It’s easy to walk right on by Yama. Not because it blends into a row of other similar looking businesses, but because it’s located in the basement floor of a building–a very beautiful, 19th century one. Even if you focused in on the building as you walked by, you might be distracted by a plaque that states that Washington Irving, author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” used to live in it without even noticing that there is a sushi restaurant located just below it.
The address for the building, 122 East 17th Street, is also known as 49 Irving Place–yup, Irving Place named after Washington Irving. It was built around 1843/1844 in the Greek Revival style as one of three row houses, although one of them no longer exists (the other existing one is 47 Irving Place), and Italianate features were added later on. Despite what the plaque claims, there’s actually no historical evidence that Washington Irving lived in this house. His nephew Edgar Irving did live at 120 East 17th, right next door, and had a son named Washington though. Whether fact or fiction, the building is still quite pretty to look at and recalls old New York.
When a restaurant or apartment is underground it can really go one of two ways…depressing or cozy. Thankfully, Yama goes the second way. I had lunch here with some coworkers on a day when it was snowing heavily outside, so there was something really lovely about being tucked away in such a snug space in this picturesque, historic building, watching the snow fall outside.
Yama has quite a few lunch special options, most of which come with your choice of soup or salad and all of which offer a good serving of food. Don’t you just hate lunch specials that seem like a bargain but you realize it’s cheap because you’re not getting much at all? Not here!
For one, just look at how big those pieces of fish are on the nigiri! I’ve never been served sushi with slices that generous before. Word to the wise: It’s common practice for there to be a dab of wasabi under the fish/on top of the rice, but there was a little more than I was expecting on these. Maybe it’s just the way of the sushi chef who was working that day, or maybe that’s what they all do. In any case, I’m a big fan of wasabi so I didn’t mind, but just be prepared!
While Yama’s space might be a bit tight for a large birthday gathering or something of the like, it’s great for dining alone, which you can do comfortably at the sushi bar, or for something like an intimate business lunch or date night. If you’re like me you won’t stop thinking that if Washington Irving had in fact lived here, what would he think about the sushi spot downstairs? How the times have changed!
122 E 17th St
New York, NY 10003