Umami is one of Pittsburgh’s newest restaurants and is just the type of place I love-ethnic food served in a hip setting (i.e. not just dingy walls and Formica tables). Umami is the brainchild of Roger Li (of the former Tamari) and is an izakaya, or Japanese pub that serves a full array of Asian cuisine.
Located in Lawrenceville on the third floor of the same building that houses Round Corner Cantina, the walk up makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to a small corner of provincial Japan (this is a good thing). The décor and subdued lighting in the stairwells definitely set the tone of great ambiance.
The actual restaurant still features some beautiful décor but then it also has a ton of natural light streaming in from the windows along with a perfect view of busy Butler Street below. Umami is the new thing it seems; it is quite loud there and the kitchen is in the open style so you have all of the food-making noises and kitchen staff going as well. But whether it’s an English pub or a Japanese-style one, I don’t think anyone goes to such an establishment expecting a quiet meal.
Between its sushi and other offerings, Umami is very much the type of place where you want to share and sample as much as possible. The menu is broken down into the following sections-robatayaki, a type of cooking similar to barbecue where food on skewers is slow-grilled over hot charcoal; sushi, (sashimi, nigiri, temaki, and onigiri); and yatai, street-style food.
We both ordered a Marble Soda to start, which is basically Japan’s equivalent of a soft drink. The bottles required a minor education in terms of how to open them, but once opened, I definitely enjoyed my Lychee flavored soft drink.
Meals seem to come with your choice of either a bowl of miso soup or edamame; we opted for the latter.
While I am still not a sushi fan, D is starting to like it more and so he ordered the Maguro/Tuna ($10) roll. It was quite large although somewhat difficult to delve into. Temaki (which is what this was) is a rolled cone of seaweed wrapped around rice and fillings.
From the robatayaki portion of the menu, we ordered the Pork Belly ($3) and Japanese Eggplant ($1.50). Of the two, I preferred the eggplant but both were delicious, especially with that succulent grilled taste. The robatayaki portions are small (hence their low cost) so you would need to order quite a few to be full.
From the Yatai section of the menu, we ordered the following:
Pork Gyoza ($8)-pan fried pork and cabbage pot stickers with rayu shoyu (soy sauce). These were delicious although I definitely felt some food intake guilt due to their pan-fried nature.
Nasu Shigiyaki ($9)-pan fried Japanese eggplant, ground chicken, and saikyo miso sauce. This might have been my favorite dish. I can never get enough of eggplant and the chicken was so incredibly soft without losing its taste.
Pork and Shrimp Shumai ($8)-open-face dumplings filled with pork shoulder and shrimp ikura and topped with edamamae and gari-su shoyu. In hindsight, it was perhaps mild overkill on the dumpling ordering, especially since both these and the gyoza featured pork. But I still loved them all the same even if they were slightly tricky to eat when working with just chopsticks.
For dessert, we opted to split the Castella ($8)-I didn’t quite get the name…This is matcha sponge cake (matcha being green tea), along with a layer of adzuki mousse, iced with white chocolate ganache, and topped with a sesame lace cookie. Sublime doesn’t even begin to describe it.
My only negative of the meal was that the restaurant was warm, exceptionally so to the point where you were just sweating. I’m not sure if it was a combination of the A/C unit not working properly or the heat from the grill is just that strong in a somewhat small space on the third floor, but be forewarned.
All in all, the food I sampled at Umami was superb and it’s confirmation of why Lawrenceville is my favorite spot to go for a meal.