Friday, August 09, 2013

Sushi c/o Umai Umai

There was a weekend where I found myself in Philly with literally no plans. The option of a day at home with no commitments or activities was, in a sense, rare. I have been perking up my summer weekends with a fairly consistent number of trips and whatnot. But home I was. And home, it was good to be. Except that I hadn't gone grocery shopping in a long, actually just long but not really hot, second. Except that second was more like two weeks. So I was at home, hungry, and watching episodes of the David Chang version of a cooking show. You should watch it too. He'll make things you know are complicated seem, for a moment, not-so-much, and then more likely than not you'll go to a restaurant that somehow relates to whatever the episode is. In my case it was a delayed reaction. I had watched the Chang episode where pretty much it's all Japan, all the time. At the time, I restrained myself. But an episode featuring a Danish chef with his own experimental houseboat and weirdo farmer? Somehow it was too much. There they were with a 100 year old clam and freshly picked plants and rotten potatoes and all these other things, and all I could think of was the other Japan episode. I wanted real and good sushi and I wanted to try new things like it was just par for the course. And so for those reasons, and others, I decided to go to Umai Umai. Umai Umai is not terribly far away from where I live. I have heard many people really praise it. But I gotta say in the first few times I went? I always felt slightly like I wasn't getting it. Really I felt like I paid more money than I would consider reasonable without the pay-off of my eyes rolling to the back of my head due to the glory of the tastes on my tongue.

And that's the thing. If you're not paying with a company card or being comped, you have to decide on a few things and then you judge the place on them. And by "you" I mean me, trying to showcase information about places I can't truly explore as frequently as could lead to a good review on a budget that already dedicates way too much funds to the pursuit of good food. My point here is the fact that even though monetarily I had decided that Umai Umai and I wouldn't work out, I looked at the collective reviews one more time, and I thought about how culinarily turned on I got at seeing sushi,  and I decided to give Umai Umai one last chance. I looked only at the more sushi/sashimi centered options and really didn't even process any descriptions of hot dishes. I was going to eat the prepared fish in whatever form the chef thought was best. It was early. Senior citizen hour. And me sitting alone at the bar when tables were available, but without the chef readily being personable, and with me being extremely sensitive to the concept that someone would rather not talk to me. Well. It was quiet for a while. The chef and his sous chef? Apprentice? Stood behind the bar making conversation that made me think that the one guy was new.Or that's just how chef dudes talk in front of a random woman customer who opted for the sushi bar but then wasn't immediately gregarious? In any case. I ordered a miso soup and the chirashi. And if I wasn't a complete jerk, I could tell you what every single thing on this plate was. But I was a jerk and thought I could remember...but I was wrong. What I can tell you is there was: uni,  a quail egg, ikura, extremely tender magic salmon, escolar, tuna, scallop, and about seven other things I cannot lock down.
I'll tell you this: it was pretty. And the eating of the raw scallops was a new thing for me. But I did it with faith, and I was rewarded. Whatever I thought it might be like, it was better. I realized I had misunderstood the nature of a scallop. I liked and enjoyed the whole bowl, and of course some parts more than others. But the whole experience was wonderful.
I did witness a less than ideal interaction between another patron and the waitstaff, during which the woman complained loudly about the fact that her food was too hot. When her waitress suggested ways to fix the situation, the woman was having none of it. I thought the server did a pretty good job of keeping her cool, but the lady was clearly not a happy camper. As she and her husband left she made a big point of saying that they would never return because the service was rude and her food was too hot. If you know that lady, don't believe her. They were polite and tried to find a solution, but she was the one who was rude. Yes, when you're paying for a meal it should meet your expectations. But getting so snippy when the issue is that your food is too hot seems insane. Just wait and it'll cool off. Or, if you're asked how the situation could be favorably handled to please you, actually have a solution. I don't know. There is a sense of entitlement in the whole restaurant thing. When I go I expect certain things like prompt and friendly service, food as I request it, and the like. And if those expectations aren't met and I actually raise the issue of dissatisfaction with someone from the staff, I would hope that they would try to listen to my concerns and address them. And I would hope that I would not become someone who completely forgot what an appropriate response is vs. and inappropriate one. It was awkward for all in the small restaurant to have to overhear her complaints and increasingly impatient and rude treatment of the server. After the initial outburst there was a very quiet atmosphere where all diners felt as if they couldn't strike up or resume their normal conversations. I eventually asked the sushi chef a question about escolar, so that lightened at least my mood.

My overall thought and point is this: I was wrong to have given up on Umai Umai in large part because I was wrong in what I had been ordering. If you want crazy rolls or teriyaki, there are quite a few other spots in the neighborhood and in Philly, but for a really interesting and wide variety of fresh fish prepared with care and beautifully presented? Keep Umai Umai in your mind.

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