Wednesday, July 29, 2009
There goes the neighborhood. Discreetly tucked into a row of neighborhood establishments is a newcomer, restaurant "UmiNom"(white sign far right)
A review of the restaurant "UmiNom".
I like it. Who needs obscure words falling over each other like lotus petals tantalizing at the koi pond's edge, when you can simply say;
UmiNom (Tagalog (Filipino language) for "drink") the name of the new restaurant precariously balanced on the edge of Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant has the type of attractive stylish yet modest decor you'd expect from most image proud Manhattan establishments, the service was friendly and the food was very good.
I like it!
The interiors are very warm, attractive and amazing (even more so because this used to be an age worm laundromat). Spacing in some places was a little tight seating-wise , but New York tight not Tokyo tight. Expect to turn sideways to exit some tables. Overall I felt very comfortable and I wished I thought to bring three friends with at least.
As for the staff, also nice. They treated me like a grandmother treats an only child. I was tucked into my table, and given treats I hadn't asked for. Specifically a crispy lightly fried wonton filled with crab and cream cheese. Delicious. I imagined the delicious filling being spread on anything and making that thing better. Next time I'll definitely order a plate, it might just make me forget how much I love curry puffs, that common menu item of some many city thai places. The lovely treatment I received was to be expected since it's first day of course, but it's probably a good idea to ask to sample even more.
For my meal I had the staple of some many Asian-infused eateries of course, pad thai. I imagine it will probably be the most ordered item on the menu due to unadventurous delivery diners who still equate the dish with the exotic.
The list of main courses was limited to a few selections but there was a long list of small plates, essentially tapas, to choose from. I picked the Mackerel Plate in addition because I wanted something sharper flavor-wise to go with my presumptions of what the pad thai would be.
The waitress was sure to inform me it would be a full fish, "head, tail, everything" which was great of her, because you really should know not to expect a chunk of grilled salmon steak when you order the mackerel.
If you don't know mackerel, body-wise think foot long sardines. Years ago living in Tokyo I used to buy and roast Mackerel all the time so I was ready for it and UmiNom did not disappoint.
Two whole roasted mackerels came with garnishes. They were grape tomates and what I recall as a shredded outlay of pickled radish on the side. The tender mackerel meat worked well with the slightly salted outside crunchy skin and made nice with what seemed to be a light, sweet, pickling of the tomatoes. I liked also those flavors and textures, the sours, and sweets of the crunchy pickled vegetable mixing with the charred outer salted skin of the mackerel which gave a lot of sensation to an intentionally small plate.
The only downer was the mackerel plate is a great tapas for eating and destroying during a boisterous conversation with friends and beers. I flew solo and the liquor license hasn't made it to UmiNom yet, although; everyone, assured me it's on the way. Soon.
The Shrimp Pad Thai was light and flavorful. According to my taste-buds, I was tasting the sweetness from tamarind, a variety of other spices and what seemed to be a very light but but nicely flavored soy sauce, and I recommend munching on the fresh basil leaves whenever you want to send your palette on a joy ride.
I went back and forth between the two dishes. Especially comparing the two very differences between the so light I can't express it enough taste of the pad thai with the ruggedness of the mackerel.
The process of making an indelicate mess out of the mackerel was satisfying by itself. For people who really want to render the meat from a bone in this case the the length of mackerel vertebra that comes in the fish, this dish is for you. If you're clever about it you should be able to flip the fish open (it's already sliced lengthwise) grab the bone with your fork and yank the whole thing out like you're playing a game of "Operation". Make sure you get another fork or chop sticks so you can anchor while you pull off this trick. I thought it was a good idea to ask for chopsticks to get this done.
At this point I expect pad thai is about as common as tacos in New York City. I've had the dish for years and in short, I've never has it better than UmiNoms. It's a simple dish, essentially noodles, spices and a meat or tofu. But as tasty as most pad thai is, it's usually pretty heavy. Sometimes I want that feeling like I just ate a tasty lead balloon, when I haven't wanted that feeling I've skipped pad thai. I never knew I could have light and tasty pad thai, but at UmiNom I can. Yeah big endorsement, but seriously I wanted to and felt like I could eat the soft and cozy like a bird-nest of noodles plate with it's tasty shrimp and south-east Asian spices day after day. The tofu pieces however didn't ascend to anything other than tofu, but the dish was so tasty I wouldn't let the waitstaff have my plate until I cleaned it.
To wash down and meld with the meal, I had the coconut water (which I think they called "juice" but my West Indian leanings says "water"). I love the after taste of it. It's kinda like the last frosted flakes and milk that have congealed into a hyper-sugar at the bottom of your bowl while you watched Saturday morning cartoons.
Tip1: If you like coconut, order the coconut juice until the liquor license comes, it provides with you a comparably flavored beverage and a desert in the form of large coconut chunks that come with.
Tip2: If you want to drink something stronger do what makes sense and you'll be alright
My coconut juice arrived in a nostalgic happily flimsy plastic cup that contorted a little when I picked it up I liked it. It even came with tools, a Nathan's-like fork for scooping out coconut meat and a bendy straw. Fun. But my utensils were taped to the cup so to use them I had to pick the sticky residue from the tape off my straw an coco-fork since I didn't want to ruin a great meal by eating glue.
Overheard Playlist (incomplete but in order of play)
Prince melody feat. - "Erotic City"
Lupe Fiasco - "Superstar"
Madonna - "Borderline"
Sting - "Everything She Does is Magic"
A proudly designed restaurant servicing gourmet plates of Asian-fusion situated in an unlikely place with a housing project and infamous local fast food spot as it's neighbor.
Great renditions of familiar dishes, Attractive setting, bar for socializing, tables for dining, helpful friendly staff. I like it and I want more.
*** end of review ***
Because I hadn't considered possibilities that would have allowed me to drink with my dinner I left and went to a local bar, ran into friends we got into a conversation about UmiNom, I brought it up. We talked about these kinds of restaurants, fancy, new, stylish, foreign. In my family we use the term "chi chi foo foo" (with it's silly phonics meant to imply exotic pretense) to describe these types of restaurants, boutiques, people, etc.
Our stories describing these places become ridiculously exaggerated like the one about the boutique in Nolita that has five items in the entire store, each priced north of $10k preciously arranged by an impossibly long legged woman whose spends equal time blowing soap bubbles and braiding a unicorn's mane. Or that new bar that has no liquor; they simple put pieces of paper written with the names of spirits into a goblet and your supposed to read the papers, thereby becoming literally incapacitated until you've been mentally intoxicated.
As funny as the branding of chi chi foo foo can be there is often something else I hear in those conversations, an uneasy mix of attraction and fear. Because we want to be pampered, we want to be stimulated but we don't want to be excluded and what if these people and places don't welcome us, what if they decide we are not for them and they are not for us? I had a long conversation with another friend where we detailed coming to terms with being allowed to seek comfort and quality in dinning, decor and the like, without feeling like a bougie sell out. And we each years earlier had independently realized that as people with impoverished backgrounds we had trouble getting over feeling uncomfortable about being so comfortable.
An additional element that causes unease with new things come into the neighborhood is the reality that yes new upscale businesses and people often lead to circumstances where people are pushed out of their communities. That reality has driven many conversations I've witnessed, about some new chi chi business, from fun mockery to outright hatred. And the next thing you know rather than address the larger issues of our community we're focused on who's an outsider regardless of what's being brought in.
I've wondered for years about this situation and these conversations.
Where do we draw the line as far as "outsiders" coming into "our" neighborhood. Do we reject businesses that bring value into our neighborhood (umi's sister and the owner's first restaurant is in Manahattan) if that business is not from our neighborhood?
Getting back to my table of friends listening to my account of UmiNom, several thoughts were added to that conversation. The prevailing opinion expressed by my friends was something like does this restaurant benefit the established neighborhood as opposed to the incoming residents who's frequent turnover contributes to a lack of investment in these neighborhoods.
I don't know what the right answer to that is, or if the question is even completely accurate, but my opinion is the neighbor needs a range. Range of culture, service, amenities, people, economic classes and restaurants. In my opinion as a whole, Brooklyn has enough Crown Fried Chickens, we need more UmiNoms to increase the expectation and market for better levels of dining, shopping and living.