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.