Yama Japanese Restaurant
Customers have been high-fiving co-owner Yong Yamamato for the dramatic expansion of her family's eatery into the former yoga studio next door, which tripled the seating and transformed it over five months from a takeout vibe.
"My customers are so happy for me," says Yamamato, who prefers this five-year-old location over their previous 12-year-old one on Atlantic Avenue because it draws more locals. "Our customers are very long time and friends. The children used to come in and learn to use chopsticks, and now they're all grown in college."
Yellow and gold walls and wood tables and floor lend a warm ambience with Japanese paintings, high ceiling, open kitchen and doubled sushi bar.
The spaciousness has ushered in Thai and Korean specialties from their Lake Worth restaurant, Yama Asian Cuisine. Yamamato is Korean, her co-owner husband is Japanese, and a longtime employee is Thai, so the variety is not surprising.
Korean best-sellers have been seafood pancake with squid and shrimp ($12), beef barbecue bulgogi ($11, lunch; $19, dinner) and thin-sliced spicy pork barbecue ($11, lunch; $18, dinner). Thai favorites are pad Thai with protein choice ($10-$11, lunch; $15-$17, dinner) and light Yama fried rice with chicken, beef, shrimp and egg ($12, lunch; $17, dinner).
Up next: Daily specials and room dividers for a cozier feel.
620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-523-5767, ValentinosCucinaItaliana.com
Owner Giovanni Rocchio has promoted Luke Bergman to chef de cuisine to conceive the entrees and most of the appetizers at his chic, contemporary Italian jewel.
"I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and moved to New York 13 years ago," Bergman says. "I was working in Manhattan and Giovanni visited the restaurant, and we stayed in touch. Once he opened the new Valentino, I felt like it was a great opportunity to take the skills I had learned back to my hometown. My style is progressive, going more abstract."
For his roasted duck breast ($36), for instance, he cuts off the skin and fries it with black trumpet mushrooms and shallots, then spreads it where the skin used to be.
Rocchio still is focusing on his stunning pastas and invested in expensive equipment to start crafting about five breads a night, such as focaccia, olive or walnut raisin, with a crunchy crust.
"I wanted to start making my own bread because it is impossible to find good bread like I remembered in Italy," Rocchio says. "Bread is very intensive, and timing is everything."
New pastry chef Stephanie Costca, who hails from 3030 Ocean, is adding desserts such as raspberry macaroon paired with a chocolate/nut-covered foie gras ball that mirrors the Ferrero Rocher candy ($12).
"I try to put color in every plate," she says. "As soon as you see the plate, you need to salivate."
Mixologists have updates too: nearly a dozen cocktails with several showcasing whiskey, rye or bourbon, such as Bitter Michter's with rye, Jack Daniel's Honey, vermouth and bitters of orange spice and grapefruit ($14).
Rocchio plans to open a casual, industrial-look restaurant next door by the end of the year.