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DAVID NELSON / ON RESTAURANTS

A Savory Meeting of East, West

November 15, 1990|DAVID NELSON

The silliest things can happen when East and West reach an accommodation in the kitchen.

Yae, the relatively venerable temple of formal Japanese cuisine in Rancho Bernardo, periodically updates its menu to reflect the innovations that come not only with changing times but also, one suspects, with a certain degree of assimilation. An entry that points at both these factors is called "filet mignon staminayaki," which at first sounds quite traditional until you adjust your glasses, take a second look and ask "stamina-what?"

The menu describes this dish as "select cuts of tenderloin dipped in a spicy soy sauce, wrapped with a slice of bacon and patiently broiled." The patience--which implies stamina--seems the key to the name. It is in fact a Japanese-style rendition of a Midwestern favorite, and if you're in a mood for something cross-cultural but utterly unchallenging, this might be the right choice.

In any other circumstances, however, staminayaki would be an utter waste of time, since Yae offers a survey of Japanese cuisine that ventures well beyond the usual tempuras and teriyakis--although it offers plenty of these, too. This 10-year-old, somewhat formal establishment, the Japanese-owned sister of a restaurant called Inagiku in New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel, aims itself to a fair degree at Japanese business people and offers many tastes of home that are not readily available elsewhere in this county.

One of these is the shrimp shinjo appetizer, a handsomely arranged plate that plays multiple variations on the theme of shrimp chopped to a paste. This is offered both as highly seasoned, deep fried balls, and sandwiched between various vegetables and given a tempura treatment. A dish of salt for optional dusting and a savory, if notably salty, dipping sauce arrive on the side.

The kitchen employs salt with an abandon abandoned by Western restaurants. And, although it is an essential seasoning in several Oriental cuisines--Korean cooking, for example, has a category of "salt-flavored" dishes--those of us who use this seasoning sparingly may find Yae's cooking hard to take.

Other updated offerings include the tuna sanmimaki , a sashimi (sliced raw fish) arranged with avocado, cucumber and spiced bean sprouts; assorted zenzai , or tiny hors d'oeuvres, which vary both with the day and the cook assigned to making them; a dish called "stuffed avocado" that is actually a thick, puree-type soup that conceals nuggets of shrimp and sauteed scallion, and the chicken tsukune , or a paste of minced breast seasoned with onion given a preliminary steaming and then grilled over an open flame.

This large, full-service restaurant includes a sushi bar that constructs all the usuals and caters specialty plates, which cost as much as $35 for a lavish selection but begin at $7.25.

Yae also offers several table-cooked meals for a minimum of two diners, including an elaborate sukiyaki; the similar but more pleasing and varied shabu shabu (it is consumed in courses, the broth drunk last); and "bamboo gozen ," a sort of Japanese smorgasbord that includes tastes of about one-third of the items on the menu.

For special occasions and with two days' notice, the kitchen will prepare the extremely formal, ritualized kaiseki dinners that are the haute cuisine of Japan; the price for these begins at $50 per person.

Among the more reasonably priced entrees, the stuffed chicken breast (rolled around a tasty egg filling) is quite unusual but satisfying, thanks to its rich vegetable sauce. The kushiage , an assortment of breaded and fried foods that mimic tempura, is pleasing if not overly exciting. These and all entrees include miso soup, green salad in a pungent dressing, rice, tea and the fresh pickle of the day.

Pickles are essential in Japanese cooking, and one recent offering was delicious but utterly unidentifiable--until the waitress explained that it consisted of chopped radish leaves.

In this case, East mystified West, but with the happiest results.

YAE

11616 Iberia Place, Rancho Bernardo

Calls: 485-0390

Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner nightly

Cost: Entrees from $10.25 to $24, and higher for advance-ordered kaiseki dinners. Moderate to expensive. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, about $30 to $70. Credit cards accepted.

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