I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a Hamptons secret anymore, and anyway, can you really be a secret if you exist in plain sight? Yama-Q is Bridgehampton’s most visibly invisible restaurant. It occupies prime real estate. (Main Street, right down from Bobby Van’s, where you’ll find the street’s most expensive steak.) Its façade is distinctive. (Bleached Japanese wood.) And on a strip dedicated to western cuisine (Almond, Pierre’s, and, yes, Bobby Van’s), it’s decidedly eastern.
Still, between the hours — Yama-Q is not open every day — and its lack of pretention, Yama-Q is one of those places that fades seamlessly into the background, until you remember how much you love it. It opened in 1997, the project of Hisao Shiroyama, which means that, among other things, it has survived the test of time. Two decades later, the restaurant is a family affair. The fish comes from Gosman’s, Braun’s, Cor-J’s, and, on occasion, Japan. It’s the quality — and not the visibility — that matters.
Shiroyama has been in the sushi restaurant business since some of us, ahem, were just out of diapers. He was a founding partner of Sen, though he has long-since left. These days, his work is of the no-frills variety. Light, fish-based food, heavy on the straight-from-the-boat ethos. It’s sushi, sashimi, or, sometimes, seared scallops.
The menu itself is slim. It’s barely existent. Peruse online and you’ll find yourself thinking what are all these people ranting and raving about? But there are always blackboard specials, tucked into a corner of the restaurant. And anyway, does a menu always betray a place’s greatness?
But that blackboard. It changes daily, according to what’s available at the market. There are cooked and raw dishes advertised, sometimes soups, often a dessert.
Shiroyama grew up in Kyoto, an area of Japan renowned for its fine white and brown rice and stir-fries. That’s why, at Yama-Q, you will find more than just sushi on the menu. Here is an actual best-kept secret: Yama-Q caters.
I have yet to understand fully the rhyme or reason to this establishment’s catering menu, which includes an assorted wrap platter, chicken quesadilla platter (free-range chicken, pepper jack, chipotle puree, scallions), burrito platter (free-range chicken, black beans, pepper jack, onions, peppers, sour cream, guac, and salsa), dumpling platter (pork and vegetable), summer roll platter (lettuce, avocado, cabbage slaw, beets, mango, cucumber), stir-fry platter, crab cake platter, duck quesadilla platter, chicken teriyaki platter, steak teriyaki platter, salmon teriyaki platter, seared tuna platter, vegetarian risotto, red Thai stir-fry platter, sushi bar for up to 24, sashimi “samurai” platter, vegetarian roll platter, tempura platter, salad bar platter, and more — but maybe these things are better left accepted, and not understood.
Secret is a buzzword. Yama-Q isn’t really a secret. It might feel secret. It might feel like a relief from the Hamptons. It is not frenetic, or scene-y, or moneyed. And yet . . . is that (insert favorite celebrity here)? The people who know about Yama-Q have known about it for years. The people who are smart enough to have sought out lunch — a sneaky, inexpensive respite from the Hamptons scene — have done so for years. There are not many places left in the Hamptons where you can shed the pretension at the door. And there’s no telling how long such places will remain.
As the Hamptons continues to change, the Yama-Qs of the world will be edged out. Or maybe they won’t. Here’s hoping that Main Street forever retains its true gem.