Wednesday, March 23, 2011


At the beginning of March was the grand opening of Madison's new ramen and dumpling restaurant, Umami, on Williamson Street.  It's tucked up into a residential stretch, so if you blink, you might miss it.  The Wednesday before the grand opening we tried a sampling of their menu for their "soft opening".  We've had our eye on the development of the restaurant since the fall, so we were were thrilled when we finally got to try the food.

The restaurant's shell is a quaint old home that looks like it could have come out of a Miyazaki movie, but the interior is surprisingly modern with great atmosphere.  We sat at the bar, which had a rough-hewn feel reminiscent of the ramen-ya where we ate at in Tokyo mixed with a sleek contemporary feel complete with backlighting.

We started out with tasty salads, which were not particularly Asian, but definitely solid.  The inclusion of some not-so-Japanese items on the menu will prove helpful when we take less adventurous friends and family to Umami--and we certainly will!


We did not get shots of the gyoza (dumplings) since for the soft opening we were served passed dumplings on a platter.  We enjoyed the traditional pork dumplings, but surprisingly liked the chicken and mushroom best.  The pork bun and tuna poke were both impressive--the pork bun with a nicely cooked piece of pork belly on a fluffy steamed rice bun, and the poke a pile of fresh raw tuna tossed in a pleasantly spicy and gingery sauce.  This from a woman who would never have considered eating raw fish a few years ago.

pork belly with hoisin and pickles on a steamed bun

 tuna poke

The main event--and honestly the reason we went--was the ramen.  Matt ordered the thicker, richer tonkotsu broth topped with pork and I tried the lighter miso broth with chicken.  They also had a vegetarian option that we did not try.  I had not had miso ramen previously, and that might be why I was surprised at its lightness.  The miso ramen had a nicely cooked egg and tender chicken on top, but I still preferred Matt's (perhaps because a richer broth is what I'm used to) and ate a lot of his noodles.  Tonkotsu broth is cloudy, salty, fatty, porky--definitely multidimensional--and the flavor seemed to soak into the noodles more than in the miso bowl.  I didn't get any of the pork, but Matt (obviously) liked it and wished there had been more.  Ultimately, both bowls had that essential smell and flavor of ocean that typifies Japanese food and took us right back.

 tonkotsu ramen with pork (left) and miso ramen with chicken (right)

My dessert order was a no-brainer--green tea creme brulee.  The tea flavor was not overwhelming, but present.  I always enjoy a good creamy creme brulee with a nice crackly crust, and this hit the mark.  Matt's ice cream sandwich was fine, but not a stand-out.  I'd go with the brulee again next time.

 green tea creme brulee

chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich

For their first week in operation, Umami made a great first impression.  I look forward to trying their menu again and taking others there for the variety of tasty dishes and fun atmosphere.

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