Indeed, it’s something of an anomaly. A trio of restaurants with very similar names — Umi, Umami and Umai — all doing variations of Japanese food, and quite well. It could easily cause confusion and be the backdrop to a “Seinfeld” script, were that paean to New York and nothing set instead betwixt our rivers three ….
Open with SPLIT SCREEN SHOT: Via phone calls and text messages, the gang decides to meet for lunch. They want sushi and think they’ve mutually agreed on the spot.
WIPE TO: Jerry exits his fashionable (read: gentrified) East Liberty apartment, walking to Umi, in Shadyside.
CUT TO: With American Eagle having acquired J. Peterman, Elaine sneaks out of work and Ubers to Umami in Lawrenceville.
JUMP CUT TO: Meanwhile, muttering his occasional catchphrase, “George is getting upset!,” George is borderline apoplectic as he sits alone waiting for the others at Umai in Mt. Lebanon.
CLOSE ON: Inexplicably, Kramer ends up on a date with Uma Thurman.
Regardless, mistaking the three can be excused, so here’s a quick primer: Umi is Big Burrito’s perennial standard bearer for sushi in the City of Pittsburgh; Umami is the sleek and chic Izakaya on the top floor of the Round Corner Cantina on Butler Street in Lawrenceville; and Umai, opened in late 2016, is a cozy and warm little space on the Beverly Road corridor of Mt. Lebanon.
Umai owners Panchiwan and Mayjeera Tangkea are sisters from the outskirts of Bangkok, where they learned the restaurant trade from their mother. At Umai they offer a broad menu preparing both the dishes of their homeland and Japanese specialties with an emphasis on sushi.
They shuck oysters at the raw bar (served with a particularly good soy and green onion mignonette) and prepare starters such as Poke (Hawaiian tuna salad) ($10), Snapper Ceviche ($10) and Toro (fatty bluefin tuna) Tartare ($15), and, of course, a full sushi bar.
The Larb Tuna — raw tuna marinated with fresh mint, red onion, scallion and cilantro — started off cool and clean before giving way to a pleasingly spicy lime sauce ($12). The same could be said of the elegant Fluke Carpaccio ($14), where again clean and refreshing thin slices of white fish are hit with a lightly piquant chili sauce.
Main dishes can range from Japanese teriyaki and hibachi to Thai curry and fried rice dishes and noodle bowls from both cultures ($12-$22).
A platter of the Drunken Ramen Noodle ($14) was filling and tasty with stir-fried noodles, basil, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, bell peppers and spicy chili paste, although it was a little underwhelming in the spice department — it could’ve been hotter.
The Clay Pot Shrimp, however, was ideal on a frigid winter night. The shrimp, bean thread noodles, ginger, onion, scallion, celery and sesame oil are slow cooked in the clay pot and served with steamed jasmine rice ($18).
Umai may not have the same high profile as its similarly named competitors in the city, but the attention to detail and quality of ingredients in a cozy setting make this Mt. Lebanon restaurant stand on its own.
Umai: 297 Beverly Road, Mt. Lebanon; 412-344-7874; http://umaimtlebo.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412.