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Aug 9, 2009 04:50 PM

Need info on newish kosher restaurant-Umami

Hi folks,
I've been planning to visit Umami in Pikesville (Baltimore, MD) but I heard not great reviews from a friend. Has anyone eaten there? How was the food? Is lunch affordable (~$10. pp)? What are some good choices?

Any help would be appreciated!
(I also posted to the Balto./DC board. Sorry for the duplication)

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  1. I have been there twice now, the first time i was no so impressed its seemed like pricey Chinese, but t he second time I went i had a fabulous time and now feel that this may very well be the nicest Kosher dining option we have in Baltimore (I'm not excluding pomegranate Bistro its just that its almost an hour away) they have some very nice fish options high end sushi seared tuna and such and a slightly more varied menu than the other nice-ish Chinese place. It is pricey though, my wife and I went for my birthday and we spent over $100 for two people but well worth it

    1. I've had 3 nice meals there. In my experience, it's like the typical trendy non-kosher pan-Asian restaurant in quality, and definitely better than any kosher Asian restaurant I've been in.

      I have a food allergy that's pretty difficult to accommodate and yet they pay enough attention to the food that they know exactly what is in everything, and took the time to tell me, and they got it right all 4 times I've been there. That's better than most kosher restaurants do: Shanghai Diamond in LA actually turned me away.

      As for the food itself, what I can eat is limited, but everything has been delicious, with fresh ingredients, very freshly made (you can tell everything is straight off the wok and didn't get soggy). I enjoyed the Singapore noodles (though had to ask for extra hot sauce because they think everything needs to be mild), a rare tuna on salad dish, and (of course) sushi (yes, it's everywhere). My dining partners enjoyed their dinners and thought they compared well with non-kosher, and were in fact overjoyed at the diversity of food compared with the standard kosher places.

      You can eat at any price level. I've only had dinner there, but you can have a dinner for $12-15 including tax and tip.

      1. I've been there twice and really liked it. The (chicken? beef? not sure which) dumplings were especially good.

        1. Ugh. Waste of money. Waste of time. Neither my fiance nor I felt like eating even 1/2 of our entrees - nor were we inclined to have our "waitress" pack it up for us to take home. This was my 2nd visit to Umami, and while I certainly wasn't impressed the 1st time that I was there back in March, I kept an open mind and ordered differently this time around. My entire experience was wholly more disappointing than the 1st time. So disappointing that I'm spreading the word, as negative as it might be - cuz this is one more restaurant that doesn't deserve to take people's money and stay in business. Do it right, or don't do it at all. If it's hard for you, do something else! Hey, UMAMI people - DO SOMETHING ELSE!
          Let me break it down.
          $3.50 for a tiny bowl of mediocre Miso soup. Not bad, but definitely not that great. And I'm familiar with miso and tofu and how much they cost - there was MAYBE 45 cents worth of ingredients in my bowl. So be a business and make some money. Charge $2.50 for the 4.5 ounces - don't rob me.
          We were still eating our soup when our "waitress" brought out our entrees. Basic, Basic, Basic. Don't bring out the food until the customers are ready. Thankfully, the bowls of soup are so small it didn't take us long to finish them and we got to our entrees before they had a chance to cool off too much. Or so we thought.
          Neither my fiancee's Pad Thai, nor my Pineapple Curry with Beef were as hot as they should have been. Nor were they as flavorful as they should have been. The Pad Thai was anything but! Call it "Barely Flavored Oily Linguine with a Kindof Peanut Sauce" - but don't disrespect the idea of Pad Thai. Bland, tasteless, UN-Authentic. Descriptive terms that could be applied to the Pineapple Curry with Beef as well. Closing my eyes and taking a bite I could discern no flavors of either coconut, pineapple, OR curry. I searched for the flavors, I really did - but I got nothing. I looked for the texture, the richness, the "mouthfeel" that coconut milk would provide in a curry. None. The "sauce" was thin and any thickness was obviously achieved with cornstarch. A curry has rich, bold, almost overwhelming flavors that are tempered and balanced by the cooling and calming effects of coconut milk, and further balanced by the acidity of lime. There was nothing. No flavor. No character. No redeeming quality to the curry. I had no idea there was even any curry in it! Turmeric (bland) or yellow food coloring could have given the dish its yellow color! But how was the meat in the dish? Ha! Half of the meat was tender, half was like chewing an old piece of gum. But I knew it was going to be like that when I saw all those pieces of meat that were cut WITH the grain instead of AGAINST it. Basic, Basic, Basic. Anybody associated with the preparation of food should know the basics. Whoever cut that meat got lucky 1/2 the time.
          And Service? HAH! What a joke! My waitress the 1st time was really excellent. Attentive, Intelligent, Articulate and generally very pleasant and professional, even though she was just a student paying her way through college. This time though, our waitress was pretty much the complete opposite. Our waters remained empty, no fried wontons were offered, no wine, no chopsticks and no dessert. Of course we could have asked for those things ourselves, but then...what's the point of having a waiter in "the finest-dining restaurant that Baltimore has to offer"??? And at no point after receiving our entrees were we asked how everything was. There was a reason why I left a tip of $1.92 bringing our total bill to an even (or odd) $39. I don't believe in encouraging or rewarding "bad behavior". She was, in a word, UNPROFESSIONAL. When I go out to eat I generally leave tips of 20% as a minimum because I KNOW how hard servers work and how under-appreciated they can be. Hey, "Waitress N" - DO SOMETHING ELSE!
          So, was there ANY redeeming quality about my Umami experience, other than the beautiful woman sitting across the table? I'd love to say that there was, but the concensus from these 2 patrons is a resounding - and unfortunate - "no". Will I be going back to Umami? Only if I get desperate enough to give their Sushi a shot, then MAYBE. But right now, I'm hungry. So I'm gonna go raid my fridge for leftovers and feed my fiancee a satisfying meal.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ChefDude

            Last time I was there, the sushi was incredibly fresh, and so were our fish entrees. Waitress was pleasant, efficient, and helpful. I left a 20% tip, even though i couldn't really afford it, because man is that place expensive. But what the heck, it was our anniversary (3 years, whooooo!).

            Specific complaints: appetizers were hilariously tiny. Not just a little small, it actually looked like they were playing a joke on us and were going to bring out our real appetizers, but they never did. Then our entrees were ginourmous and we couldn't finish them. We asked for our entrees to be packed up and ordered a desert to share... and it was tiny, again. Odd.

            My wife's fish entree had the tail left on. I did not care but she was seriously grossed out. To be fair, she usually does not order fish. I removed the tail and stuck it under a napkin. Problem solved. Not Umami's fault, but I thought I'd mention it.

            Prices weren't just astronomical, they had no relation to reality whatsoever- and I work in Manhattan so I know all about checks that look like phone numbers from kosher resturaunts.

            That said, I feel the need to point out, again, the terrific service that inspired me to leave a 20% tip on a bill that almost made me cry. It was Chol Hamoed Sukkos, we were sitting there, freezing, bundled up in jackets, sitting at a postage stamp sized patio table, not three feet from a party of very loud people celebrating an engagement (Mazel Tov, the both of you, and hand out earplugs before the chuppah) and it was *still* one of the best dining experiences I've ever had.

            My Baltimore native wife's take on this place was "nice, but I prefer David Chu's".

            1. re: The Cameraman

              they do a Japenese preparation of fried fish which they serve where they fry the tail and its delicious. my wife also ordered the fish and i ate the tail.

              1. re: The Cameraman

                Just out of curiosity.. what were the prices like?

                1. re: cheesecake17

                  All told, $85 plus tip for two, including appetizers, entrees, desert to share, one soda, one beer, and one tea. We didn't look for the cheapest things to order... but we looked for the second cheapest things to order.

                  Sorry for whining over the prices so much, but $85 is three quarters of my weekly grocery bill for a family of three!

                  I'd eat there again, as soon as I get a raise.

                  1. re: The Cameraman

                    Not sooo expensive, but I totally understand how you feel about the small/large portions. When you spend a lot, you want it to be exactly perfect! It sucks when you go out, drop a ton of money, and aren't totally satisfied.

            2. I brought a co-worker there last Monday night. Though I had read the iffy reviews, there was really no better option in Baltimore in which I would feel comfortable taking a non-Jewish person to.

              We started with the Miso soup. Presentation was good but its was sooooo salty. Strike 1.

              I ordered the Crispy Beef and she ordered the Beef & Vegetables. My meal was a little too sweet but I should have known better as that dish usually tends to run sweet at any Asian restaurant. They charged me an extra buck for brown rice eventhough the rice portion was barely 6 ounces. Her meal was good, not great.

              The waitress refilled our sodas multiple times without us having to ask. This was not something I am used to seeing at kosher restaurants. In fact, they usually charge for refills.

              As for pricing, with tip it came out to around $30 a person.

              Though I was not impressed with the restaurant, I would definately go back. Reasons:

              1) It has a nice decor
              2) They serve alcohol
              3) food is presented nicely

              However, if I am not taking somone who is Jewish, I would definatley choose either David Chu's or Royal (which I think is very underrated) over Umami.

              1 Reply
              1. re: justjoshing

                Royal? Really? You were just complaining about too much salt in your food a minute ago, I think the only spice the cook at Royal knows about is salt. Good service, though, decent prices.

                I, too, would take a client to Umami.