Fusion cuisine has always been hit or miss for me. I'm not a dish purist in the least, and sometimes cross-cultural cuisine blending leads to some pretty amazing results (e.g., mentaiko spaghetti or Korean tacos). Yet like some dysfunctional couples, certain combos just aren't meant to be (e.g., foie gras fried rice -- what a waste of liver).
Though Umami plays off as a Japanese izakaya and has a traditionally-trained Japanese sushi chef, its menu features fusion fare inspired from diverse areas, including Korea ("bi bimu bappu" hot pot), Vietnam/France (Vietnamese coffee pot de creme), Italy (green tea gelato), and the Middle East (edamame hummus). I went in with a hungry stomach and an open mind, and here's the verdict on the dishes I tried.
HIT: Ahi Poke Tacos
Sesame-marinated yellow fin tuna diced and mixed with avocado, tobiko, greens, and Japanese yam, in a crispy golden wonton shell. All the flavors of ahi tuna poke but presented in a new and fun way!
The wonton shell was what really held everything together ... just the right texture and thickness!
MISS: Hamachi Ceviche
I usually love ceviche, but this one didn't cut it for me. There was too much going on with the strawberry, mango, and vinegar-y salsa, so the normally rich texture and sweet flavor of the hamachi was just not there. Beautiful presentation though.
HIT: Shibuya Sliders
My favorite dish of the night! Seasoned Kobe beef, crispy shallots, and gingered pickles with spicy aioli sauce all stuffed between steamed, slightly sweet white buns. A wonderfully balanced and fun combination of four distinct taste profiles -- savory, sour, sweet, and spicy. YUM!!
MISS: Hotsui Roll
I ordered this roll because it had several great ingredients -- snow crab, avocado, cucumber, butterfish, and hamachi. It tasted great when I first started chewing, but then about halfway through, my mouth was flaming from chili oil and ginger and god knows what else. I guess it's good if you like really spicy sushi and don't care about tasting anything else you're eating after.
So as I expected, the experience at Umami really depends on what you order. I'd definitely go back for the sliders and the tacos, and would probably try some of their other sushi rolls, but I'd steer clear of anything too experimental. Though I'm admittedly still curious about that edamame hummus...
2909 Webster Street
San Francisco, CA 94123