It is the man who drinks the first bottle of saké; then the second bottle drinks the first, and finally it is the saké that drinks the man. — Japanese proverb
Too much of a good thing can be wonderful. — Mae West
The standard and choices for Japanese cuisine have evolved, with the increasing affluence and growing appetite for authentic Japanese restaurants. I was seated at the center, overlooking the beautiful Zen garden surrounding this immaculate establishment that was thoughtfully choreographed with delicate touches of modern Japanese style. Being in Umu is to experience a real taste of luxury and elegance that will spur those seeking a gastronomic adventure, with a menu that is stylishly presented with a lot of ingenuity, coupled with the clever use of traditional ingredients.
Chef Hiroyuki Fukata is gifted with the aptitude to bring out the best in every dish, a talent he has mastered with his 20 years in the kitchen, wherein eight years were spent at the official residences of three Japanese ambassadors. His culinary passion is evident in his creations, inspired by the lifelong pursuit to reveal the best Japanese cuisine to the world. The new a la carte menu is enticing, infused with world-class sake graciously provided by Philippine wine merchants, offering a perfect blend of flavor that will surely tantalize your taste buds.
Sake is accurately called nihonshu, or Japanese rice wine. Though called wine, it is brewed more like beer and is double-fermented. To make it, specific grains of rice are chosen for harvesting and polishing. During polishing most of the grains are lost and more is added. It is soaked, then carefully cooked, as overcooking will over-ferment it before the flavor comes out. Pristine water, yeast, and koji, or a kind of mold, is mixed in and allowed to ferment. A series of events causes the koji to convert the starch into sugar, which is consumed by the yeast to produce the alcohol content. It is then pressed with an optional alcohol brew added for flavor. Finally it’s filtered, pasteurized and allowed to rest for it to mature. It is then diluted in water and bottled. With the customary banging of the sake drum, dinner was served.
The ebi siso or prawn wrapped in ohba leaf is perfectly deep-fried. It has a crisp exterior yet the meat around it remains tender, maintaining the natural, succulent flavor of the prawn. The soft-shelled crab furai has a hint of sweetness that goes well with zipang, or sparkling sake, extracting the taste without overpowering the dish. Next came the glistening cut of thinly sliced salmon and lapu-lapu sashimi, and as I popped each piece in my mouth, I noticed a chorus of approval among the many guests tasting the same dish, signifying only the best produce was used. The fantastic set of appetizers only increased my curiosity about the main course, a medley of Suzuki teppanyaki or iron-grilled sea bass, Saikoro steak, and various sushi consisting of Umu maki (salmon, avocado and cream cheese over vinegar rice), tekkamaki or rolled tuna, and ebi furai on rice paper.
The steak was cooked to a juicy, medium-rare perfection, with every bite leaving a lasting impression as it was perfectly seasoned. The aromatic and savory sea bass has a smooth, custardy texture that literally melts in the mouth. I was pleased to see the generous portions of sushi that were complemented with gekkien, or hot sake.
Next was a palate cleanser, chef Fukata’s homemade coconut ice cream with plum wine. Refreshing, it entices diners to linger and sit down, a perfect excuse for meandering conversations and just enjoying at a leisurely pace. Many say the safe measure of a restaurant’s authenticity is the number of Japanese customers at the establishment, and as I looked up it was packed with Japanese expats, a reflection that Umu is the place for your gourmet pleasure.