“House of Dreams”

By:  Sheen Fischer

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Yumeya, meaning “House of Dreams” is a family owned and operated sake house in the tradition of those commonly found in Japan.  In the case of this family, they hail from the Osaka region, widely hailed as the foodie nexus of the country.

Word on the street has it that one should arrive at around 5:00 p.m. on any weekend evening in order to be in line for the 5:30 opening of Yumeya Sake House.  That word would be correct.  By 5:15, every seat on both benches to the sides of the entry were taken and the line was about 25 people deep.

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This is the definition of a tapas or “small plate” restaurant.  Each order is a small portion that will give 2-4 people an opportunity to have a nice taste.  The menu selections are extensive and include daily specials, regular menu items and the most wonderful collection of sake I have run into in the area.

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As the second group in line, we were able to set up shop at some of the prime seats at the sake bar.  All sakes are available by the glass or by the bottle.  We had two tastings of three glasses each and then ordered a final glass of our favorite of those.

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At the bar, sake and food was served by one of the daughters of the family, Yuka.  Listening to her describe each sake she poured was reminiscent of listening to a level 3 sommelier regale you about the qualities of their favorite wine, except she had a smile on your face and you could understand every word she said.  You cannot go wrong placing yourself in her capable hands by asking her to simply pour her favorites.

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You may have had shrimp and chips before, but have you ever had your shrimp wrapped in the chips?  These shoestring potato wrapped shrimp are simple and to the point.  Use your fingers, dip into the wasabi mayo and enjoy.

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Blistered shishito peppers are maybe one of the bestest and riskier appetizers you will ever try.  They are a tasty, generally mild pepper with a slight bitterness.  These were served in a spectacular smoky tasting, blended sauce containing a bit of Tempura sauce, Sesame sauce and some secret family seasonings.  The risk – about one out of ten shishito peppers likes to jump out and bite you, as in, break out the fire extinguisher, that sucker was hot!

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The Hamachi collar was done in the same vein as the rest of the offerings of the evening.  Simple, containing just enough seasoning to enhance the natural flavor without overpowering it.  This one was succulently juicy.

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The freshly cooked Shimeji or “oyster” mushrooms on this salad combined with the creamy miso dressing to perform a little dance on our palates.  Slightly salty, creamy, nutty, crunchy, warm and cold all worked themselves into each bite.

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The thing I enjoyed most while eating here is that the sauces and spices used were not “Americanized” in any way.  This miso crusted black cod had all of the miso flavor without the heavy handed sweetness normally associated with many of the offerings found stateside.  The sear did its job of locking the juices into this naturally tender and light cut of fish.

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Take any beautifully seasoned meat or seafood, wrap it into a pocket of pastry and steam it to perfection and, well, you’d better make plenty of them.  These shrimp dumplings were accompanied by a slight squeeze of fresh wasabi paste and a dipping bowl for soy sauce, just in case you were looking for that traditional flavoring.

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Maybe I wasn’t trying too hard, but I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the Ginger Teriyaki Beef.  If this picture doesn’t look appetizing, feel free not to order any.  As for me, I don’t know what I’m going to do if they ever don’t have this available.  Once again, the teriyaki sauce was not overpowered by sugar or sweetness, yet was bursting with flavor thanks to the masterful inclusion of fresh ginger.  This dish is a must have anytime you visit.

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Okay, tempura is tempura.  That still doesn’t mean it is easy to do right – in other words, not soggy.  The green tea sea salt, though, was a novelty for us.  It was so good on the shrimp, we didn’t even bother with the tempura sauce.

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Takoyaki are basically little savory donuts with a small piece of octopus baked into the middle.  There is hardly a food market in Japan or any Japantown in the world where you cannot get these.  We save them for dessert and were again delighted at how the subtle difference between a family recipe and a mass produced chain version makes the flavor so much better.

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And once again, the food gods reached down to remind us that they have their fingers on every ingredient in the food universe.  On the way out we ran into one of the best palates in the San Diego food world, Pascal Besset, founder of Angel’s Salumi and Truffles, with his daughter Kassandra.  This is one of his favorite local spots and he has the stories to prove it!

Yumeya has officially made my list of comfort places that are on my regular rotation.  It is small, seating only about 25 people at capacity.  It is intimate and immediately familiar, exactly how you would expect the best type of family run establishment to be. The line is fairly constant all evening.  Yet, the crowd is local, cheerful, friendly and more than willing to settle in for the relatively short wait for great food, sake and service.   Cheers, my friends!

Yumeya Sake House

1246 N Coast Hwy 101
Encinitas, CA 92024

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