbers, and citrus dressing) for seconds. Thirds were filet mignon with "Japanese ratatouille" for her and black cod in citrus sauce with pickled vegetables for me.
The seconds arrived first, which wasn't a big problem. Mrs Ubergeek loved her salad, though I wasn't into it -- the dressing was quite acidic -- and I loved my vegetables, which she wasn't into. The asparagus was perfectly cooked, the beans ditto, and the sauce wasn't overwhelmingly sesame-ish.
After a considerable wait (and many apologies by Mikiko) the sushi and sashimi came out. They didn't have toro, so we had ahi instead, and it was very good. I wasn't such a fan of the spider roll -- too sweet -- but the inari was the best inari I've had in years.
After another considerable wait (and more apologies by many Cast Members), the mains came out. Mrs Ubergeek's steak had been cut into slices and the vegetable ratatouille was in a large number of discrete pieces, since the utensils provided are chopsticks. She enjoyed it, and it was perfectly cooked to her order (medium rare), but she wouldn't order it again. My fish was perfectly cooked, but so blazingly hot that had I not eaten quickly, by the end it would have been overcooked. The pickled vegetables were tasty, though all sweet and none sesame or salty. The fish was cooked to that perfect state where it flakes apart but the flakes hold together -- the only possible condition for fish destined for chopsticks.
After the meal we were offered dessert, but to be honest, the desserts sounded contrived (things like green tea creme brulee) or overwrought (a chocolate-orange cake with coconut sorbet and Hawaiian passion fruit topping). We got the bill, which before discount came to $120 out the door tax and tip.
As we headed out into Downtown Disney in quest of dessert, Disney's California Adventure closed for the night. Everyone came spilling out into Downtown Disney and immediately queued up for dinner, and waits for a table, even at the bar, became 40-50-60-90 minutes. When we went back to the PPH to get the parking validated and go home, Yamabuki was hopping -- at 9:30 PM.
The good: the food was very, very well-prepared. Someone knows what he or she is doing in that kitchen. The decor was very subtle. The service was gracious and just enough self-effacing that you knew you were eating Japanese food.
The bad: the course pacing was off, with 20-30 minute waits between courses. It's in a Disney hotel, so any sense of occasion was gone due to kids melting down after too long a day in the theme parks. It would have been a bit more of a "nice place" had there been a bit more attention paid to traditional Japanese food presentation. It's not that it was ugly or sloppy, just the salad was mounded on a plate; the fish was in the centre of an unnecessarily large plate with three tiny mounds of pickled veg on one side.
Would we return? Absolutely. Would we recommend it? Yes, definitely. Should you drive down from West LA to go here? No... but if you're at Disneyland anyway you could do a lot worse.
1150 W Magic Way, Anaheim, CA 92802