umami

I don’t live in Chagrin Falls, but given the amount of time we spend there, I might as well. Every Sunday we stop at Yours Truly for breakfast then walk across the street for coffee. And now that the farmer’s market is once again open for business, that to is again part of our weekend ritual. And while we continue to frequent Yours Truly, I wouldn’t say I’m by any means impressed with them. In fact, as I’ve said before on several occasions, given how much we enjoy the falls and all this Norman Rockwell-esque town has going for it, one of its major shortcomings is lack of good food (and not for lack of choices). That is, until a tiny Asian restaurant quietly opened shop.

We first went to Umami on behalf of Metromix back in April and have returned several times since then on our own. It’s a very un-Chagrin Falls like restaurant – exactly what this little town needs and the last thing you’d expect to find here.

Here’s part of my review (you can read the full story here):
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Chagrin Falls is known for many things. Its beautiful, tourist-attracting falls, quaint, century-old homes and a downtown that would make Norman Rockwell open shop. Unfortunately, the one thing that’s been missing from this charming town is food—really good food. Sure, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, especially casual, family-friendly options, but unfortunately, many are missing that wow factor. Until now. Enter Umami. A very unChagrin Falls-like restaurant in the heart of the village that’s turning heads and drawing in diners that have been craving such a restaurant.

Food: Umami, which means delicious in Japanese and is also known as the fifth taste, serves up Asian dishes hoping to do just that—entice your taste buds. The man trying to wow your palate is chef Michael Longo, whose philosophy in the kitchen and passion for all things local is well-represented in the menu and throughout the restaurant.

“When cooking, I keep it simple,” explains Longo, who once worked with Michael Symon at the old Piccolo Mondo and also owns ML in Bainbridge. He emphasizes the importance of letting the ingredients speak for themselves, to cook within the season, keep it as sustainable and local as possible all while incorporating his classical training into each dish. A training, he believes, that allows him to build a foundation and enable him to explore and create whatever he wants with food.

Examples of his training and philosophy are layered within each dish of the one-page menu, which features a few sashimi options, cooked hot and cold small plates and 10 larger plates, plus a handful of daily specials. Making up those plates are as many local products as Longo can get his hands on.

“Farm to table, seed to mouth,” he explains. “A chef is the connection between the farmer and the consumer.” Longo adds that he can’t wait for the local Chagrin Falls markets to open, which is part of North Union Farmer’s Market. He is also very involved with localcrop.com, an endeavor created by chef Steve Schimoler of Crop Bistro, and sources a lot of the fish for the restaurant from the Honolulu fish company, which is 100 percent sustainable.

Since opening earlier this year, popular big plates include sake and ginger-glazed pork tenderloin, red curry duck and firecracker prawns, plus tom yum gai and miso with crab soups, sesame noodles with tofu, and five-spice crusted ahi tuna.

On our visit, we sampled a dish within each section. We started with the togarashi-crusted, plancha-seared white tuna with shoyu, tobiko and wasabi, followed by the lobster spring rolls with a sweet chile dipping sauce, spicy Korean BBQ ribs with kimchee and black pepper shrimp with sun-dried papaya, basil, lemongrass, sweet chile and nam pla. Our larger plate, which was big enough to share, was an order of the pad Thai with chicken.

The white tuna was absolutely perfect and incredibly tasty in every way—a must-try item for sure. The shrimp was slightly spicy, sweet and boasted wonderful and unexpected flavor. The ribs were sticky, meaty and spicy. The lobster rolls were incredibly fresh, light and albeit healthy—a nice contrast to the ribs. The surprise dish was the pad Thai. While this popular dish is quite common at many Cleveland-area restaurants, there was nothing common about Umami’s version. This version, with large chunks of tender chicken, nam pla (fish sauce), cilantro, sprouts, tamarind and egg, is unlike any other found within the city, that tend to be on the sweeter side.

Décor: With the first step inside Umami, one thing is for certain: this restaurant does not fit the makeup of Chagrin Falls. This is a good thing. The incredibly tiny restaurant (we counted 10 tables) borders sexy.

With Umami, Longo centered the design around the concept of mixing something old with something new. For example, the brick wall, which dons Warhol pop art and runs one whole side of the restaurant, was uncovered during demolition and became the focal point for something old. The chef’s fascination with lights is evident with the 1920 Edison bulbs that are the centerpiece of the restaurant. The counterpoint to the Edison bulbs, he describes, are the very modern LED candles on the tables.

The chef feels the design of the space correlates to his food in the same way. “I take classics and put a modern spin on them,” he shares. “Restaurant spaces need to have an edge, they need to be somewhat sexy. The food that comes out of the kitchen must have that same edge to it.”

6 Comments

  1. Kelly and José
    Posted June 16, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Although neither of us have had the best experiences with Longo (both of us having been witness to his firey temper: one as a young employee and the other as a consistent customer), your ringing endorsement actually makes us want to look past all this*

  2. Jim Alunni
    Posted June 16, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I have also heard of Longo's temper but have yet to see it first hand, I've only had wonderful food at his hands and have been to Umami (seriously) at least twenty different times. I'm bummed they closed for lunch but dinner is really where it all comes together. As for a chefs temper, oh well, as long as they produce killer food they can be the most evil person on the planet. There is give and take in everything.

    I look to Jim Gaffigan who when asked "Do you know what they do to cows to make Veal?"

    He replied "Whatever it is, it's delicious."

  3. michelle v
    Posted June 16, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I've never met the chef aside from a few questions exchanged via Facebook and have never been to his other restaurant. It's a shame you've had poor experiences – I can certainly appreciate that (in fact, we'll never go back to Cento b/c I don't care for one of the partners). But if you are in the area and want to try something different, I do recommend it. Maybe just call first to make sure he's working at his other place :)

    Jim, good quote! I kinda have that same philosophy.

  4. Kelly and José
    Posted June 16, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Excellent point, Jim. . .and great suggestion, Michelle ;)

    If we end up going, I'll most definitely let you know our thoughts*

    Kelly

  5. Allison M.
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    have to say that we had one awesome roll whenever we went. It was so perfectly rolled.

    delicious.

  6. Kelly
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Have you tried the new Fresh Start Diner in Chagrin Falls? Just wondering what your thoughts were. Saw it last weekend while waiting for our table at Yours Truly.

One Trackback

  1. By Cleveland Foodie on May 1, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    [...] is the ultra tiny restaurant in the heart of Chagrin Falls. I first wrote about them last June when Michael Longo was chef. It’s close to my house and office, so we found ourselves there [...]

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