These steaks sizzle


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

I was so sure when Yosh opened in Restaurant Row that its plate-lunch format would help it survive where loftier dreams have gone bust. But it's become another casualty, as the economic downturn has led to the return of the brown-bag lunch.





        Restaurant Row / 537-4573

Food: ;*;*;*;*


Service: ;*;*;*


Ambience: ;*;*;*


Value: ;*;*;*;*


Hours: Breakfast 7 to 11 a.m. and lunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays


Cost: About $20 for two



The Yosh sign was still up as of Friday, and most diners dropping in didn't know they were dealing with a new entity, Stonegrill Restaurant.

The restaurant is still serving dishes, like furikake salmon and mochiko chicken, familiar to Yosh customers, though the recipes have changed to that of owners Lea and Joungwon Seg, who are most excited about introducing the Stonegrill concept to Hawaii. It's the stone cooking surface that caught my eye one day when I walked by the restaurant and spotted Joungwon outside, presenting a cooking demonstration.

The sizzle is nothing new to those familiar with yakiniku dining, but instead of the gas or charcoal grill, a smooth, inch-thick volcanic stone tile is heated to 752 degrees, which quickly cooks steak, chicken and fish to desired doneness.

It's too bad more people haven't been trying it, but it's only been a few weeks that the stone grill has been available, and only for weekday lunches at that. The couple of times I've had it, other patrons have stopped by my table to ask about it, but no doubt it's somewhat intimidating for a lunch crowd short on time. I was doubtful about Joungwon's claim that a person can start and finish a meal in 30 minutes, but that turned out to be true.

I walked downstairs from my office at 1:10 one day, and by the time I had ordered, cooked and consumed the fillet of salmon ($8.25) and accompaniments, it was 1:45 p.m. I didn't feel rushed or stressed at all during the 35 minutes. And that extra five minutes might simply have been due to my waffling over whether to finish the whole dish or take home the little piece of fish and rice that would have been the difference between feeling sated or overstuffed. When in doubt, take it home.

If you don't feel you can escape from your desk on a weekday, it's an option to consider on Fridays, when people seem to have more time to wander farther afield and enjoy a more leisurely lunch hour. And, if you're worried about the cost, that's not much of an issue, either. The complete Stonegrill meal—with entree, steamed vegetables, a tossed green salad and choice of rice or mashed potatoes—starts at $8.25. I think it's an exceptional value for just a little more than the going rate for a plate lunch these days.

You don't have to worry much about getting oil spatters on your work clothes, either, except in the case of the salmon, a naturally oily fish that kept sending out tiny little bursts on my arms and neck. Most people probably wouldn't even feel them, but I'm sensitive to the slightest physical pain and discomfort.

The beef tenderloin ($19.99) will cost you the most, but it is terrific when prepared on the stone grill. The selling point for purists is the healthful aspect of cooking without oil or much tampering at all. The high temperature sears the meat and locks in its natural juices without much shrinkage or the possibility of picking up cooking compounds associated with oils, gas and sugars.

The light treatment worked well with the steaks and fish, but I found the chicken to be left somewhat dry by the process and in need of some extra help from a sauce. A sweet chili sauce was provided but wasn't my idea of a sauce that enhances chicken. I would have preferred something more savory, with a homemade touch. On the other hand, a light peppercorn sauce accompanying steak and salmon worked well. Use it for dipping or slather it on during the cooking process.

  IF YOU CAN'T spring for the tenderloin, New York steak ($9.99) will also fulfill a craving for red meat. Given the thickness of both steak and chicken, you'd assume it would take a while for them to cook, but it's a fast process, such that one of my lunch companions said it stressed her out because she wanted to keep her steak as rare as possible.

She was advised to place the fillet on a round of accompanying red onion, and that seemed to work fine. The end result was tender, rare steak and a pile of nicely caramelized onions such that I felt rather envious.

What would also help is if the restaurant could offer an extra dish on the side for placing cooked foods. Although the stone is delivered in a ceramic “;tray”; with two slots for your side dishes, placing the cooked meats on top of the other ingredients doesn't really work in that you have to then dig around for your salad. Lunch shouldn't have to turn into an excavation project.

I really hope more people try it. I, for one, hope they'll be able to stick around.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin.