Restaurant review: Umi

Inventive and zen Asian fusion

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  • | 6:13 a.m. November 25, 2015
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Colorful sashimi platters and bountiful Bento Boxes impress with their freshness at Umi in Winter Park.
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Colorful sashimi platters and bountiful Bento Boxes impress with their freshness at Umi in Winter Park.
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When I hear good word-of-mouth about a restaurant – especially when that restaurant is located on Park Avenue in Winter Park – I begin planning a friendly excursion to see if my friends and I can share in the excitement. Now it’s no secret that when the word restaurant comes together with Park Avenue, affordability may be an issue. The first of several pleasant surprises related to my lunchtime visit to Umi at 525 Park Ave., just across the street (Fairbanks Avenue) from Rollins College, is the affordable pricing.

My friends and I decided to visit at lunchtime thinking – correctly – that there would be lunchtime specials with an eye to the potential sushi-loving student.

Entering the restaurant, one is immediately touched by the muted beige walls, gold-leafed Japanese screens and real wood accents that come together as a kind of Zen décor that leaves the rush of Park Avenue behind you. The understated charm of the room wordlessly tells you to slow down, breathe, and prepare to be enchanted by the attentive service and the inventive menu you are about to experience.

Umi is open every day. Located at 525 S. Park Ave. in Winter Park at the corner of Fairbanks Avenue, across the street from Rollins College. Call 407-960-3993.

Knowing that we wanted as many taste experiences as possible, we ordered one Sashimi Lunch Special, one Robata Grill Combo, and one Bento Box du jour! Yes, the du jour is actually printed on the menu. Unlike Bento Box specials in most Eastern restaurants, the chef at Umi enjoys the freedom to offer whatever is special that day in his “Park Avenue buy of the day at $15” Bento Box. Each of our specials was accompanied by miso soup and a ginger salad, and it’s worth noting that the ginger dressing on the salad is not overly sweet but just sweet enough.

One friend had the salmon choice on the Robata Grill. This grill uses a special imported charcoal that heats to a very high temperature thereby sealing in the juices of the food. Sharing tastes, the salmon benefitted from that special charcoal grill, and we all noted how much we liked Umi’s teriyaki sauce. No sauce should ever overpower the taste of the food, and Umi gets it just right. I was also very impressed with the interesting mix of baby vegetables that came with this dish.

The friend who had the Sashimi Combo enjoyed all that healthy protein in exquisitely sliced and beautifully presented raw fish with one magnificent Kumamoto oyster (du jour) added by the chef. “Kumies” are, according to the Oyster Guide, the “Chardonnay of oysters” thanks to their consistent mild flavor and light brininess. Bottom line – it’s wonderful to know where we can find them on Park Avenue. Other pieces of fish included both the Big Eye and Yellowfin Tuna and salmon imported from Scotland. Each two-bite piece, which allowed for sharing, was treasured and appreciated. We were beginning to fully appreciate the quality of what we were eating. There is no question. Quality is extremely important at Umi – even in the luncheon specials.

My colorful and creative bento box included the aforementioned Yellowfin and Big Eye tuna sashimi and a two-bite piece of each salmon and Big Eye tuna nigiri (on sticky rice). And because bento boxes have little cubicles for additional treasures, I also tasted – for the first time ever – a kimchi croquette and a skewer of three fabulous, charcoal-grilled bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes. And while it included a ginger salad, it also included a mini Chirashi bowl. Chirashi may be translated as ‘”scattered,” so this bowl was an incredibly tasty mix of chopped fish, vegetables, rice and whatever else the chef put in there to make is so wonderful. And it gave me another new taste sensation.

So we’re talking, somewhat animatedly, about a new (to us) restaurant that gave us a peaceful Zen atmosphere and superior quality food inventively presented at an affordable price. Yes, Umi is highly recommended.

And here’s something else we learned that day. Say good things about the place where you’re eating and your waitperson might approach your table with a magnificent dessert called Mascarpone cheesecake. Now we were agreeably full, but suddenly we were happily immersed in a very French (forget Fusion – this baby is French) treat. And while they call it cheesecake, it is the lightest, melt-in-your-mouth experience, and it is presented with a trail of jellied berries all of which is sprinkled with pieces of candied walnuts.

Let’s not lose sight of the glories of the delicious and protein-rich nutritious fish at Umi, but if you ever see me sitting there some mid-afternoon with a huge smile and a glazed look of happy satisfaction on my face, it may be because I have just indulged in one more Mascarpone cheesecake.


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