915 East Prien Lake Road, Lake Charles • 337-478-1600
Table Salt • Bill Coyne
What is Umami? By definition, Umami is the fifth flavor; after sweet, salty, bitter and sour comes savory and deep. To Southwest Louisiana, Umami is a brand-new name in Japanese cuisine.
Having been open for a few weeks, it is one of those restaurants that seems to have been able to garner a lot of positive attention quickly and requires no time to adjust — at least not as far as anyone could notice. My wife and I wanted to experience this.
Anyone familiar with the building will know that it previously housed another Japanese restaurant. But there is zero relation or similarity between the two.
It’s a relatively small building. But the restaurant it houses is big on ambiance, culturally styled décor and welcoming smiles. Several seating options are available — from standard tabletops, a traditional tatami dining room and the sushi bar.
We went straight for the sushi bar. There was a good crowd inside and many of the tables were occupied. There were more than enough staff members to accommodate the diners. Ayden was our server for the evening.
Umami has an expansive menu, from bites to shareables, soups and salads, sushi, sashimi, rolls and mains. My wife and I really don’t have an order plan as we go out; we see what moves us. Sometimes it’s finding something we both might like. On this night, it was a free-for-all. We ordered what enticed us. There was a lot of food, so bear with me.
We start off with pan fried gyoza, a common dish of dumplings filled with pork and seasoning; a cucumber salad; and sashimi tacos — a not-so-standard offering.
It didn’t take long for the food to start arriving. It was evident that the presentation was on point, and that didn’t change. As each plate came out, we recognized it as an art form and saw that they take presentation seriously.
The gyoza had a perfect pan sear, steamy filling and was flavorful. The cucumber salad, which offered a hint of sweetness, was crisp and fresh.
Then came the plate with the sashimi tacos. It was gorgeous. It featured fried wonton shells with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, guacamole, serrano pepper and seaweed salad. The crunch; the mild heat creaminess from the guac; the flavors from the fish and the textures all came together in this exciting appetizer, which by all means could be a meal in itself. However, we weren’t done.
It was at this point that the owner, Krystal Huang, came to ask how we were doing and to deliver yet another dish. This time, it was albacore carpaccio. Delicate tuna was sliced paper thin and topped with a serrano pepper, cilantro, scallion, ginger and garlic vinaigrette. The albacore melted in our mouths. There was such a balance of flavor and finish that the dish was absolutely impressive.
We were still holding onto our menus because we still weren’t finished. We were discussing the main dish choices and considering the sushi roll options. The entree for the gentleman sitting behind us was delivered — a sizzling platter of chicken teriyaki. That sealed the deal for my wife, which allowed me to go for the beef udon.
Soon, the steaming and crackling dish arrived. The aroma of teriyaki, grilled onion and chicken wafted across the bar top. The chicken was perfectly grilled and juicy.
My udon was made of thinly sliced, tender beef, miso broth, fresh udon noodles, vegetable and tofu. It was all mouthwatering; it was beautiful; it was fresh; it was that fifth flavor, Umami.
It seems crazy that every aspect of a new restaurant can provide this kind of experience from the word go. It’s not luck. There is a lot of talent packed into this building, and it shows every step of the way.
An Extra Dish
CJ Sprout • 4301 Nelson Road, Lake Charles, LA
After dinner at Umami, we hopped on down to CJ Spout at 4301 Nelson Road for a little dessert. I didn’t know what to expect but wound up being glad we checked the place out.
We had both been hearing good things about a crepe dessert filled with fresh fruit and yogurt. The crepe is made to order, right in front of you. It’s loaded with mango, strawberry, blueberry, a sweetened yogurt, Nutella and coconut. It’s insanely delicious, especially when you hit the yogurt.
As we drooled over what was coming across the counter, the unsuspecting young lady didn’t know what to think when I asked her to take a pic of her egg waffle ice cream dessert, which we will order on the next trip.
CJ Sprout isn’t completely about desserts and sweets. The restaurant offers sushi burritos, bowls, teas and savory crepes as well. Definitely give them a shot.