If you’re on Ellsworth Avenue keep a look out for a small red neon sign that reads “umi.” The sign is unassuming , but I assure you, in no way does it represent the awesomeness that awaits you inside.
Ascend two long stairways, and you’re inside umi, one of the Big Burrito restaurants. The décor is modern traditional Japanese; very soft colors and lighting with seating at the sushi bar, in the dining room, and in another small specialized room with tatami tables. Tatami tables have short legs. The tables are fitted with very short chairs and a mat sits under the chairs and table. I was told by the manager that the entire seating method can be referred to as “tatami style.” The dining area isn’t large- it’s small and cozy. No silverware adorns the tables; I imagine they would provide if asked, but why would you? Prior to the ordering we were provided with steaming towels to clean our hands.
Being a Chef I was fairly confident that I was familiar with what sushi was….wrong! Before I get into what we ate, let me explain what I learned. Drew, our waiter, told us that vinegared rice is the basis for all sushi. Sushi doesn’t mean fish (like most Americans think) but signifies any vinegared rice dish. The fish portion is called “sashimi”. Maki sushi is rolled sushi with narrow strips of seafood strips of seafood and vegetables Nori Maki is the most common type of sushi in the U.S., just about any ingredient can be rolled up in the center without using any sashimi, or raw fish. (Source: umi Homepage and Drew our waiter…thanks Drew!)
OK, hoping that made perfect sense (give it a while to sink in) let me go on to the menu, and our order. As an appetizer, we opted for the vegetable tempura; battered and fried broccoli, carrots, and mushroom served with a sweet-soy dipping sauce. The vegetables weren’t over-done and the batter was just a little sweet; excellent. Next, we ordered white tuna sashimi (just raw fish remember?) with chives, soy sauce and wasabi. The slices were thin; designed to tease the palate a bit, but not satisfy hunger. The fish was impeccably fresh and tasted sweet and buttery. After our sashimi was eaten, we were served a delicious house salad. It wasn’t fancy- mixed greens with tomato, cucumber, and a ginger-mirin dressing; wonderful! Now we were ready to eat. Rather than ordering off the menu, we let Drew make our selections for us. He put together a sushi and maki platter that was close to perfect. We enjoyed salmon, tuna, unagi, (eel) fluke, and spicy tuna. The rolls were perfectly prepared and delightfully fresh. The soy sauce and wasabi were an enjoyable combination to compliment the fresh fish, vinegared rice, and nori. The rolls at umi aren’t typical- they’re smaller than what you would expect to find at an Americanized sushi restaurant. The idea here is not to gorge one’s self on the fish and rice, rather experience the subtle tastes and textures one small piece at a time. After finishing our tasting platter we asked Drew if there was anything else we should try. Out came the spicy spider crab roll- by far my favorite. It was filled with asparagus, avocado, spicy fermented bean paste, and a tempura battered and fried soft shell crab. If you happen to get to umi, this is a must have! Our last course was the house-made sorbet; flavorful quenelles of mango, banana and chocolate-raspberry.
Another option at umi is something called “omakase.” Omakase is the Mr. Shu’s (the sushi chef’s) cuisine($75.00 and up, per person). He creates dishes based on the freshest items in house. Omikase is a multi-course meal, and highly recommended- the couple next to us ordered it, and were quite happy. As we were getting ready to leave they were savoring a piece of black cod (also known as butter fish) marinated in miso, then broiled. They tried to explain how good it was, but couldn’t find the words- I understood.
I’ve had, and made sushi on many occasions, but never of this quality. If you haven’t made it to umi yet you’re missing out. Get there soon, just be sure to make a reservation first!Umi 5847 Ellsworth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15232-1707