Umeda just opened on Melrose Ave. in March, but it’s already a buzzy spot, sleek and modern, offering an awe-inspiring selection of perfectly presented and richly flavorful Japanese cuisine. Chef Takuya Umeda may be known for his prowess at sushi creations, but he shapes a wide range of other stellar dishes from his open kitchen as well. Umeda serves his fresh and authentic cuisine in a stylish room that features a clear glass floor upon entering through which diners can view a bubbling brook below ground. Diners can actually hear the rushing water, too – there’s no loud music pulsing on the sound system. In short, it’s a serene spot, offering pristine cuisine and a sophisticated atmosphere in a diminutive space.
Chef Umeda was inspired to create the finest in sushi dishes from the beginning of his career, working in a sushi restaurant in Sapporo, Japan, at Saga Japanese Restaurant in London, and then at Nobu London, under the guidance of Nobu Matsuhisa. Umeda followed Matsuhisa to his Beverly Hills-based Nobu, working as a chef at this renowned sushi spot until he opened Umeda this year.
According to manager Joseph Mansour, “We have the best of everything. We have a unique design, everything is custom made, from the waterfall entrance, to the ceiling where you are experiencing a little bit of the ocean, with the arc of a metal arch that represents the light of sea. It’s romantic, good for dating, good for seeing friends. We have everything the customer needs.” And as to the food, Mansour notes, “We put so much work into every single dish. We make sure it all comes to perfection.”
Umeda offers old favorites, familiar to some diners from Nobu, as well as a variety of unique recipes, varied noodle dishes, and small bites. Serving lunch Tuesday through Saturday and dinner Monday through Saturday, the restaurant may draw diners to complete sushi, sashimi, or sashimi and tempura combinations or to the wealth of tastes in the classic bento box that includes sashimi salad, sushi, black cod, shrimo – a creamy and spicy seafood dish, miso soup, and rice.
There are a number of donburi items on the menu to tempt diners. This bowl dish combines fish, meat, or vegetables cooked together and served over rice. Served with salad, soup, and mixed pickles – and don’t discount the tangy, unique pickles– the restaurant’s donburi selection is extensive, too, including choices such as spicy tuna, squid pasta, fresh water or sea water eel, and chicken teriyaki. Perhaps the ultimate comfort food version of donburi is the oyako donburi, a chicken and egg dish also known colloquially as a “mother and child bowl.” The chicken, egg, sliced scallions and other vegetables are all simmered together in a savory, Japanese twist on a dish that reminds one – just a little – of savory chicken soup.
Udon noodles are also a part of the menu, with choices such as tempura, seafood, and chicken. But the most unique noodle dish at Umeda is the Inaniwa udon. These noodles are delicate, hand-stretched udon that is thinner than the standard noodle. Flattened before drying, they are repeatedly hand-kneaded, aged, then kneaded again, creating a network of tiny air bubbles in the dough. The air bubbles form the ultimate in a chewy, uniquely flavorful noodle using a process that originated in 1665 and passed on for generations. Because of the time-consuming nature of their creation, these noodles can’t be made in large batches, making their inclusion on the menu at Umeda even more special.
If Inaniwa udon noodles are among the most unique items on the menu, among the most popular are the soft shell crab rolls, the black cod, and the deliciously flavorful salt water eel. The scallop with jalapeno salsa is another hit, spicy and redolent of the sea at the same time. And the crispy rice with spicy tuna seems to be on everyone’s must-try list.
At dinner, the menu items include courses from appetizer to dessert: entrees come with salad, appetizer, soup, rice, and ice cream. Appetizer choices range from the rather ubiquitous edamame to a Kumamoto oyster shooter.
From shrimp Katsu to yellowtail collar, there’s something for everyone as a main course. But for those who want a full experience of the inventive and carefully prepared menu, the omakase dinner is the way to go, particularly for those ready to trust in the Chef’s Choice selection.
As to the sushi and sashimi, Umeda is something of a rock star. There are options such as the Kohada, or gizzard shad, served along with more standard fare such as yellowtail or salmon. Rolls, either hand or cut, also vary from the simple – cucumber – to the more refined taste of Kampyo, a type of gourd that is a traditional ingredient in Edo-era cooking. And for those who prefer their fish cooked, the intensely flavorful baked cod soy wrap certainly fits the bill. There are plenty of salads, skewers, and inventive soups on the menu, too. Beef also makes an appearance, including Wagyu beef from Miyazaki, Japan. While diners may not expect to see items such as a tomato ceviche or a squid pasta on this menu, they are here, too.
Libations are also eclectic – lemon-lime Ramune Japanese soda is one way to go; but perhaps a specialty cocktail such as the Umeda Mule made with Asian vodka, or the gin, plum sake, soda, and plum-garnished Umeda Favorite is in order. A variety of sakes crafted at the Hokuetsu Brewery at Sado Island, Niigata are also available.
In short, visiting Umeda is like catching a flight to Japan – by simply taking a stroll down Melrose Ave.
6623 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, California