Shuenn Yang says he felt like “a kid from Mars” when in 1978, his father, a Taiwanese chef known for his Western food, became executive chef of Deal Golf & Country Club, and the family relocated from Taipei.
“The other kids weren’t nice to me,” says Yang, who was 15. “I became a dishwasher in a Chinese kitchen and started working full-time in Chinese-owned New Jersey restaurants when I was 17. That felt like home.”
Now 52, Yang is chef and part owner of the popular and highly regarded Yumi in Sea Bright—open since 2005, except for a seven-month restoration after Hurricane Sandy. Yumi’s vast menu spans traditional and creative sushi and includes transcendently marbled Kobe beef from Miyazaki, Japan. The cattle, he claims, “have classical music playing in their stalls. They’re taken on walks for exercise, given beer to drink, and massaged every day to relax them and to press their fat into their flesh.”
Cattle spa or no, the Kobe—whether barely seared carpaccio with white truffle oil ($40) or a deftly charred 6-ounce strip loin with asparagus in butter-yuzu sauce ($90)—is sublimely beefy and luscious.
Yang dabs French white-truffle oil on silken Jersey-scallop carpaccio ($16). In a rewarding trio of tartares ($24), he mixes salmon with truffle oil, pickled onions and capers; tuna with wasabi and yuzu; and yellowtail with shallots, parsley and saffron-infused soy.
Creative rolls are how Yumi rolls. The Yumi ($16) tops an interior of plush eel and sweet mango with deftly fried fluke tempura. It’s served with wasabi kabayaki and a glaze of the sweetened soy sauce usually brushed on eel sushi. Something called New Pan-Seared Rice Crispy Tuna, an $18 small plate, turned out to be slices of pristine bigeye tuna on crunchy slabs of seared sushi rice, each piece topped with a jalapeño slice. The plate was ringed by a beautiful swirl of interlaced sauces. In the end, only the name was klutzy.
Cooked dishes easily held their own. A grilled-squid salad ($12) placed tender yet crisp-surfaced calamari over mesclun greens and Asian wild vegetables in a balanced citrus-soy sauce. Tuna tataki ($14)—the slices dusted with seven-pepper shichimi powder and seared for “eight or nine seconds per side,” Yang says—was served with a crunchy palm-heart salad in a yuzu-soy dressing. Yang says that, in response to customer requests, he will have replaced the canned palm hearts with chunks of fresh jicama or Asian pear by the time you read this.
Spicy coconut-seafood soup, with just enough heat to justify the name, was studded with scallops and shrimp, one-upping the chicken in typical Thai versions.
Novelty appeared in dishes such as tuna-sashimi pizza (served on a crispy scallion pancake); rice-paper samosas filled with crabmeat and corn and served with mango salsa; and white-tuna ceviche with pineapple, onion, avocado and cilantro in a chili-citrus-soy dressing.
Entrées further extend the boundaries, adding Black Angus sirloin, pork tenderloin, chicken and duck breast in various preparations. While most everything we tried was excellent, a few dishes failed. Oysters tempura were marred by an oily batter; a scallion pancake was similarly sodden. Miso black cod, a dish made famous by chef Nobu Matsuhisa, sorely lacked the sweet, fermented miso paste that gives the preparation its inspired, distinctive tang.
The only house-made dessert is an oversized fried dumpling filled with banana and Hershey’s chocolate chips—fine for your inner kid or any actual kids you bring along. More refreshing were green-tea, red-bean and vanilla ice creams made by Mr. Green Tea, a Keyport supplier of Asian-flavored frozen desserts.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:Asian - Chinese
Price Details:Sushi and rolls, $5-$22; soups and salads, $6-$15; small plates, $7-$24; large plates, $21-$32; desserts, $4-$8.
Ambience:Understated decor, happy crowd.
Service:Informed and helpful.