Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 72 - Umami/Eating Real Ramen

I have never been to Umami. This small Asian restaurant located inside of a converted home on Madison’s Williamson Street is known for its unique and delicious food, which made it an obvious choice for a Tasty Tuesday in my “I have never...” journey. Considering the restaurant bills itself as a ramen and dumpling bar, a visit to the location also presented me the opportunity to cross another event off of my “I have never...” list, eating real ramen. As a result, Rachael made reservations for the two of us to visit Umami during Madison’s restaurant week, during which participating restaurants offer a four course meal for $25 per person. Realizing the restaurant week deal meant I would get the full Umami experience, my anticipation and excitement built as our trip to the restaurant approached.

With my workday finally ending this afternoon, I made my way home to meet Rachael and make the trip to the restaurant. The beautiful weather that accompanied the day made us decide to walk to the restaurant in time for our 7:00 pm reservation. Once ready to leave the house, Rachael and I made short work of the walk to Umami, occupying the time with idle conversation of our days and the previous night’s event. As we approached the restaurant I was surprised at the unassuming nature of the structure. Tucked between the overgrown gardens and trees of a typical Williamson Street neighborhood sat a small grey house, distinguishable as a restaurant only by a small neon sign and patio of full of dining tables in front of the building. As I took in exterior of the restaurant Rachael guided me past the group of people occupying the patio space and around to the building’s side. There we entered the building, which had a surprisingly spacious and beautifully designed interior. After entering, a woman greeted us promptly and guided us to our table. She provided a brief explanation of the restaurant week menu before leaving us to review our choices. After taking one look at the menu, I knew I was in for a treat.

The Umami bar

The restaurant week provided a variety of choices that all seemed appealing, but I was quick to narrow down my choices to a Korean barbeque beef bun, pork and shrimp dumplings, egg-infused pork Tonkotsu Ramen, and mango Mochi ice cream. Rachael’s order consisted of a spicy tofu bun, vegan dumplings, a raw vegetable cold ramen salad called Hiyashi Chuka, green tea, and red bean Mochi ice cream. With our orders placed we waited patiently for the first of our food to arrive. We chatted briefly about the restaurant and the remaining week’s events before our buns arrived. The buns each contained a variety of ingredients wrapped in a soft white bread. My first bite of the Korean barbeque bun provided a mildly spicy blend of beef, peppers, and pickles which was undeniably delicious. As a result, I worked through the appetizer relatively quickly, leaving me ready to taste more of what Umami had to offer.

Korean BBQ Beef Bun... YUM.


Shortly after completing our buns our waitress returned with our order of dumplings. Still slick with oil, the four pockets stuffed dough were cooked on the outside to a golden brown color. Rachael and I immediately swapped some dumplings before diving into our plates. While Rachael’s vegetable dumplings didn’t appeal to me much, I found the pork and shrimp dumplings somewhat appealing. When dipped in the soy sauce that accompanied the appetizer, the mixture of meat, seafood, and spices had a unique flavor that I found enjoyable enough to keep eating. That stated, I quickly concluded the dumplings would not be the most memorable part of the meal. Regardless, I was hungry and the dumplings were decent. In turn, I cleaned the plate before me in short order and prepared for the main course, Tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen!
Just as we finished the dumplings an unfamiliar server approached our table. In his hands were two massive bowls of ramen, one steaming and one not. He promptly set the bowls before us in appropriate order and let us to enjoy our main course. At first, I took time to look over my bowl. The ramen noodles were hardly visible under a blanket of braised pork, half of a hardboiled egg, bamboo shoots, and nori. Ready to taste real ramen for the first time, I lifted my chopsticks from the table and stirred the mix of food in front of me to gauge the full contents of the bowl. My motion spurred the ingredients into a swift motion, revealing a pocket of bright white ramen noodles resting at the bottom of the bowl. Satisfied with the mix of the bowls contents, I set to work on the bowl of ramen. After my first bite, it was clear why Umami had gained its reputation in the city. A subtle flavor of egg met the taste of finely braised pork, smooth broth, and green onions with each bite I took. In response to my obvious enjoyment, Rachael paused between bites and gave me a quick reminder on Eastern custom. “Don’t forget to slurp,” she said with a grin on her face. I looked up from my bowl and replied quickly, “Don’t worry. With as good as this is, I’m sure I will at least once.”

Nomming like a champ

Mango Mochi

Sometime later, Rachael and I wrapped up our main courses and nibbled at the Mochi ice cream that had been brought to our table near the end of our meal. My choice of the mango Mochi ice cream proved a bit of a disappointment; however, Rachael’s red bean Mochi was unbelievably delicious. With our dinner all but concluded, we worked through the tail end of our meal, paid our tab, and prepared to head back home. Leaving the restaurant, we talked about the food and its perfect addition to a beautiful night. With a full stomach, I was content and happy. My first experience at Umami and with real ramen had been a positive one, and I knew it would likely turn into a repeat occurrence. While I don’t know if my “I have never...” year will permit me to visit Umami for some ramen in the near future, I can absolutely promise I will be back for more at some point.

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