I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Umi, the latest sushi bar and Japanese restaurant to occupy a familiar Park Avenue Space, even though it included some of the absolute worst mussels to ever have been placed in front of me.
Umi is at the "bottom" of Park Avenue, at 525 South, where various other sushi and Japanese restaurants — plus an occasional bit of Thai — have called home. Most recently it was Avenue Thai & Sushi. Its longest and most familiar occupant was Shiki.
Umi has an austere yet pleasant vibe. The menu features not only the expected sushi selections but also kitchen foods that include robata grilled meats and a couple of ramen soups.
It was in the Nagasaki ramen bowl where lurked the offending mussels, miserable to a mollusk. One had a shell that looked like it had been whacked with a mallet; one or two hadn't opened, which is never a good sign. Those that had held hard little nubs not worth the chewing that would be required.
But remove those from the picture, or more specifically from the bowl, and and was left was a wonderfully full flavored pork broth tinged with a bit of seafood saltiness, with tender-firm shrimp, scallops, ringlets of squid and black fungus tree mushrooms, all atop big, chewy ramen noodles. And a broth-cooked egg to cap it off. Mussels? What mussels?
From the list of sushi rolls I selected the Tuna by Tuna, a basic tuna roll amplified with tuna sashimi on the outside, a dollop of tobiko fish roe and scallions for color as well as taste.
Kurumi tofu salad was a prettily presented dish of house-made walnut tofu, creamy textured cubes that could make a tofu lover out of the most dedicated carnivore. It was graced with a balsamic tinged vinaigrette and garnished with plumes of romaine.
One of my companions had the grilled chicken salad, which featured arugula and mixed greens with tomatoes, red radishes and a sesame ginger dressing. It would have been a nice entree salad if the chicken hadn't been so dry.
The house salad that came with my ramen, however, was better than what passes as the house salad at most sushi joints, with a spring mix of lettuces and a delicious pulpy ginger dressing.
Service was attentive and helpful.
Umi is a nice addition to the Park Avenue dining district. I wish it a long life. And better mussels.
Umi is at 525 S. Park Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-960-3993.