Last night I had the pleasure of trying out a new restaurant with a group of friends: Yakiniku. This Japanese restaurant in Stuttgart is named after yakiniku, meaning "grilled meat" in Japanese, and generally referring to the Japanese style of barbecuing your dinner at the table. (Although, in Japan they tend to call it Korean barbecue, and, funnily enough, in Korea they call it Japanese barbecue. Go figure.)
I first had yakiniku when Matt and I traveled through Japan this past winter, and I loved it so much that I looked for one in Stuttgart. I honestly wasn't too hopeful that I'd find a yakiniku restaurant in the area, let alone in Stuttgart, and so I was thrilled when I found this restaurant just a 15 minute walk from our house.
Like fondue, yakiniku is especially fun with a small group of people, and so I decided to invite all of my close friends and their spouses who had either lived or worked in Japan. Our group last night was a little large at nine people, but it still worked. We were seated at two large tables to the right side of the restaurant, so it felt like we had our own private corner. I imagine if we had been a group of six that we would have fit at the larger of the two tables with no problem.
The tables at Yakiniku are each fitted with a small grill in the center of the table. Apparently they have a special ventilation system, so that smoke filters down through the grill and never gets in your face or hair. Also at the table against the wall was a tiny "service" button, which is a common sight in Japan where it is customary to call your server whenever you need anything.
Upon sitting down, we were handed some menus and had the process explained to us using a kind of color-coded map. Everyone has to choose a base menu, either large or small, which includes your appetizer, a salad, grilled vegetables, and rice. Then you have your choice of either a combination platter with a mixture of meats and other appetizers or a basic meat dish, with choices including pork, tofu, beef, duck, and chicken. (And just to warn you, there's no sharing allowed. Everyone has to order their own meal.) It honestly took us a few minutes to figure out the menu, but once we got the color-coding down, it made sense.
I decided to go all out, as I tend to do at new restaurants, and ordered the large base menu followed by the "Imperial Meal", which was a combination platter of Wagyu flanksteak, Wagyu rib meat, Spanish Ibérico pork, a black tiger shrimp, a giant scallop, and my choice of side (I chose gyoza).
To drink, I started with a mixed midori (melon liqueur) cocktail and then switched to imo shōchū (a Japanese liquor distilled from sweet potatoes). I was thrilled to find a healthy selection of sake and shōchū, while my husband and friends enjoyed the selection of Japanese beers: Asahi, Sapporo, and Kirin. Of course they also served some German beer and wine, as well as other distilled liquors.
The first dish to appear was an appetizer plate with three small salads: a seaweed salad, a soft tofu salad, and a fried tofu salad. Typical of most Japanese cuisine, the presentation was beautiful. I forget who said it, but I think the Japanese have nailed the idea that "we eat with our eyes first". My favorite part of this dish was the soft tofu in the center. It's nothing like the firm, chalky tofu you get in generic grocery stores. Hard to handle with chopsticks, I could really savor the reward of finally getting the creamy, chilled tofu in my mouth as it just about dissolved on my tongue.
Next came a simple salad with dried beet chips (and some other green chip that I couldn't identify) and a lovely ginger dressing. Alongside that was a tiny bowl with two long udon noodles in a chilled, clear sauce that may have been either yuzu or some other vinegar-based broth.
Once we finished our starters, our waitress returned to turn up our grill and oil the grill top. She disappeared and was back again with a real feast: vegetables, rice, and our various meats, tofus, and sides. My husband ordered the poultry dish, so I got to try the duck and corn-fed chicken, as well as my Wagyu flanksteak, Wagyu rib meat, Spanish Ibérico pork, a black tiger shrimp, a giant scallop, and gyoza. I also got a small bowl of miso soup along with my large base menu. At the end of the table there were three sauces to choose from for dipping: a Japanese soy sauce, a spicy version of the Japanese soy sauce, and sesame salt.
Each meat was a perfect, tiny bite. The duck and chicken were predictably tender, the scallop and shrimp were of a generous size, and the pork and beef were full of flavor. Best of all, I could cook the meat to my own liking. My favorite, though, was the Wagyu rib meat. The cuts were truly small (about the size of my thumb), but they had the right amount of marbling (fat) in the meat so that each tiny piece melted in your mouth. This was as close as we got to the flavor of some of the buttery cuts of meat that we had in Japan when we ate yakiniku in Tokyo.
When you look at the pictures, the portions look tiny. But by the end of the meal, I was quite full. Grilling your food takes time, and so you're forced to really slow down and savor your food as you enjoy the company of your friends. In that respect, food becomes less about fuel and more about the experience it offers us.
Towards the end of our meal, we were greeted by a woman in a gorgeous silk kimono who introduced herself as the owner of the restaurant. She found out that one of my friends and my husband had been speaking Japanese with the other waitress (who turned out to be the owner's sister and a chef at the restaurant) and wanted to meet us. I don't speak Japanese, so I have no idea what they said, but I was impressed by the fact that the owner and staff were, in fact, Japanese, and that they are effectively trilingual. They all spoke fluent Japanese and German, of course, as well as English. The owner was very kind and personable, and explained how she had ended up in Germany and established the restaurant with the help of her husband, which explains why I was able to find yakiniku, a Japanese speciality, in Stuttgart.
Because I ordered the large base menu, at the end of the meal I was given my choice of dessert from red bean ice cream, black sesame ice cream, ginger cheesecake, and strawberries in cream. While I love red bean desserts and even though the black sesame ice cream sounded interesting, I decided to go for the ginger cheesecake, which turned out to be a good choice. It had just the right amount of sweet, creaminess, and zing, and even came with a green tea-white chocolate stick.
With the end of every meal must come two events: the check and the toilets. I wouldn't mention the toilets except for the fact that they are real Japanese toilets complete with warming seat, cleansing bidet, and fake flush button to keep your own elimination sounds private. The check I mention because the meal was on the expensive side. For a couple, I estimate it would cost from 100-150€ including tip and depending on what foods and drinks you order. I was okay with this for a delicious meal out with friends and for our first visit, though in the future I imagine Yakiniku will have to (sadly) stay on the special occasion list.
For interested locals and tourists, Yakiniku is located at Weißenburgstraße 4. It's just a block up from Österreichischen Platz, which you can access via the U1 or U14 U-bahn. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.