Yamato is now closed.
How it was
Yamato is hidden in a small, spare, yet airy space in Kerrytown, on the corner of N. Fifth Ave. and E. Kingsley St in downtown Ann Arbor. Handwritten Japanese scrolls hanging in the window provide the restaurant's only overt identification. Illiterate gaijin should look for the entrance directly opposite the door to the comparatively well-advertised Eve restaurant. Arguably the most "authentic" Japanese restaurant in town, Yamato specializes in hearty, home-style Japanese cuisine. A bowl of their udon noodle soup is zen comfort food on a cold winter day.
The affable husband and wife owners are generally the only two people working in the restaurant. He cooks, she serves. Service can get a bit dicey when it's busy and, in true Japanese fashion, your food tends to arrive at your table in no particular order at no particular time. Language can be an issue too, as the wife speaks charmingly basic English. Best to keep your questions simple or to yourself, or inquire through the kitchen window. Despite the occasional service hiccup, however, the dining experience is relaxed and casual, and the food is well respected.
The talented and versatile chef hails from the island of Shikoku and used to run a restaurant in New York City (he has a Madonna autograph on the wall). Rumor has it that he was originally lured to Ann Arbor to be the head chef at Godaiko, but when that restaurant's opening was delayed he and his wife decided to start their own place. Noodles (udon and soba), rice bowls (donburi), and bento specials are standouts, but the sushi is also among the best in town. Nigiri purists will rejoice at traditionally-sized cuts of fish, fresh, high-grade sushi rice, and wasabi content for a Japanese palate, while the avant connoisseur will still be able to get his Dynamite and Philadelphia rolls. Cultivating a long-term relationship also has its rewards at Yamato, as regular customers will find themselves treated to special creations from the kitchen presented by a widely grinning chef.
The back door entrance to Yamato is packed with students from Community High at lunchtime -- the restaurant serves wonderful student specials, including flavorful veggie curry and chicken-rice balls.
Lunch bentos are hearty and $7-$9.
403 N 5th Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Yamato's blog, with pictures, menus and recipes.