Published by Angie. Last Updated on June 24, 2021.
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Umi is a Japanese restaurant located in Shadyside, and it is part of the Big Burrito restaurant group. Having been around since 2000, Umi has quite a long history of serving up some of the city's best sushi and omakase (set menus determined by the chef each night).
Umi is located on the second story above Soba, and it has a pretty traditional Japanese feel with minimal decor, seating at the sushi bar, and tatami seating as well as regular tables.
Visiting Umi for an Omakase Experience
On our visit, the menu was limited to a few different experiences: Umi family-style, a seven-course omakase, or an eleven-course omakase. The Umi family-style meal is on the more affordable side and includes salad, soup, sashimi, nigiri, and one or two hot dishes. The omakase is a multi-course experience centered around sashimi and nigiri with a couple of hot dishes, and also dessert.
We knew we wanted to try the omakase but had a tough time deciding between the seven courses and eleven courses, given the jump in price point between the two. Our server was helpful in discussing the difference between the two, and ultimately we decided to go for the eleven courses. We figured it was our first meal at Umi, we wanted to get the full experience, and at the prices charged we had no idea if or when we'd make it back.
But to start off we ordered a few drinks – the drink menu is shared with sister restaurant Soba downstairs. There are a few Asian-inspired cocktails, a draft beer menu with a good representation from local breweries, sake by the glass or bottle, and a modestly sized wine list with options by the glass or bottle. Basically, there's something for everyone.
We started with a Japanese Hefeweizen (Ginga Kogen) and the Tetsu old fashioned which had black sesame and bitters as the Asian twists. The cocktail was perfectly fine but we decided to switch to wine later on in the meal to better pair with all of the raw fish – a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Austrian Gruner Veltliner fit the bill nicely.
Our eleven courses started off with a yellowtail tartare that our server explained was meant to be mixed with the toppings of onion, yuzu, soy, and wasabi and eaten with a spoon. As soon as we took a bite we had an inkling that we were in for an excellent meal; the fish was delicate and light, but impeccably punctuated with the accompaniments. But when we tried the next course, king mackerel with ginger, soy, and hot sesame oil, we truly got excited for what was to come. The mackerel had such an amazing texture, quite unlike other sashimi we've had before. The thin slices melted in our mouths harmoniously with the sesame oil. Perfection!
One after another the courses kept coming in a steady but measured pace. Most of the courses were simple sashimi preparations paired with just the right amount of soy or ginger, for example. The red snapper was served with an interesting drizzle of white truffle oil which we thought might overpower the fish but was really delightful. Other kinds of fish that were served as sashimi courses were white tuna, fluke, fatty salmon belly, and a second preparation of king mackerel.
The sashimi was interspersed with two hot dishes. The first was a black cod dish with miso and mirin, served with crispy skin and a twist of lemon. With the umami of the miso, the richness of the fish, the crispiness of the skin, and the brightness from the lemon, this was definitely one of our favorite dishes. We would have gladly ordered several more bites of this one (more on this in a bit).
The other hot dish was served on two tasting spoons, the first containing seared lobster and the second a bite of Kobe beef topped with foie gras and truffle. These two spoons were so decadent and luxurious, standing in contrast to the sashimi courses around them. Of note, this course is served in the eleven course omakase but not the seven-course omakase.
The final course was a platter of five different nigiri: toro, snapper, salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Each was excellent and served with a unique topping (the cream cheese and tomato on top of the salmon was a standout).
Once we finished our nigiri, our server asked if we would like to order any additional items a la carte. We were fairly content so we declined, but this could be a good option for those who order the seven-course omakase and decide they need a few extra dishes to round out the meal.
Finally, it was dessert time. The standard dessert served with the omakase is basically dessert “sushi” – crepes rolled up to look like sushi rolls, chocolate ganache mimicking soy sauce, and a pistachio paste dolloped like wasabi. As I'm allergic to nuts, our server kindly offered to bring me a dessert from the Soba menu. I chose the chocolate pretzel stack with wonton pretzel chips layered with a chocolate mousse, drizzled with a miso caramel, and a truffle on the side. It was extremely rich with a ton of chocolate, but I appreciated the contrasting saltiness and crispness of the pretzel chips.
We were basking in the glories of the amazing sushi experience we'd just had when the bill came and jolted us back to reality. We can't sugarcoat it- this is the most expensive meal we've had in Pittsburgh and the next most expensive one is not even close. (To give you an idea, during our 2021 visit, the eleven-course omakase was $135 per person excluding drinks, tax, and tip.)
Was it worth it? The sheer amount of high-quality sashimi we got to try was incredible, and we definitely left feeling more full than we have at other high-end sushi places in the city. So I'd argue yes, it was worth it, and it's definitely an experience you should try if you enjoy sashimi and have the budget to match.
Umi is located at 5849 Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.
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