It's rare that I leave a restaurant feeling bemused, especially if my experience is mostly positive. But that's what happened following my lunch at Yokushi Robata on Richmond Avenue in Greenway. The strip mall eatery has an austere but comfy izakaya-ish feel. That makes sense given its name—the word robata is applied to both to the charcoal grill intended for cooking up skewered meats and veggies, and the genre of restaurant the grill supplies. A cook prepares kushiyaki (skewered items) just behind a window, allowing diners a view of what's to come. But strangely, most of my fellow customers last week were eating pallid-looking ramen.
And while I took advantage of the robatayaki, it was not the highlight of my meal. A beef skewer with yuzu-wasabi marinade and a shower of dried seaweed was oversweet and dry enough to conjure gas station jerky. The other two sticks I tried were better—grill-blistered gingko nuts and tart and bright but undersauced chicken with ume and shiso—but not what I would hope for from a restaurant with "robata" in its name.
But strangely, the poke was pretty great. Poke at a Japanese spot? When the restaurant is owned by William Lim of Sushi Wabi, another nontraditional Japanese destination, apparently so. For those who start salivating like Pavlov's dogs for sushi at the very suggestion of Japanese food, the poke is the only raw fish option at Yokushi. Luckily, the ahi tuna bowl I tried was most satisfying.
The tangy, sweet sauce, dotted with chile flakes, clung to mango and cucumber cubes. I mention those first because there was more of both of those than there was tuna, which I didn't mind, in fact. It just made the fish that was there feel like a special treat each time a piece popped into my mouth. A pile of seaweed salad sat on top like a crown of slippery noodles.
I am happy to expound on my obsession with Japanese yoshoku cuisine, especially the India to England to Japan journey of the country's creamy curry, at any opportunity. But Yokushi takes an extra step west with a gratinéed layer of mozzarella. My dining partner was horrified at the idea, but even she had to admit that the hybrid of tender, lightly spiced beef stew with caramelized onions and sticky rice took on an even more awesome dimension of chicken Parm realness when it was sealed in a casserole dish with crisped cheese.
So bad it's good? Kind of. But it's also just plain delicious, if a little confusing. And I can't wait to eat it again, perhaps with a spot of poke.