Don’t let the modest storefront fool you. There’s some serious firepower in the kitchen at Yatai Casual Asian, which just opened in downtown Mineola.
Chef-partners Tomo Kobayashi and Jeffrey Scala are both veterans of George and Gillis Poll’s restaurant empire: Kobayashi, a Japanese native, was the founding executive chef of Manhasset’s Toku Modern Asian Restaurant, one of the best Asian restaurants on Long Island; Scala was the executive chef at Cipollini Trattoria & Bar, and also helped launch the Poll brothers’ Bar Frites (Greenvale) and Hendricks Tavern (Roslyn). Joining the chefs is a third partner, Richard Garfinkel, who was for many years the CFO of Poll Restaurants.
“Yatai,” Kobayashi explained, refers to the street food of Japan — ramen noodles, dumplings and other quick meals sold from stalls. At Yatai, the concept expands to take in such global noshes as a chicken-meatball banh mi ($8.50), a fried chicken sandwich with spicy Korean gochujang aioli ($7.50), a classic burger on a potato bun ($5.50), a kale and quinoa salad with a Thai-chili vinaigrette ($9.50) and Bejing-style lo mein ($7). Of course there are dumplings ($5) — pork, chicken or vegetable, steamed or pan fried — and ramen made with house-made broth and artisanal noodles from Sun Noodle in New Jersey. The pork ramen ($11) includes barbecued pork, soy-marinated egg and corn; the chicken ramen ($5.50) features house-made wontons, bok choy and scallions.
While there is seating for about 25 in the stylishly spare dining room, takeout is a major focus: Order at the counter, and be prepared for disposable plates, bowls and flatware.
What motivated the two chefs to abandon the world of fine dining? Kobayashi said that too much of the fine-dining experience was “a pain in the neck.” He and Scala wanted to pare their place down to its most basic elements — good food well cooked — and get rid of the extraneous stuff like running a big dining room, training a wait staff, etc. That said, he expects that weekend evenings at Yatai may eventually evolve into fine-dining-ish affairs, with omakase (chef’s choice) dinners, wine-pairing events and whole-animal feasts.
Yatai Casual Asian is at 100 Main St., Mineola, 516-280-9360, yataikitchen.com