Yama Ramen and Sushi Bar

Yama Ramen
Neighborhood: Rockefeller Center
Cuisine: Japanese

Let me be the first asshole to say that there’s still something weird about eating food on the second floor. Especially, like in the case of Yama Ramen, the majority of said food is aquatic. Is it weirder than the multitude of subterranean eating experiences in NYC? I mean, maybe? The whole thing with the skinny doorway, the long-ass stairwell and the dearth of natural light leads to an almost surreal feeling akin to dining on an airplane. Or a submarine.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even eat at Yama. I got one of those weekly sushi specials off of an app that offered me diamond status, like a zillion useless sucka-bucks and a pretty good deal on a to-go sushi lunch. So I braved this absolutely bonkers block of Midtown madness to hustle my ass up the stairs to this remarkably Japanese-looking joint. My initial thought was of Mr. Wing’s store where Billy found Gizmo the gremlin. Despite the fact it looks nothing like it, is Japanese and not Chinese and is most definitely not a junk shop. But, hey, my brain does this kind of shit all the time: inappropriately comparing an unlike thing with another thing from an 80s movie for no good reason.

For a random sushi and reman restaurant, it was weirdly crowded. Perhaps everyone else was there to claim their sucka-bucks too? But it’s probably more likely that ramen is just a popular food item in the 2020s. People really love their brothy noodles and pork chunks. But, like I mentioned, I got some sushi. It was a super-basic set of rolls: eel/avocado and salmon/avocado. They came with the world’s tiniest salad and a cup of miso soup. And, you know what? I’ve come to the conclusion that sushi is like wine. I can tell when it really sucks. And I can tell when it’s incredible. But everything in the middle is really, really similar. Like I can generally tell when someone gives me Gallo Hearty Burgundy. Instant headache and super-Welch’s-y. Crappy sushi looks sad on the plate and is either fishy or unpleasantly toothless. Amazing wine has a deepness and heft that isn’t present in the cheaper stuff. And amazing sushi is sliced with precision and professionalism, sits on the rice like a fucking king and almost resists until it doesn’t and then melts in your mouth.

And then there are all these lunch places where the sushi is just fine. It could be $6 sushi. Or $16 sushi. But it goes down with some soy sauce and is relatively gratifying. But it’s clear that there’s a bit of a conveyor-belt quality to it. The knife work is rushed, the seaweed wrap a little more chilly than it should be. Or a little too tight. Or too loose. And generally the fish itself is mostly tasteless. Even the cooked stuff like eel just doesn’t engender mouth joy. Yes, mouth joy. This is such a place. Totally, totally fine. But I’m not going to shout about it from the mountaintops. But I’m also not going to shit on it the way I did the stupid all-you-can-eat joint in Santa Monica my folks forced me to go to a few times. That place was straight garbage. Almost as bad as the remarkably terrible sushi at Whole Foods. This was not that. It was edible and not unpleasant. It was cheap that once. And this makes it a one-stop hop, and a just-fine one at that.

60 W 48th St. (bet. 5th & 6th Ave.)