THE DISH: YamiYami
YamiYami 7//Moskovsky Prospekt//Tel. 958 1012//Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.//http://yami-yami.ru///Menu in Russian only//Dinner for two with alcohol 892 rubles ($29)
Published: November 23, 2011 (Issue # 1684)
Use your noodle
Stepping into YamiYami, the now six-month-old noodle bar on the bustling Moskovsky Prospekt just behind Sennaya Ploshchad, is not unlike stepping into a trendy eatery in the hip Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Apart from its onomatopoeic name, which conjures up the image of a satisfying food establishment, the restaurant’s image is revealed through an impressive, original window display: An ecosystem of animals, fish and plants, all painted in green on the glass, fits right into the European trend for eco-consciousness. Just in case this aspect is overlooked, the restaurant has graciously provided a green bench on the sidewalk outside for customers, with an accompanying green bike rack (unsurprisingly empty on a cold November night).
This external image is projected into the interior, with two clean and brightly lit rooms dominated by a pleasant green and white color combination. Quirky blurbs like “bio” “fresh” and “organic” posted behind the counter, with work station and bar attached, finalize any expectations for what the food will be like: “Fast good,” instead of fast food, boasts the menu, while the plentiful floral overtones, potted plants in modern white cubicles and comfy-looking white couches support this claim to quality and promise a unique dining experience.
YamiYami positions itself as a “chain of democratic restaurants for healthy eating, offering the best of Pan-Asian traditions adapted to European tastes,” to which the large, well-lit menu on the wall attests (no English menu available). The bulk of the offerings is centered on rice and handmade noodles, with a range of toppings including chicken, beef, shrimp, salmon and eel, as well as mushrooms and vegetables, which are stir-fried on woks behind the counter with one of three sauces (sweet and sour, ginger and Yami sauce).
For those not familiar with the “democratic restaurant” expression that is quickly gaining popularity in Russia, do not be discouraged if your political affiliation does not coincide! The democratic refers to the restaurant’s prices, with mains ranging from 108 rubles ($3.50) to 190 rubles ($6.25). Other offerings include noodle soups with the aforementioned ingredients, cooked in either coconut milk or cream, from 90 ($3) to 168 rubles ($5.50) as well as salads and sushi, both centered around the 100 ruble ($3.30) mark.
After being seated in a futuristic-looking hexagonal booth in the adjacent room, topped by a cheery back-lit ceiling of rolling clouds against a light-blue sky, it was not long before the “fast good” starters arrived. While the strawberry and mint smoothie (80 rubles, $2.70) really excited the taste buds, with the strong mint balancing the tartness of the candy-sweet strawberry, the eel sushi that we had ordered had been substituted with salmon rolls without warning from the waiter, requiring a cross-examination of the check and a long wait for correction.
The cream of tomato soup with bacon (100 rubles, $3.30) stood out most from the selection, being filling, hearty and just the right level of tangy, although the presence of bacon was at a minimal. In contrast, the shrimp, noodle and coconut milk soup (148 rubles, $5) was average at best, with the generous-sized shrimps unable to compensate for an overpoweringly salty and fishy taste.
Unfortunately, the mains also failed to fulfill the expectations that the image of the restaurant had done so well to convey, with none of the ingredients appearing to be particularly fresh or organic. The vegetables in the stir-fried rice (108 rubles, $3.50) tasted as if they came from a mixed-vegetable bag in the pre-frozen section of the supermarket, and the Yami sauce did little to stop the dish from quickly becoming bland and unappetizing. The homemade noodles with chicken for 138 rubles ($4.60) initially provided a welcome change with their spicy sweet and sour sauce, but halfway through the meal the overly generous amounts of sauce and oil and became overwhelming. The warm Belgian waffles in maple syrup (88 rubles, $3) were a comforting end to an average meal.
Despite the restaurant falling short of the pinnacle of perfection it posits itself as (cheap, fast, fresh, organic and Asian), the outrageously cheap bill that followed a large and filling meal makes YamiYami a more than reasonable option for anyone missing the cheap noodle bars that are so popular in metropolises around the world.