Umami's new bento box is here to save the day | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Umami's new bento box is here to save the day

click to enlarge Umami's new bento box is here to save the day
CP photo: Maggie Weaver
Bento box from Umami

Like all city restaurants, Umami has been forced to shut down its popular dining room for the foreseeable future. In response to this change, and with a shift to takeout, the Lawrenceville izakaya (Japanese-style pub) has pared down its menu, offering a limited – but still large – selection from the list, and to my delight, added one new option: the bento box.

On a normal night at Umami, choosing what to order from the menu is difficult, especially if you’re like me and want to try everything. The lengthy list covers everything from one-piece nigiri to bowls of ramen to plates of sashimi. It’s almost impossible to make a decision.

Umami’s bento solves this problem. The box, which changes daily, offers small bites of four dishes, giving diners a chance to try something from every side of the menu.

The night I ordered my bento box, it was filled with a half portion of yaki udon, two wagyu beef tenderloin robata skewers, three steamed pork and shrimp shumai, and four pieces of a spicy salmon maki roll.

I immediately dove into the udon, a favorite dish of mine. The textures mixed seamlessly, cabbage and other vegetables adding a welcome crunch to the thick, soft noodles. Every shiitake mushroom was a bite worth savoring, the meaty fungi holding an intense, spicy flavor.

The udon was topped by the wagyu robata (a shortened version of “robatayaki,” a term that refers to the method of cooking similar to barbeque). Two skewers held cubes of the beef, which were dusted with sesame seeds and grilled to be butter-like tender. After a few bites, I de-skewered the beef and mixed it into the udon, the beef well-matched with the concentrated zing of soy sauce and spice from the noodles.

Switching gears, I moved to the salmon maki. It was instantly clear how fresh the fish was, even without taking a bite. The salmon was a gorgeous pink, rolled simply with rice and seaweed.

The trio of shumai – a Cantonese-style dumpling that has made its way into Japanese cuisine – were gigantic. It took no less than three bites for me to finish off one wonton-wrapped pork and shrimp dumpling, still warm inside, though they had been carted in a takeout container across neighborhoods.

The beauty of Umami’s bento box lies in the variety of flavors and textures. Every section offers something different: the udon and robata were deep, rich, and savory; the salmon maki roll was fresh; and the shumai was hearty and mild. It’s the perfect dinner for indecisive eaters.

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