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RESTAURANTS / FIRST LOOK

The glamour quotient is high, the hit to the wallet isn't

December 27, 2007|S. Irene Virbila

USUALLY, if you fancy going to a restaurant with a high glam factor, it requires digging deep in your wallet. But not at Yamato, the new Japanese restaurant and sushi bar that appeared a couple of weeks ago in the grandiose old digs of Eurochow, Michael Chow's (of Mr. Chow's) only flop.

The digs are still grandiose, with posh leather booths and a balcony overlooking the all-white two-story space, but while Yamato has an expensive look, the menu is surprisingly reasonable. It's mostly izakaya -- Japanese pub food -- and really quite good, if very mainstream. Nibbling crispy shrimp sticks (like spring rolls filled with tiger shrimp) or crispy seafood wontons might help to get over the jitters of meeting that Internet date face-to-face. Together, you can marvel over the shaggy "chrysanthemum" shu-mai trailing strands of noodle.

If you just want a quick bite, try the eruption tuna poki salad, a good deal for $10, considering it includes four slices of tuna sashimi, a heap of mesclun greens and a wad of wasabi tobiko to nudge you awake. Five or six pieces of fried chicken are coated in tiny beads of arare, or Japanese cracker. The chicken is crunchy and delicious, especially with some lemon squeezed over the top.

Seven dollars buys a small bowl of tender pork belly braised with carrots and turnips in a sweet -- too sweet -- broth. I didn't order any tempura, but from the other fried items I tried, I suspect it's pretty good. I also liked the lotus root stir-fried with light soy and just a hint of chili.

The sushi is straightforward and very fresh, but the rice underneath is a bit sad, most likely because it was made too long before. That can be easily fixed, though.

Yamato seems to have opened in a rush. When I was there, the wine list hadn't been written yet and the red wine glasses hadn't arrived. Instead, the waiter made do by reading the names of a handful of wines from his notes.

Owner Ken Oyadomari has had the good sense to keep much of Chow's design for the former 1920s bank building. The glass bridge is gone, yes, and so is the see-through glass floor that showed off the wine cellar, but the quirky layout is pretty similar to what it was before. And although it's hard to believe you can dine for $30 or so in a place with this much pizazz, trust me, you can. And if the place isn't absolutely packed, those 30-foot ceilings mean the chances of hearing across the table are very good. Yamato Westwood could be your next hang.

-- S. Irene Virbila

virbila@latimes.com

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YAMATO

WHERE: 1099 Westwood Blvd., Westwood

WHEN: Open for lunch Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m; and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking

PRICE: Appetizers, $3.75 to $12; main courses, $15 to $20; desserts, $5 to $7; sushi, $4 to $12 (for toro); sashimi, $9.50 to $30 (the latter for toro); sushi rolls, $5.50 to $11

INFO: (310) 208-0100; www.yamatokura.com

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