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Most people either love Asian food or they hate it. Of the people that do love Asian food, most people have a definite preference for a particular country. I, myself, am more of a Japanese and to a lesser extent Thai kind of diner. I'm certainly not opposed to going with Chinese, Vietnamese, or a Korean place, it's just that there seems to be a fanaticism the Japanese have about craftsmanship that appeals to me on some strange level.
On Memorial day (night actually), we went to Umami Asian Kitchen in Chagrin Falls. I'd never actually been there so to be quite honest I didn't really have much of an expectation one way or the other. So often you hear (or read) about the original chef leaving and whether or not the quality of the food is going to survive. Is it worth trekking out to Chagrin Falls for a bum dinner? It was the end of a holiday weekend and we had the time to spare; if nothing else we were going to walk away with 1,000 Open Table points for our effort. (My guess is that the points were being offered because of the holiday.)
The first thing you notice is that the small (about the size of Tartine, maybe smaller) tastefully decorated space makes good use of the booth allotment. There are even two bar-type benches in the very front that look through the glass onto the front door a la Greenhouse Tavern; the perfect spot for a couple (who don't have the overwhelming desire to gaze into each others eyes across from across the table), to people watch.
I'm going break the dinner down rather quickly so as not to make you nod off in boredom. Mickey was our server and to be perfectly candid - he was great. Mind you, because the place is so small I think there are only two servers, so you have pretty good odds of getting him. Our crew actually decided to go full on tapas, okay, everyone except me. I ordered the curried chicken which had that refined restraint that I love so much about Japanese food. This was not a mouth full of fire, but a developed flavor that really seemed massage a hint of heat after you had swallowed a few seconds earlier.
With Regina leading up the charge, an armada of small plates started to make landfall on our table. I don't really want to talk about every single dish, so I'll focus on the must haves. If you order anything from this menu, it has to be the Goat Cheese Dumplings. These "dumplings" (10 to be exact) are small (think gnocchi sized), delicate (think gnudi), little pillows of delicious goat cheesed-ness, topped with greens and ginger butter. The only reason we even ordered these is because this people implored us to, as they were walking out the door (and now I am imploring you to do the same). I would also recommend an order of the Roasted Shiitakes, as well as the Togarashi Crusted Fresh Bacon. All three appetizers are packed with flavor, but not of Cheesecake Factory proportions, (and that's a good thing).
We had initially ordered the sushi rolls to come out before the other hot appetizer/entrees, but they ended up coming out last. After the amazing show that was put on by the small plates, there was no way these sushi rolls had a chance. What I did like was that they were of such a size that you could actually stick the whole thing in your mouth without looking like a pig. One other thing I liked was that the soy did not come out in a larger bowl so people could dunk the poor roll up to its eyeballs. Instead the soy came out in a rectangular dish so that you simply swiped the roll through the soy. In a sense, I think it was letting the patrons know that these were not meant to be dripping with soy - nice touch.
If haven't already been able to tell, I thought it was a fantastic dinner. Any more I am more interested in well crafted and thoughtful offerings than I am anything else. While the place doesn't have to have ambiance, Umami does (in spades). It's refreshing to see someone doing this kind of quality at a reasonable price. If you're looking for a quiet evening with a well thought out menu and you appreciate Nippon-ese cuisine than you, but not the kiddos, need to make this stop in Chagrin Falls.
Don't forget to ask for Mickey as your server. If want a window seat or one of the two tables for two outside make sure you request them when you make your resie here.
Umami Asian Kitchen
42 North Main Street
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022