Umami -- Pittsburgh's Obscure Japanese Pub
Hello fellow eaters, I'm back! This past school year my blogging game has been WEAK and I'm ready to make you salivate at my eats and cringe at my terrible puns once again. Two weekends ago I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and I'm extremely educated. I can already tell a huge difference. For example, there are 265 species of squirrels worldwide. I did not know that before. Also, milk is good for at least a week after it expires. Call me for knowledge and facts, I'm not very busy anymore. The only two things that I still do regularly are running and EATING (probably too frequently). Recently, I took my parents to Umami in Lawrenceville Pittsburgh for some Japanese Pub/Street food and they were impressed.
Before we went into Umami we had a drink across the street at the Grapperia, owned by Piccolo Forno. I had a local Rosé and it was refreshing, but a little too sweet for me.
After our drinks we walked across the street to Round Corner Cantina, a popular taco joint in Lawrenceville. You would never know that there is a secret restaurant above Round Corner and maybe Umami needs a better sign, but it is mysterious and enticing. From the outside you can see red neon lights illuminating the third floor windows and as the sun sets they grow stronger. The image reminds me of the Japanese animated film, Spirited Away as Chihiro and her parents enter a magical town; once the sun begins to set, the town comes to life with glowing lanterns and busy spirits. Similar to the film, Umami has a mystifying aura. As you enter through the side door, the narrow staircase is lit by glowing red lanterns and the walls are covered in colorful glossy wallpaper. Once you've climbed to the top you'll find a bustling restaurant, with red lanterns hanging from an exposed ceiling and wooden high-top tables. From our seat we had an excellent view of the cooks, as the kitchen is open for the whole restaurant's entertainment. Come early, like we did, and you can begin with some happy hour drinks and starters. Let's talk about what to order!
This is the happy hour serving of the Donburi, a rice bowl with eggplant, fermented black bean, beni shoga (pickled ginger), and onsen egg (a softly cooked egg). Go ahead and just order the full-sized portion because you don't want to get in a fight with your fellow diners this early into the meal.
Next you'll want to order the Pork & Shrimp Shumai, open-faced dumplings with pork shoulder, shrimp, edamame, and gari-su shoyu. I've never had the pleasure of meeting an open-faced dumpling and we got along quite well, but then I ate him. Hey, you dim sum and you lose some.
I would highly recommend that you order some sushi or sashimi because the fish is rich and fresh. At the top is yellowtail, then tuna, and lastly salmon, my favorite. These fish eggs remind me of another movie, but that doesn't make me feel so good about myself. Sorry Nemo.
This is the Nasu Shigiyaki, two flying fried eggplant saucers topped with ground chicken, togarashi (Japanese chiles), beets, and saikyo miso sauce. The rich eggplant pairs well with the subtle sweetness of the chicken, and the beets add a fresh crunch.
Lastly, we ordered the Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with bacon, nagaimo (a Chinese yam), cabbage, and katosuobushi (a dried, fermented, and smoked tuna). I've had Korean scallion pancakes before in the Strip District, but this one was much larger and heavier. I would only recommend this dish for a big, hungry group because we were feeling very full by the time it came to the table.
Sadly, there was one dish that we did not order that I had wanted to try, the Takoyaki, grilled octopus balls. My parents just returned from a trip to Japan and found that Takoyaki were very common, but did not like them. They claimed that they "forgot" to order them at Umami, but I have an inkling that they were not ready to have them again. That's okay, I will certainly return to Umami and you should too!
P.S. If you are completely clueless, like me, and think that this dish is made from octopus testicles you are utterly wrong and these "balls" are simply just balls of octopus meat. I agree, someone should specify this.