There are two big reasons area diners go to Yoshi Japanese Restaurant on Wilson Street in Brewer. The first, of course, is the food — creative, expertly made sushi and Japanese cuisine, with a few Korean and Thai specialties thrown in to spice it up a bit.
The second is the tatami seating, a dining experience that’s the first of its kind in eastern Maine. Tatami seating involves a large area raised up from the rest of the restaurant, with table-sized squares cut into the floor. You remove your shoes, climb in, and seat yourself on a comfortable cushion, enjoying your food from a very different perspective.
There is regular table and bar seating at Yoshi as well, but the combined experience of fine sushi and novel restaurant layout makes for a memorable meal. Head chef Vin Luc, who goes by
the name Ting, has had decades of experience as a sushi chef, first in Boston, then in the Bangor area. Yoshi, a family affair, opened in August with co-proprietor Lillian Luc. It capitalizes on that breadth of knowledge. Ting, and his brother, fellow chef Michael Luc, are known statewide as two of the finest sushi chefs in Maine.
Traditional sushi favorites dominate the menu, from California and spicy tuna maki to alligator and Philadelphia maki. But Yoshi also tries new, more experimental rolls, such as crab rangoon maki made with cream cheese and crab, and maki featuring items such as asparagus, plum paste and lobster, the latter in its Maine Maki, with lobster, crab, mayonnaise and vegetables.
For a pre-sushi nibble, try the sake fresh mussels, a simple dish of mussels stir-fried in sake with basil, soy sauce, spicy chili sauce, peppers and parsley. The spicy tuna avocado salad is a decadent and delicious treat as well, featuring tuna tossed with a whole avocado, deep-fried scallions, tobiko (fish roe) and spicy mayo.
A pleasant surprise is the pad thai, a traditional favorite not often found at a sushi restaurant, but is spicy, nutty and fresh at Yoshi. Most of the noodle and stir-fry dishes are excellent, in fact, and if you don’t have a hankering for sushi, the sukiyaki is a tasty alternative — beef and tofu, cooked with bamboo shoots, scallion, shiitake, Napa cabbage and carrots, served over clear noodles in a sweet soy sauce.
The bright, cheerful decor and open floor plan set Yoshi apart from many other restaurants in the area, sushi or not. Considering the fact that 10 years ago there was no sushi at all in eastern Maine, the excellent quality of the food and the inviting atmosphere make for a truly distinctive dining experience.
Yoshi Japanese Restaurant, 373 Wilson St., Brewer, is open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, for dinner 4:30-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 4:30-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and noon-9 p.m. Sunday. For information, visit www.yoshi09brewerme.com.