Umaya - Izakaya
Japanese If You Please
DC's newest eatery, Umaya, is a Japanese-style Izakaya serving classic cuisine that left a smile on my face from start to finish. Ramen may be a growing trend in the city, but where can you get authentic robatayaki? Umaya is the place. Chef Nick Hoang dazzles the palate with exquisitely prepared dishes such as traditional yakitori and ramen, and displays his creativity and skill with daily specials. It is rare that I love every single dish at a restaurant, but I could not get enough at Umaya - I highly recommend you check this place out before it's impossible to get a spot at the robatayaki!
Bite size pieces of delicate tofu are en robed in a super thin but crispy batter. This appetizer is warm and delicate, with just a hint of freshly shaved scallion and bonito flake for a real taste of umami. It was quite hard for me to share this one and is the perfect start to your meal.
Crispy fried dark meat chicken pieces are served with a spicy momiji aioli in bite size pieces, and omfg are they addicting. Think of the best KFC popcorn chicken bites you've ever had, but 100 times better. If you're looking for an interesting spin on the comfort classic, order the Japanese version.
No bells and whistles here, just quality fish. I tried the spicy tuna roll, tuna nigiri, and cucumber roll. Can't get much better than melt in your mouth, fatty tuna and that P E R F E C T vinigared sushi rice.
I was treated to a little something special from Chef Nick's kitchen when he brought out this seared tuna with soy citrus glaze and edamame salad. The balance of citrus and soy was unbelievably fresh and delicate, pairing beautifully with the raw edamame and jalapeno salad. A drizzle of sesame oil and some chili pepper condiments made for fun bite varieties. Ask for this when you go, hopefully you'll get lucky.
This Japanese-style of barbecue is the reason you should go to Umaya. Not only is it fun to watch your food cook, but you're getting a Japanese specialty that takes years of practice to master. Chef Nick has mastered it. I tried a whole mess of skewers: shishito peppers, sea bass, Wagyu beef, king oyster mushrooms, chicken gizzard, and lamb chops. All of these skewers were cooked with such care, ensuring that each ingredient was properly highlighted. The sea bass was medium and melted in my mouth like velvet butter - OMG I WANT IT NOW. The lamb chop was a perfect medium rare and paired with a selection of sea salts; as was the fatty and luxurious Wagyu beef. Although intimidating, I highly recommend the chicken gizzards! Chef Nick slices them super thin, and prepares them almost like a mushroom - but the taste is incomparable. Gizzards are smokey and flavorful, l like the dark meat but super concentrated. Moreover, the skewers are served with different sauces so you can really have a culinary adventure with each bite!
This classic style pork broth ramen with pulled pork is comforting and authentic. The fatty broth satisfies you, and the pork/egg combo fills you up. Chef Nick will even plate it for you if you're sharing with a friend ;). I had a blast slurping up one of my favorite things to eat, while listening to Nick's story of his path to Chef-dom.
Chef Nick Hoang got his start in the culinary world when he was an assistant manager at a Japanese restaurant, One day, INS came into the restaurant and arrested most of the kitchen staff. Someone had to step up to keep the restaurant open, so Nick stepped in as sushi chef! Going from manager to sushi chef was understandably a big challenge, as he learned he had to keep his sushi rolls flat like farmland - not uneven like skyscrapers. Cutting rolls was one of his biggest challenges, but he worked hard and as you can see became a successful chef of his own restaurant at Umaya!
Surprisingly, Chef Nick comes from Vietnamese heritage. However, he was raised in Ohio and his Japanese-style of cooking all started there when he was the manager of the Japanese restaurant. Although his motherdid cook classic Vietnamese-style dishes, Nick was often left to prepare meals for himself, of which he really enjoyed things like instant noodle and MSG filled artificial prepared foods. Those are still the foods he turns to after a long night at Umaya - the nostalgia and comfort is hard to beat, he says.
Other fun facts about Chef Nick? He loves balut (a developing bird embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell) and classic American TV dinners such as liver and onions with mashed potatoes. This type of palate can only come from an American raised Vietnamese chef - and I love it. The one thing Chef Nick thinks you should order, and I agree, is the Chicken Gizzard skewer - so have some balls and do it!