By | September 25, 2006

5849 Ellsworth Ave
Shadyside, 15232
Tu-Th: 5-9:30; F-Sat: 5-10:30

In honor of our recent trip to Italy (literally, we just stepped off the plane yesterday), I’d like to review…..a sushi place?  What?  What’s wrong with me?  I just ate my way through fifteen days of incredible Italian food and I come home to review sushi?  Well, let me explain.  In Italy, the food ranges from good to the best you have ever had in your life.  Really, it is impossible to have a bad meal.  You can find an overpriced meal, or a scary octopus meal, but never a bad or even mediocre one.    Not even our meal in the basement of the airport hotel was bad.  In fact, the worst meal I think we had was a toast that was too big.  That’s it!  Italian food is just always a certain degree of good.  Now in the States, the bottom end of the range dips way way down into fuhgeddaboudit.  BUT, though I had some of the best meals of my life in Italy, most of the rest of them happened in America, and some even in Pittsburgh!  Very many, in fact.  Umi is one of them.  Their sushi is just so…succulent.  So….tasty.  So….fresh.  So…mind-blowing.  So…memorable!  And consistent in all those regards, too.  It is clearly the best in Pittsburgh, and may rival the top sushi in other cities as well.  Start saving up your dough in a sock, because you really shouldn’t miss a delish dish of fish from Umi.

Umi is run by the Big Burrito Corporation, who also owns the likes of Mad Mex, Kaya, Eleven, Soba, and Casbah.  While I have my complaints about the rest of those places, I really have non for Umi.  Umi, with its excellent sake selection, sits atop Soba, and the two of them have burned up in flames two or three times since opening.  This just goes to show you how on fire Umi is with their delicious sushi.  Their menu is split into a few sections: Japanese entrees, traditional sushi, omakase, and a special creative menu.  The omakase is the most expensive way to go at $75 and up per person (two person minimum), but it is probably the most memorable experience of them all.  Chef Shu creates a multi-course meal just for you, concentrating his creative talent into exquisite items of the highest caliber.  If you don’t quite have the money in your budget, an equally memorable meal can be had by ordering off of the rest of the menu.  The ‘umi specials’ are a list of creative, decadent creations on which you’ll spend you biggest bucks.  Delicious selections like yellowtail sashimi with yuzu jalapeño sauce or toro tartare with caviar will remind your taste buds that they aren’t sick of life just yet.  Chef Shu is a master of comlex sauces like the yuzu jalapeño sauce. You don’t get a lot of it, but it is more than enough to savor with wonderment.  Each one of these delicious plates is a very small serving though, more like an appetizer or tapas than a meal, so it won’t be the only thing you order.

What else should you order?  Well, I have never had any of the non-sushi entrees, but let me tell you that the assorted sushi and sashimi plates are a great deal.  $29 bucks and you get miso soup, salad, and 20 or so pieces of fish.  You get to taste the exquisite quality of the product, and at a very reasonable cost.  I find I am filled up at the end, though I sometimes order a special piece of toro (fatty tuna) in addition, or I’ll start with one of those creative umi specials or the delectable Tuna Tataki from the appetizer menu.

The sushi itself is unforgettable.  I prefer to get sashimi here (slices of raw fish) because the fish is so great all by itself without the distraction of a big ball of filling rice.  Some people are so afraid of sushi because they think it will be ‘fishy’.  Sushi is hardly ‘fishy’ at any location, and very commonly it is simply bland and flavorless – more of a textural experience than anything else.  But Umi’s fish is of the absolute highest quality and each piece actually tastes like the fish that it is.  This is not at all in a ‘fishy’ way, but more like a sweet, delicate meat.  Fish that usually aren’t my favorites taste like a whole new world here.  Umi’s salmon is out of sight, and I now understand why sushi connoisseurs think so highly of mackerel.  I’ve never had such good mackerel in my life!  The yellowtail, one of my all-around favorites, is amazing here, as is the tuna.  And the fatty tuna (toro) — my lord is that some good fish!  Melts in your mouth, tastes like heaven.  And if there ever were a time that you wanted to try sea urchin roe (uni), this would be the place (although that is one piece of sushi that is most certainly an acquired taste for the American palate).

As for dessert, they are all good and you can just decide for yourself.  I’m not a chocolate lover, but they usually have one of those exploding chocolate bomb volcano cakes (a big-burrito-wide dessert) that I have tasted and was fond of despite my usual lack of enthusiasm for such a trendy dessert.  You could alternatively skip it and go up the street to Dancing Goats (Crazy Mocha) for coffee and giant slices of cheesecake.  Whatever you do at the end, I’d stake my reputation on the middle being an enjoyable and memorable experience.  After all, it certainly influenced me.  And even though I’ve had all these delicious, mind-blowing taste experiences concentrated into the last two weeks, I still will remember Umi’s mackerel like I remember the Alamo….always.

Omakase, if you can afford it
A piece of Toro
Tuna Tataki
Assorted Sashimi

Unagi – it is the same everywhere
Edamame – overpriced considering you can buy a one pound freezer bag of it at Whole Foods for $4.  Steam it yourself and save some mula.

Call ahead and make a reservation for the cool sunken tables.  It is so way cool to sit in the floor!  Also, if you have a special kind of sushi you’ve eaten in Tokyo or San Francisco but never found in Pittsburgh, call three or so days in advance and the chef will make sure to get what he needs to make it, just for you.

Psssst….here’s the menu.

Leave Your Comment

Your email will not be published or shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>