Saturday, September 18, 2010
Umi Grill And Sushi Bar
So as many of you probably know, there is a culinary treasure here in Terre Haute that I haven't reviewed yet. I'm not really an expert on sushi, and I've only been there once. I thought maybe I could use the prospect of writing a review to weasel into another trip there, but that doesn't seem to be working, so I'll review with what I have.
First, you need to understand that far more knowledgeable folk than I, have argued that Umi Grill is a stand out even among restaurants specializing in sushi. They are the recent revisioning (in 2009) of restaurant called Sushi Umi, that was founded in 2003. Here is Chowhound's rather famous 2005 review of them, entitled "Is the best sushi restaurant in America in Terre Haute?" He suggests, well, no but it's in the top dozen. (As a side note, that review was written by a Gary Alan Fine who appears to be the same Gary Alan Fine who wrote a classic book on the sociology of Role Playing Games from 1984, that I have constantly drawn insight from, and cite in a forthcoming publication. He later did a lot of sociology work on the culture of professional kitchens and started doing amateur food reviews after that). Similarly my best sushi-expert friend, who we actually ate with on the one occasion I've managed to have a real meal at Umi Grill, seconded the opinion that this restaurant was head and shoulders above the other sushi restaurants she's eaten at. The chef at Umi Grill is chef Qi, a Chinese chef from Shanghai, trained in Japanese cuisine in Indianapolis.
For my part, I've eaten sushi on many occasions, but am nothing like an expert and have only rarely been to places that specialized in it. Nonetheless, Umi Grill Sushi Bar was a clear step up from anything I've ever had before. We let our expert friend order for us, and we ordered and split a whole bunch of different things. In fact at least 2 of the things we ordered weren't on the menu, and I remember them being my favorite favorites that night (I think, red dragon rolls, and some kind of scallop thing; the asparagus tempura rolls were pretty good too). One of the comments on the Chowhound review mentions ordering things that aren't on the menu, too. And, for all that, the menu is pretty long. All of the sushi was good, and we had several quite different bundles, both in flavor and presentation. I'm not certain what set this sushi apart from other sushi I've had either, but it did clearly seem to be in another category. The place itself was elegant, and the service good, and the bill was steep, but we were really just focused on the food which was varied, surprising, refined, balanced, almost sharp. A precise effect, followed by another different precise effect. California chef Thomas Keller argues that high end food should be only a few bites of one thing, and then a few bites of something quite else, with a meal of many small servings. When you want comfort food, or familiarity, or connection to family, friends and tradition you eat large servings of a few emotionally-laden foods, or even stuff yourself silly with large servings. Think Thanksgiving or pasta dinners. But when you want to focus on the food, rather than using good food as a tool to enhance socialization or ritual, then you need many small precise and varied doses. Sushi is one of the few foods that I think is habitually eaten according to this ideology in the States (although tapas also work that way in some places I suspect).
I've never had the "grill" section of Umi Grill Sushi Bar, if someone has please make a comment about it. However, I will also say that Umi has a little fish store attached to it, that is open odd hours, but at which you can get excellent take-out that isn't too expensive when it is open. Umi Grill Sushi Bar, and its associated fish store, are
just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.