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REVIEWS FROM OPEN TABLE DINERS
June 18, 2011 -        Food was fantastic...a fun vibe. We will return!
May 29, 2011 -        Everything was wonderful! I can't stop thinking about the roll I ordered and already                                       want to go back :)

    May 14, 2011 -        Fantastic Sushi! Excellent service and reasonably priced

    April 5, 2011 -
 Great sushi! I loved the ambiance! Will definitely go back!
March 25, 2011 -
We took advantage of the Restaurant Week offer and it was awesome. Great food at                                        an amazing price. YoSake has always been a favorite, but we were very impressed                                       with the Restaurant Week deal.
March 25, 2011 -
Excellent food and service. Great for a date.

CHEF PROFILE: Fans of sushi, pan-asian dishes just say Woo
Star News :  May 24, 2011

“Growing up, my dad was a chef,” said Josh Woo, 33, head chef of local pan-Asian hotspot YoSake.              “Even after he became a firefighter, my family always cooked. I've always liked the creativity.”  

Originally from Richmond, Va., Woo moved to the Port City in 1999. His career in professional cookery began soon after.

“I started working my way up through kitchens all over Wilmington,” Woo said. “The most significant experience was working at Port Land Grille. I really learned a lot there.”

In 2004, after graduating from a two-year culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., in just a year, Woo returned to Wilmington and once again began his rise through the ranks of the Port City's kitchens. When YoSake opened its doors in the historic Roudabush building in 2006, Woo was a part of the original kitchen staff. Shortly after, he left to help a friend open a catering company out of state. But thoughts of Wilmington and YoSake were never far from his mind.

“I'm just not a big city person,” Woo said. “I missed the ties I had here, so I came back.”

He's been heading up the kitchen ever since. YoSake is the perfect place to display Woo's artistry. Historic hardwood floors and exposed brick walls are juxtaposed by Japanese anime-style paintings and views of downtown Wilmington. A bright red wall is the backdrop for the sushi bar where the chefs paint with seafood, colorful sauces and fresh produce. Behind the wall, the rest of the menu comes to life.

“A lot of people think we're just a sushi restaurant, but we're much more,” Woo said. The extensive menu includes Asian entrees and salads, like the It's Only Rock and Roll, made with soft-shell crab, lump crab, cucumber and a spicy cream sauce.

He cites Federal Point Farm and Shelton Herb Farm, among others, as sources of his produce.

“My sous chef, Erin Wiley, and I come up with the specials. We play ideas off of one another,” Woo said.     “I like being able to create dishes with what's around our community.”

PORT CITY FOODIES: Sushi happy hours at YoSake every day
Star News: August 21, 2009

FROM BUDGET BITES: A popular after-work stop for sushi lovers, YoSake, 33 S. Front St. in downtown Wilmington, has half-price sushi 5-7 p.m. daily if you purchase a beverage. The Japanese restaurant has one of the largest sushi menus in town featuring catchy monikers such as the Roy G Biv, Caterpillar and Crimson Dragon rolls as well as the Pink Lady and Fire on the Mountain.

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YoSake: Pomegranate Mojitos, Tokyo style
Currents: June 15, 2006

Last week, Currents foodie Liz Biro reviewed the edible offerings of Yo Sake (33 S. Front St., 763-3172), the new, sexy downtown sushi lounge (located on the second floor of the Roudabush building) offers a heaping menu of the rolled stuff and pan-Asian delectables. I was recently there, too, but with slightly different motivation …

… the scene and the drinks. Co-owner Justin Smith and general manager Mira Khoury took some time out from running around to sit and talk the place up. Long placated me with one of Yo Sake's signature drinks, the pomegranate mojito, which, quite simply, is awesome.

"Downtown has been a proven success for thematic restaurants, and we wanted to do something thematic while also going for a relaxed, lounge atmosphere," Smith says about Yo Sake, which ably balances elegance (swanky black tableware and exposed brick) and youthful exuberance (the slam-pow! oversized anime artwork by local artist Sullivan Dunn). The mix of casual and formal is everywhere, right down to the service staff which mixes black pants or skirts with colorful Asian T-shirts.

"I had no idea how popular (the sake) would be. The (name Yo Sake) makes you curious, so you've got to have the sake," Khoury says of the restaurant's well-chosen moniker.

While Smith says he's no sake connoisseur, he fully understands people being drawn to the legendary stuff. "It's got a slightly higher alcohol content," he says. "It might not be an acquired taste, but you've got to like it. When we named (the restaurant), we thought, 'How could we draw attention?'"

Their sake menu demands attention for sure, with 12 varieties of cold sake and one hot. There's a varied wine list, as well as enticing mixed drinks, such as the aforementioned mojito and lychee plum martini.

Yo Sake might offer a familiar fine-dining restaurant setting for most of the evening, but at 10:30 p.m., everything changes. Smoking is allowed (it's a non-smoking establishment until 10:30 p.m.) and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights bring DJs, while Tuesday and Thursday nights offer karaoke (natch. An after-11:00 p.m. late night menu offers sauced-up Asian munchies, from tempura chicken to "liquid hot magma shrimp." Exactly the type of thing your stomach inexplicably craves throwing back a few.

"It's new, it's different," Khoury says of Yo Sake's impending popularity. "It's a different atmosphere from what Wilmington offers right now." Between the food, drinks, late-night offerings and atmosphere, Yo Sake will shape itself as the place to be.

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Yo Sake To Me! Downtown Sushi Lounge Provides Unexpected Discoveries
Encore Magazine: July 19, 2006 by Rosa Bianca

Evening is my favorite time to be downtown. As the sun sinks lower across the river, the bright yellow midday light softens, goes slightly more gold and pink. Geraniums glow in the high window boxes of the upper apartments along Front Street. The old brick buildings in the historic district look their best in the light of a setting sun.

Everything seems to slow down a bit. Boats are no longer in a hurry on the river. Cars aren’t in a rush to make it back to the office before their lunch hour ends. At four o’clock, as the sun is just starting to slide toward the western banks of the Cape Fear River, the staff at Roudabush’s Café is closing up shop for the day—wiping down tables and sweeping floors. While some of the staff leaves at five o’clock, others simply open the wooden door to the left, and walk up the steep flight of stairs to start the evening shift at Yo Sake, downtown’s newest sushi spot. And Yo Sake is a sight to see.

Whereas the downstairs café is casual, upstairs it is stylish and modern, a sleek re-invention of the old building that shows off the best of its attributes (the warm brick walls, the polished wood floors, the narrow iron-work balcony). The atmosphere feels current, trend-setting and young. The brick walls are hung with vivid manga art. The tables are blue-black faux granite—their surfaces catch the light at odd moments and glows briefly as you sweep your eyes across the top. Simple white china and tall square pottery decanters that hold the sake and plum wine are a contrast to the modern lighting and bright silver flower vases (each holding a single large chrysanthemum flower). With the evening sun coming through the half-drawn brown straw shades, it is one of the more beautiful and elegant rooms I’ve seen in a restaurant, sushi or otherwise.

So that explains why, when Fay and I were seated (slightly out of breath from the steep climb up the stairs), we had to make the waiter come back twice to take our order. The first time, I was too busy looking around to look at the menu. The second time, I was too busy looking at the menu to come to a decision.

Once again, I found myself dithering over a sushi menu. Or, in this case, a surprisingly extensive menu of pan-Asian food that went far, far beyond your average California roll. This was a real dilemma, because I felt, as a food critic, that if I was going to eat at a place that billed itself as a “sushi lounge,” then I ought to order the sushi and see how good it was. The problem: Sushi was competing against crab dumplings with corn and scallions; tomato ginger bisque soup; watercress salad with carrots and spiced candied peanuts; citrus-and-tea-rubbed salmon; miso drunken noodles with mussels and sake.

So, you see why I was torn. Eventually, as our (patient) waiter started to wander over yet a third time, I finally said to Fay, “Okay, here’s what we’ll do—you have to order the sushi, so I can order off the entrée menu.”

“Don’t you want sushi?” she asked.

“I’ll just eat some of yours.”

Fay is somewhat used to these executive decisions on my part. By the time our waiter made it back to our table, she was ready.

Fay asked for the salmon asparagus roll, the eel roll, and one of the house specialties, the “spicy generoll,” which has spicy tuna, yellowtail, salmon and sprout, topped with wasabi cream sauce and roe.

“She wants the Tuna Tar Tarheel appetizer too,” I told the waiter.

He looked over at her, but Fay just shrugged. Knowing that there would be plenty of sushi on the table, I indulged myself in other things: the afore-mentioned crab dumplings, fried, and the Sake Bombed Duck Two Ways (grilled duck breast and leg, served over baby bok choy, with plum and almond risotto and sake orange sauce).

The crab dumplings and Tuna Tar Tarheel were served first. The dumplings were slightly larger than a golf ball, piping hot and crammed with sweet crabmeat. They were served with a slightly spicy sesame sauce, which I loved, and an extremely spicy bright red chili sauce, which Fay thought was the “shizzee,” and which my poor taste buds still have not recovered from. (We asked the waiter to give us a container of it to go.) My guess about the chili sauce is that it is sambal-based—extremely hot, extremely fresh and wakes up everything on your plate. It was perfect for dipping the fried lotus chips that came with Fay’s tuna tartare.

The tartare was also excellent; it was actually two different kinds of chopped sushi-grade tuna, one that was slightly spiced, and one that wasn’t. In the interests of being thorough I tried both, and liked the plainer version slightly better—but only slightly, and probably only because I was still trying to recover from the chili sauce.

My meal came with a salad, which was served at the same time as Fay’s sushi order. (The duck, apparently takes much longer to prepare, and ended up being our third course.) Like everything else we had, the kitchen’s attention to detail was evident in the salad, an unusual collection of strong red oak leaf and bright green romaine in a mild (almost milky) almond dressing.

Of the sushi, my favorite was the salmon and asparagus. I liked the signature “generoll” (something makes me want to giggle typing that word), but there were so many things in it, it was hard for me to distinguish individual tastes. Sushi is a kind of minimalist dish, and I have a minimalist’s tastes for it. I tend to get scared off by sushi that has more than three elements to it. And I loved the eel sushi—but then, I like eel. It turns out Fay doesn’t. She only got it for me in the futile hope that I’d confine my predations off her plate to that. Hah.

When the duck finally arrived we were both starting to feel full, but the smell wafting off the plate perked us up. It was rich and complex, savory and slightly fruity, with the smoky scent of fowl that has really been grilled over charcoal. Even on a bad day I think duck is my favorite kind of poultry, and oh, this had not been a bad day at all. The breast was slightly rare and very juicy, and the risotto served with it was fruity (plums) and minty (fresh peppermint or orange mint leaves, I think, had been chopped up and scattered liberally throughout the dish).

There were a few disappointments to the meal: 1) We couldn’t finish the duck and had to take half of it home for lunch the next day. 2) We couldn’t kid ourselves that we had enough stamina to try the noodles, or to order the lynchee sorbet ice cream, or the “chocolate enlightenment” mousse. 3) We took one look at how steep the stairs were, and decided we didn’t dare try to actually finish a bottle of sake.

On the whole, eating at Yo Sake was a real delight and adventure—a lesson in unexpected discoveries. Since one of my main reasons for eating out is to find food I can’t do at home, a sense of adventure and daring makes it almost the perfect restaurant. See if you don’t agree.

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