The name of the newly open Yaki Express says it all. The word yaki has two meanings according to TK Van, who runs the restaurant with her brother Bear Van. It refers to food cooked over heat, like the hibachi items grilled fresh for each order, as well as sweetness, reflected in the friendly service they aim to provide to every customer.
“For us, my brother and I, we just believe in love and trust,” TK Van said, adding that they “do everything with heart.”
Heart and hard work are evident in the fresh, creative food served at Yaki Express, starting with the foundational ingredient for both hibachi and sushi: rice. The restaurant buys a high-quality grain grown in the United States and carefully prepares each batch to ensure the best flavor.
“To make rice, you can’t be lazy. You have to tend to it: You have to stir the rice, you have to add this and that,” TK Van said.
Much of the fare on Yaki’s menu is prepared with the same intentional approach. The egg rolls, for example, are handmade by Bear Van with chopped meat, shredded cabbage and slivers of carrots wrapped in a thin, flaky and ultra-crisp wrapper.
“It’s his recipe and it’s not like other egg rolls. It’s different. It has this flair,” TK Van said.
Like other appetizers on the menu, the egg rolls are served with Bear Van’s signature chapu sauce, a sweet and tangy dip that lends brightness to fried items. The sauce derives its name from TK Van’s daughter’s first word; although it’s a made-up word, the family interpreted it to mean “I love you” because it was often delivered alongside kisses.
The top-selling hibachi item is the Sumo combination plate, which includes hibachi filet and shrimp plus teriyaki chicken on a bed of freshly sauteed vegetables and fried rice. A lighter, more complex take on the syrupy bottled versions, Yaki’s teriyaki requires hours of prepping, cooking and cooling to make. Other accompaniments available at the restaurant’s sauce station include ginger sauce, white sauce and hot sauce – again, all homemade.
For sushi, Yaki offers classic rolls as well as a selection of Bear Van’s specialties, including the popular Dirty Old Man roll. Despite the name, the roll is fresh and bright with creamy crab salad, avocado, cucumber and masago tucked inside rice and seaweed and topped with chunks of tuna, salmon, red snapper and crab stick dressed in a creamy, spicy sauce and dusted with sesame seeds.
Secret menu items are available for those who know to ask. One option is the Grizzly, a roll named by TK Van in a nod to her brother and the abundance of fish in the offering.
“My brother’s name is Bear and bears love fish. So I named it Grizzly because it’s so much fish,” she said. The Grizzly roll is stuffed with chunks of tuna, salmon and red snapper plus crab stick, cucumber and avocado. Slices of tuna, salmon and avocado are wrapped around the roll, which is finished with all three of Bear Van’s sushi sauces (including chapu sauce) and sriracha dots.
In February, Yaki is unveiling another secret menu item: the Sweetheart roll. Shaped in a heart, the roll is filled with cream cheese, spicy crab and spicy tuna and topped with fresh salmon, spicy mayo and dots of eel sauce.
Located at 5709 Oleander Drive, Yaki Express is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
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