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Restaurant Review: Umami

February 20, 2010

Last night, my boyfriend and I dined at Umami, a newish restaurant that just opened off of Union Street on Webster, and I have to say, I wasn’t terribly wowed.

The entrance is impressive: solid, large wooden doors that open into a dark, lofty kind of space.  A black curtain separates the riff raff from the dining elite… and they have plenty of seating, a generous bar area, and pretty damn good happy hour prices.

The decor upstairs was serene.  A view into the kitchen provided glimpses of chrome and brushed nickel appliances, clean and well maintained.  The walls were black with chalky silver trees sketched all over, and the tables were all of varying sizes but made of the same shiny lacquered mid-toned wood.  The music was decent (I noticed Radiohead, an immediate point in their favor) and the waitress was nice, but had bad timing.

We were both super hungry, so we ordered off the appetizer/happy hour menu first. We started with two pretty standard rolls (i.e. pretty hard to screw up), the spicy hamachi and the Alaska, both priced fantastically (if memory serves it was something like $4-6 bucks a roll) and also this lovely creamy edamame hummus with pitas.  The flavors were all pretty decent (edamame was the best for sure), but nothing spectacular. Once we got our appetizers tasted, we looked at the menu for real and got excited.  One of them really called my name: A roll with spicy scallops and avocado on the inside, and a layer of salmon and a very small piece of lemon right on top.

The roll arrived, went in my mouth and I had a sad. The flavors in this roll should have each been distinct, but they blended together too much and the creamy avocado with mayo and scallops overwhelmed the lemon and salmon on top.  It ended up tasting good, but I was left wishing that they had left a bit of rind on the lemon piece so that I could get a hint of a different flavor to cut all the cream, like my favorite sushi place Taraval Okazu Ya does.  Once you’ve got a mouth full of creamy savory flavors, it’s nice on your tongue but they all kind of blandly blend together.

The next roll we had was eel and hamachi, with wasabi tobiko and tempura flakes.  It looked gorgeous coming out, all sitting in a little circle with a giant pile of tempura flakes right on top.  The unfortunate part was that once you grabbed a piece and got it in your mouth, the tempura flakes filled your mouth to the point of discomfort.  Maybe that’s my one-bite bad manners, but I feel that a sushi piece should fit perfectly in your mouth and you should experience all the different flavors in waves, with each flavor blending and balancing the others.  It’s so sad, because in this roll, the eel and hamachi flavors were lost, which is the entire reason we chose that roll: eel is almost never paired with other fish!  Even the wasabi tobiko was barely noticeable. Save for the bright green specks, I wouldn’t have even known it was there.

The only saving grace was the miso soup.  Sad, huh? It came in a generous white china cup, and besides the usual tofu, scallions and shitake mushrooms, this soup had kale or chard in it as well as tender bamboo shoots.  The flavor was delicious and light.

So, if you’re like me and you enjoy distinct flavors in your sushi, you probably won’t like this place.  It has a case of the blands.  But, if your tongue is afraid, and you are a businessman or blond woman in your mid 30’s wearing a pastel collared shirt, you will love it.

The Radiohead must have been a fluke on the XM radio.

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