The affinity that Americans have developed for Japanese food is not surprising. This centuries-old cuisine -- an intricate marriage of nature and art -- meshes well with the popular California-style cooking that stresses freshness and health-conscious preparation.
Neither is it surprising to find Japanese restaurants popping up like so many shiitake mushrooms as calorie-counting Americans seek to expand their tastes in dining out without filling themselves out.
Newly arrived in Falls Church, the Yamano Hana Restaurant, a sister restaurant to Kaori Hana in Bethesda and Niwano Hana in Rockville, offers the typical range of Japanese dishes.
The quality is good, but garnishes such as mounds of finely shredded carrots, potatoes and cabbage seemed more "informal California" than "elegant Japanese." The cucumber slices served to each diner were more perfunctory than artful.
The lack of finer touches in presentation doesn't seem to bother the restaurant's patrons. And the mere presence of this "mountain flower" (yamano hana) between the Price Chopper food store and the Drug Fair is, in itself, a fine touch to the generally drab Culmore Shopping Center.
Inside, attractive wooden screens form a short passageway leading into a surprisingly spacious dining area dotted with square butcher block tables and a sushi bar.
Sushi is popular, and on Tuesday nights there is a sushi special: each sushi order is half-price after the first $5 worth. Diners should be aware, however, that the $5 threshold applies to each person. For two people, you have to order more than $10 of sushi to take advantage of the special.
We tried a wide variety of the 32 items on the a la carte sushi menu and, with the lone exception of a slightly dried-out yellowtail, they were all very good and fresh, including the salmon skin roll, the mackerel, abalone and the tuna.
The shrimp tempura, good as an appetizer, is a better bargain when ordered from the a la carte dinner menu. A party of two or three, for example, might want to share the six jumbo shrimp and vegetables for $9 rather than to order individual tempura appetizers of only two shrimp at $4.
The tasty and satisfying soups can be either light and delicate, such as miso and egg drop, or hearty, such as the meal-in-a-bowl nabe (stews). The nabeyaki udon, a sweetish broth containing shrimp tempura, egg noodles, chicken, vegetables and a whole poached egg, also included half-moons of "ocean steak," a processed seafood creation. You can request a shaker of seasonings with hot dried chilis if you want more zip.
As a winter special at Yamano Hana, most of the heartier soups and sukiyaki dishes are now available as dinners for two.
For those who are squeamish about raw fish or hesitant to try something new, the teriyaki dishes are an alternative. Chicken teriyaki, boneless chicken breast glazed with a sweet soy sauce marinade, was juicy and tender. The beef teriyaki, however, was a little tough and made from top loin rather than the New York sirloin strip steak listed on the menu.
Another alternative, the seafood cutlets, deep-fried in bread crumbs and batter, was acceptable but is not by itself a reason to seek out this restaurant.
For dessert, the green tea tofu ice cream is delicious, despite its unappealing name. The Japanese fruit cocktail has a familiar name, but with an unfamiliar addition: tiny, Jello-like, pink and white cubes made from agar that have the texture of a very ripe pear but a taste all their own.
If, after a good meal or a couple of drinks, you feel like singing, go to Yamano Hana on a Friday or Saturday night and sing along with the karaoke machine, Japanese technology that can make you feel like a cabaret singer. Grab the microphone, put the taped musical accompaniment of your choice in the machine and start crooning.
Whether or not you enjoy singing in public, you can enjoy fresh, generally tasty food at Yamano Hana. The chefs may not transform cucumber wedges into boats or carve carrot slices into crabs, but they execute the basics of Japanese cuisine with competence.