It was tough to hear Jun Suh on the phone over the sound of hammers earlier this week, as last-minute preparations continued for Friday night’s opening of Yanako, the new Manayunk sushi place by Chef Moon Krapugthong.
Suh is the manager and creative director of the restaurant, where chef Haruo Ige will oversee a traditional sushi menu and familiar Japanese selections in a bi-level, garden-like setting with inviting, warm wood paneling and shingles, Japanese terra cotta tiles and trellis work.
“Chef Moon,” as Krapugthong is known, also runs Main Street’s acclaimed Chabaa Thai, but this is her first foray into Japanese. She said she felt confident committing to a Japanese theme and sushi because of Ige’s more than 30 years of experience, and the enthusiasm of sous chef Agus Lukito. The three had worked together previously at Chef Moon’s now-closed Mango Moon.
Suh said the clarity of Moon’s idea for what she wanted the restaurant to be made the design process easier.
“She had a very clear vision, a very clear and precise vision of what she wanted,” Suh said. “She wants to invite you into her home, and that’s kind of the base concept that we started on.”
The name, Yanako, is a play on yamatonadeshiko, or the notion of an idealized Japanese woman — welcoming, feminine, devoted to family.
At a preview night Thursday, Suh jumped right in, toting family-sized trays of sushi rolls packed with bright, buttery salmon and avocado, and savory shiitake mushrooms with cream cheese. Small, tender oysters shone with a splash of jalapeno vinaigrette, and tempura shrimp were delicate and sweet. Creamy bites of Yukon gold potato topped with crab felt like cool comfort food on a warm night.
Yanako’s signature menu will be Ige’s sushi but there’s also a hot kitchen that will turn out tempura, braised beef, yakitori skewers, and noodles. The idea, Chef Moon said, is comfortable food in a comforting, family-style setting.
The design team includes Todd Rubio, Kyle Blackwell and Mike Cronomitz, all recent graduates of Philadelphia University, brought on to create the interior. Things went on a somewhat compressed schedule and budget, with design and building happening simultaneously, Suh said.
The vision starts at the street, with dark-painted pavement and cedar-paneled storefront, and carries through the interior, with slate floors and wood vertical planes throughout the 80-seat restaurant. Downstairs, diners can eat at individual tables or a striking 18-foot-long sushi bar made of four-inch-thick monkey pod wood with a wavy unfinished edge, with chalkboard wall panels above. Upstairs, a copper-wrapped communal table upstairs seats about 20.
The roof line of the downstairs courtyard came from an old temple, and all the wood siding and shingles are minimally finished and meant to be naturally beautiful, not overdone, Suh said. Hanging birdcage-style lanterns add depth, drawing the eye upward into the three-story atrium.
The first floor has a traditional ozashiki room with floor seating and a bay of windows in front, which during renovation were thrown open allowing in light and air — and also passersby, who got an early look at the work in progress.
At the preview party Thursday night, Moon’s young daughter sat there, an engaging hostess in a white summer dress.
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