But I like very much its replacement. Sushi Umi opened in the spring of 2009. It’s been on my list to review since the fall of 2009. I’ve been dropping in, from time to time, for a quick sushi snack while shopping. I’ve enjoyed the $10 lunch specials now and then. But every time I’ve brought along my pen, to do the place properly, events have pushed back any official report.
Last year, after a lengthy remodel, Umi took over the neighbouring bakery. The day I tried to review it was the day the wall came down. Then they were painting (an unflattering mint green to match — not! — the vibrant red of the original space.) Then Sushi Umi applied for a liquor license, and I thought I’d wait for that to arrive. The in-house menu has a new look and seems slightly expanded, with the addition of udon stir-fries and noodle soups. And they’ve just put up a smart new sign.
I figured it was safe.
No one could accuse Sushi Umi of spending valuable cash on the services of an interior decorator. The green expansion could use a bit of warming up, beginning with the removal or relocation of the frozen novelties case. (And why not paint it red?) The front of the room seems to be used for storage, the lights are bright, the room stark. Much nicer is the original red room with its wall menu art and busy hand-written instructions about where you order, where you pick up, what’s new and exciting, along with notes on neighbourhood goings-on.
At my last visit, I could barely see the kitchen over the short counter piled with plastic bag orders. It would seem Sushi Umi does a brisk take-away business. (Brisk in both senses; the front door opens every few minutes with another parka-ed body scooping up takeout and letting in a fresh frigid blast, making the sheltered minty room suddenly more appealing on cold nights.)
If you find yourself eating in, you will find the service, though shy and kind, is pretty basic. And occasionally distracted — a bowl of wakame salad that was possibly meant for another table, was much appreciated at ours. (Also on the house at our visits: tempura apples sprinkled with cinnamon, oranges cut into petals.)
But those arrived at the end. We start with the “martini sashimi,” an app portion of deep red ahi tuna, coils of glistening salmon, along with precision cuts of tai (red snapper). The house gyoza are tasty moons of minced pork and shrimp served with sweetened vinegar.
I fell hard for the sushi “pizza” — a puck of soft rice, its surface browned and crisped from seconds in the fryer, topped with a cool sashimi salad of salmon mixed with scallions, mango, avocado, shiitake mushrooms, bound with a bit of spicy mayo and topped with a smoky pinch of bonito flakes. This dish also looked delicious, in addition to the appeal of the hot and cool, the crunch and soft, and the silkiness of the fish. We were tempted to order another. But settled instead for another pretty dish — tuna tataki, artfully arranged.
The usual à la carte nigiri sushi, maki rolls, and various combos are here and hold together well. This isn’t sushi worth crossing town for, but it suits the needs of the neighbourhood just fine. The well-seasoned rice is at room temperature, slightly sticky but the short grains still separate, neither squashed nor mushy. Exactly what you want. The fish is cool and generously draped. My only complaint is with the nori wrappers, which we found soggy.
From the hot side of the menu, the bento boxes are good value. Of the ones I’ve tried, the sablefish is a luscious chunk, dark from the grill, moist-fleshed, served with miso soup, sushi rice, a couple of gyoza, a couple of shumai treats and a green salad with a house-made ginger dressing. Also good were the chewy-sweet Korean style short ribs, with a skewer of grilled shrimp, and a similar arrangement of rice, rolls, dumplings and salad. The broth with the udon noodles is dark and salty.
There is Sapporo on offer, along with hot and cold sake, and three options for wine: house red, house white or plum. We stuck with the bottomless cups of green tea.