I’ve spent some time waiting in line outside popular ramen houses, but my toddler is a ticking time bomb nowadays, so it’s nice to walk right into a restaurant like Yaki Mani at a quiet hour. We parked in front of the restaurant and felt a surge of excitement: the place has a great modern-casual vibe, with slate blue walls and bare pine tables. The red tiled floor was certainly a cleaner racecourse than my own kitchen lately, and my kid found an engaged spectator in the waitress, who smiled at every completed lap. Now that I find myself needing to apologize at restaurants, friendly service matters more than ever, and Yaki Mani had plenty.
A quick glance at the menu shows there is something Pan-Asian going on here. This isn’t the comprehensive “yeah, that too” approach that plagued Asian-American restaurants of yore. Instead, we have a short, snappy menu that falls somewhere between Chinese and Japanese. Sushi: we know where that comes from. But the menu says dumplings, which are Chinese. Finally, a couple entrees - wait, bulgogi? Korean now? Like a disputed island somewhere in the Pacific, this menu has a select few dishes, and they’re worth arguing over.
I tried the plum juice, Yaki Mani’s nice little diversion from the norm ($2). Then we began with the sushi. Here the style was as undeniably American as the stars and stripes Yaki Mani has draped prominently in the back of the dining room. The emphasis is rolls and sauce, with bold and creamy textures. Our spicy salmon salad ($8) bore thin slices of sashimi over lettuce, which are absolutely Jackson Pollocked with stripes of spiced mayo and chili sauce. A lot more restrained, our Big Bambuu roll ($8) was a pretty classic balance of salmon atop an asparagus roll. Yes, the Big Bambuu had a little zigzag of sour cream sauce, but it was a much more composed mouthful, with a crunch. The rice had good texture and the cuts of fish were clean.
Next to the ramen, more border-crossing: one dish is called Lan Zhou Beef Noodle soup, and the Chinese name definitely rang true, closer to Vietnamese pho than Japanese ramen. I’m far more interested in slurping than gatekeeping, and this we did. The ramen ($8) was the soup equivalent of a session ale, less complicated, less forward, with a much lighter broth than the paitan ramen styles that are all the rage now in the US.
Such ramen offers its own satisfaction. If you know what you’re getting into, you’ll enjoy its drinkability and balance. By default, there’s no egg, no nori, just the fundamentals: noodles, green onions, beef slices, and a good clear beef broth.
My favorite items were the dumplings. Nothing sings a song of spring quite like lamb, so lamb and carrot dumplings it was ($9). They supplied ample, juicy mouthfuls without any grease. The wrappers were perfectly cooked, with great flavor. I was slightly aggrieved at my little one for taking a shine to these.
Lastly, the waitress brought in a full range of desserts, crafted by SAMA, the Johnston confectioners. Appropriately enough, many cultures make their way into their delightful, wide-mouth jars, from crème brûlée to matcha. We went Chinese, which seemed most fitting, with a milk pudding over red beans ($6), a clean end to the meal. Metaphorically clean, that is. We were with a 14-month old.
188 Taunton Ave, East Providence • 401-438-9888