It has long been accepted in the Western world that there are four elements of taste: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In 1908, Tokyo Imperial University researcher Kikunae Ikeda identified a fifth taste that he called”umami,” a word that has no exact translation in English but is loosely interpreted as “delicious” or “savory”. Ikeda concluded that compared to the other four tastes, umami is exceedingly subtle, personifying more as an overall distinctive palate sensation than a taste.
Adapted from “Food Lovers Companion, fourth edition
This definition describes very well the mouth sensations I have experienced at the restaurant, Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar. Located in a renovated 1880’s historic house at 923 Williamson St., Madison, WI. There website claims it is the first restaurant to offer authentic Japanese ramen noodles and Chinese dumplings in this area.
I have eaten here on four occasions and I cannot wait to go again. I have tried two different ramen noodle bowls, each served with a flavor infused egg, and nothing like the ramen we became so familiar with in college. Each bite of these savory dishes made me want more and more. The noodles, made locally using Umami’s own recipe, are fresh and tender paired with meat, chicken or pork, and vegetables in a satisfying broth. Vegetarian and vegan options are available as well.
What really keeps me coming back, however, are the pork buns. They are offered two/order served in a Chinese “mantou bun” which are light and airy and folded like a taco. The filling is an oven roasted pork belly w/ pickled cucumber, scallions and a special blend hoison sauce. They are indescribably delicious and literally melt in your mouth. Believe me when I say, the photo does not do it justice. If you eat meat, this is a must try! Two tofu preparations are available also, regular and spicy.
Equally mouth watering and satisfying is the tuna poke. This is sashimi grade ahi tuna served with seaweed salad and apple cucumber slaw and sweet soy. It is accompanied by pork rinds on the side. I know that seems wierd but for some reason, it really works. The layering of these flavors, dressed delicately, make each bite a little bit of heaven in your mouth.
For a light and refreshing choice, there is the summer roll. Wrapped in rice paper, this roll has assorted vegetables, peanuts, sesame, herbs and tofu. It is served with a “to die for” spicy peanut sauce.
Another reason to patronize Umami is the owners commitment to sustainabilty, using local products and ingredients whenever possible. The beautiful ramen bowls as well as the tea and sake cups are all crafted right up the street by the Midwest Clay Project and the noodles are made by RP’s Pasta located practically next door. You can’t get more local than that.
I have to put this retaurant at the top of my list as a favorite in the Madison, WI area. The decor is simple but inviting and they have a lovely bar and outdoor patio where you can enjoy your meal al fresco. The staff are friendly and offer good service. Open only for dinner, they have a happy hour M-Thurs., 5-7 with 2 for 1 offerings on draft beers, house sake and rail cocktails. Check out their website http://www.umamimadison.com for a complete menu. You won’t be disappointed. Hope to see you there as I will be returning soon. I hope!