This post has been a long-time coming, for several reasons. I've known Chef Matthew Anderson for about three years now, and I liked him right away once I saw that he is so warm, enthusiastic, and passionate about what he does. When he moved to take over the kitchen at Umami in Chagrin Falls, I was thrilled for him and wanted to get out there and try it for myself. But time slips by, and unfortunately Chagrin Falls is not always on our dining radar.
So my first trip to Umami Asian Kitchen didn't come until recently, when the Jeni's Ice Cream shop opened up and eager Clevelanders descended upon Main Street. When we walked into the restaurant,"R" and I were surprised to find only a handful of tables, and the chef happily creating in the open, tight kitchen space in the back. There was no wait, and we started to peruse the brief menu. I personally felt that there were enough options for the average diner to be able to find something appealing, and I always appreciate a brief menu selection if you just focus on quality and nailing every dish. I won't say that Chef Matt is quite nailing it yet, but he's coming pretty darn close based on our first experience there.
Thankfully, some tweeps had recommended the Udon Noodles and any fish special. This helped steer our decisions. We started with some Goat Cheese Dumplings with seared greens and a soy ginger butter ($8.50).The goat cheese flavor was a little lost, and perhaps would have stood out if the dumplings were larger. I combined a couple in a few bites and the result was a tad better. But overall, we enjoyed the Asian-inspired flavors and we weren't off to a bad start.
Then, a surprise greeted us at the table. Chef Matthew had graciously sent out a complimentary appetizer for us to try. This time, it was a pork belly dish that is similar to the Crispy Pork Belly on the regular menu but this version had been served the night before at one of their special wine dinners. At first I was hesitant, because I have an issue with fatty meat and pork belly has never been a favorite of mine. Anderson changed my mind. Um, wow! "R" and I were both fighting over the last few bites, and it left me believing that I could like pork belly after all.Next up were our entrees. I had gone with the Udon Noodles with spicy beef, shiitakes, bok choy, basil, ginger, Parmesan, and dashi ($17). The thick noodles absorbed the traditional Asian flavors well, and with just a subtle bit of heat to the dish- it was very enjoyable. Although, the dish did not reheat well the next day. Several of the regular main dishes had peaked "R's" interest, but he went with the fish special. The grouper was fresh and prepared well, with the chef's simplistict approach shining through.
We were both happy with our meal, but the real highlight was the pork belly dish. It pushed our experience to another level, and the chef's lighthearted pleasure in doing what he does best helped keep it there. Even in the hustle and bustle of his tiny kitchen, he took a few moments to talk to us after the meal. I signed up for their email list to be notified of upcoming wine dinners and other special events, and I encourage you to do so as well.
A big thank you to Chef Anderson for a nice evening out trying some quality Asian cuisine that we don't often get in our neck of the woods, and for reminding me that Chagrin Falls is a great little pocket of restaurants and shops and we need to get over there more often! A nice stroll by the falls topped off the night.
Umami Asian Kitchen
42 Main Street
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022