by Sophia Hsu


When you walk down 9th Avenue in Manhattan, what images do you conjure? A wide thoroughfare, a crush of taxis? What else? So many Thai restaurants – more than one on a single block. After an event at the Javits Center or a Broadway show, you, like me, are looking for a lovely sit-down meal to share with your companions to end the night on a high note. Yum Yum Shokudo provides the perfect ambience for you to chat over dinner companions, share a drink, and enjoy an artfully prepared meal of Japanese comfort food. Or partake of some unique late night bar snacks and a nightcap on the way home from your day of adventure.


Japanese comfort food is warm like a hug, hearty and fresh. It invokes images of the sea, the mountains, and grassy meadows. The new menu features a variety of small dishes that can be and should be paired with a beer, cocktail, or sake from Yum Yum’s curated list. Also on the menu is a solid list of sushi rolls and hot bowls of ramen, udon, and rice dishes that delightfully fill you up. As we peruse the menu, the kitchen sends out a plate of tuna tartar, a dragon roll, and a meltin’ salmon roll. Nira offers beverage pairings to the dishes as we snap photos and start digging into the appetizers. The tuna tartar is sweet from freshness and savory from the salty sea. The creamy avocado and spicy mayonnaise provide both a contrast in flavor and texture to the cold tuna. The dragon roll and meltin’ salmon roll layer crunchy and creamy textures between tempura batter and melty cream cheese. Each dish balances textures, presentation, flavors, and fragrances for an aesthetically pleasing, whole experience.


As the next few dishes are brought out, I ask Nira Jeta of the Yum Yum Group about the transition from the very popular Yum Yum 3 to Soba Sui and now Yum Yum Shokudo. She explains that with the oversaturation of Thai restaurants on the avenue, sustaining another Thai restaurant was becoming impossible. Older fixtures of the Thai restaurant scene were closing their doors in light of all of the competition. Newer establishments were already shuttering because they could not draw crowds away from the more established locales. This called for disruptive innovation.


In recent years, Japanese food has seen a resurgence beyond sushi. So, when the Yum Yum Group looked around their neighborhood and saw a lack of Japanese cuisine, they jumped at the chance to work with well-known, established Japanese cuisine executive chefs. One specialized in handmade soba noodles which produced the temporary collaboration called Soba Sui. Now, the current chef takes pride in his comfort food bringing with him the change in name to Yum Yum Shokudo. Shokudo in Japanese literally means cafeteria or diner – a perfect fit for Japanese diner fare and Japanese tapas to pair with drinks, simply delicious foods, quick and uncomplicated.


The chef sends out both his favorite dishes to prepare and to eat. A tenderly fried, creamy softshell crab is set on the table along with a recommendation from the chef to pair it with a light, crisp beer, one of his favorites to enjoy after a long shift in the hot kitchen. Immediately following the crab are plates of Berkshire pork sausages in the sweet and savory Japanese style and an attractively arranged plate of yellowtail carpaccio, sweet, spicy, and melts in your mouth. A plate of curry pork katsu don (over rice) is placed among the dishes featuring the dark brown curry sauce popular in Japan that is sweet and lightly spicy unlike a Thai or Indian curry. A hot, familiar bowl of shoyu ramen is presented and swiftly devoured. The chashu pork is beautifully marbled and melts in the mouth. Veggie miso ramen appears and disappears just as quickly.  A bowl of finely chopped, raw octopus marinated with fresh wasabi called tako wasa is brought out with glasses of crisp and fruity Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku sake. At the chef’s behest, the fresh octopus that smacks of salt air must be enjoyed with sips of cold sake, and to everyone’s surprise, it is an amazing combination. To end the meal, we enjoy a slice of matcha green tea Japanese cheesecake featuring a dense, creamy cheesecake layered over a thin, sponge cake. A wonderful autumn evening outside enjoying Japanese comfort food is a great way to begin the fall.