On the unsuspecting street corner of 22nd and Brandywine Streets in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, you will find a little Japanese BYOB called Umai Umai. I noticed this place again and again whenever I brought my cat to The Cat Doctor right across the street from this restaurant. Good sushi in Philadelphia, good sushi in my neighborhood in walking distance-could it be true? I was skeptical at first. I have experienced a few sushi places here in Philadelphia but they did not compare to the sushi restaurants that I loved in my hometown of New Orleans. You may not associate sushi with New Orleans but places like Rock n’ Sake, Sake Cafe and Kyoto in New Orleans delivered amazing quality sushi with unusual and delicious combinations utilizing the best and freshest of local fish and seafood. In a sushi restaurant, I expect the usual staples but I also want to try something new. Going out for sushi should be a fun adventure. When the wildest roll on the menu is the Philadelphia Roll, count me out because I want more.
It wasn’t until my experience at Umai Umai that my sushi expectations were finally met with flying colors in Philadelphia. The BYOB aspect is not my favorite but it has its pros like being a more affordable option but the cons are that I have to remember to buy a bottle of wine. Sometimes, I just prefer restaurants to do that leg work for me even if it will cost me. However for my most recent visit to Umai Umai, my friend, Holly brought the wine. It was a hot, hot mid-July day here in Philadelphia, perfect weather for refreshing, cool and flavorful sushi enjoyed in air conditioning.
Overwhelmed by all of the amazing menu items, we just focused on the wine that Holly brought until we could collect ourselves. Looking around inside Umai Umai, the minimalist approach makes smart use of the small square footage in colors of red and black. Taking in our surroundings, we sipped our wine and chatted about life’s events and finally decided what to order after our waitresses third visit to our table. It was a tough choice among appetizers like “Asian Tapas for Two-Spring roll with lime vinaigrette, shrimp shumai with champagne-saffron, vegetable gyoza with citrus-soy and edamame”, “Salmon Tartar-minced salmon served atop blueberry-balsamic reduction with apricot miso brulee & mango-basil salad”, and “Mini Tuna Burger-pan seared tuna loin, romaine, tomato, onion, mayo, & cumin BBQ sauce, served with panko crusted mac and cheese”. We decided upon the “Tuna Bruschetta-tuna set atop a pressed tortilla, topped with bruschetta and finished with anchovy dill aioli”. The bruschetta was crispy on the bottom, tender, melt-in-your-mouth tuna on top, and a creamy finish with the anchovy and dill aioli.
With a taste of this perfection, we were thrilled to see what would appear from the kitchen onto our table next, a long rectangular while plate covered with, gorgeous and colorful rolls. We did our very best to narrow down our rolls to a manageable number but you just want to have a taste of everything. This sushi menu covers everything that a sushi lover may want. In addition to all of the delicious appetizers, comforting soups like “Vegetable Dumpling-light soy-dashi broth, vegetable pot stickers and chives”, “Udon-Udon noodles with chives and phyllo shrimp”, or a classic Miso are available to warm you from the inside out. On the cooler side, “Calamari Salad-crispy calamari, mixed greens and miso-vinaigrette” and “Grilled Scallop-scallops with watercress, watercress vinaigrette and sesame seeds” are just some of the fresh items on the Greens menu. Next comes the entrees, which is the perfect compromise for anyone who is not into eating sushi. With items like “Chicken Teriyaki-pan seared chicken served atop Japanese pumpkin mash and sauteed string beans finished with house teriyaki”, “Shrimp Pad Thai-hot wok sauteed vegetables, eggs, roasted peanuts, shrimp and rice noodles in a sweet and sour tomato sauce” and “Premium Kobe Beef”, anyone, not just sushi-lovers, will love something from the menu at Umai Umai.
The Sushi and Sashimi menu brings a variety of fish divided into categories like “Prime”, “Blue-Skin”, “White, “Surfers”, and “Roe”. On to my most favorite part of any sushi menu, the Specialty Rolls. There are the constant specialty rolls that are on the menu as well as chef’s specials that change frequently. Tremendous creativity and culinary talent goes into creating these specialty rolls. You will be utterly satisfied with rolls such as the “Poseidon-shrimp tempura, snow crab mixture, avocado and BBQ eel” and “Nemo-tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber and avocado”. By far the most delicious and show stopping specialty roll has got to be the “Godzilla-shrimp tempura, BBQ eel, avocado, strawberry, honey, and roasted Macadamia nuts”. The use of fruit in a roll, especially strawberry, with the added sweetness of honey and crunch from both the tempura and the nuts makes the Godzilla an inspiring force on this menu. Don’t feel like you have to order the specialty rolls on this menu to get something special. The house rolls pack the punch as well by taking simple rolls like a classic Spicy Tuna Roll and kicking it up with a creamy spicy mayo sauce and crunchy potato strings.
Every bite of this meal completely satisfied all of my sushi expectations. Sushi lovers gather together and get out to Umai Umai for some fabulous dining. If you aren’t into the sushi, then just try one the many fabulous desserts like the “Banana Spring Roll-cinnamon and nutmeg sauteed banana spring roll, flash fried, and served atop red bean sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream”. Delicious!
533 N. 22nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130