Umami Japanese Bistro, in new hands, continues to impress with its freshness and flavor

THE BASICS: Launched in 2016, Umami has remained a respected Japanese favorite for its show-stopping plating and quality ingredients. Founding owner and chef Cong Nguyen sold the restaurant in 2021 to the team behind Geisha, Sushi with a Flair. It’s now run by Jimmy Nguyen, Tien Le and Michael Tran, but the menu has remained similar.

WHAT’S A MUST: Hamachi Crudo is an excellent way to start, with delicate yellowtail in a bright yuzu citrus sauce. The Lollipop Lamb Chop is a delectable contrast to a meal heavy on fish. The signature rolls offer something (even a lot of things!) for everyone. Save room for the Matcha Crepe Cake or the Ube Cheesecake for a subtly sweet finish

About 225’s food critic: Benjamin Leger previously served as managing editor for 225 and was the editor of its Taste section from 2012 to 2021, editing, writing and steering the direction of its food coverage in print and online. He is passionate about all things food and food journalism, and has written about the greater Baton Rouge area’s cuisine and culture for nearly two decades.

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Everyone has their favorite Japanese restaurant—the one they insist serves the freshest sashimi, the most interesting sushi rolls, the best ambiance. For me, that’s long been Umami.

It opened in the former Hello Sushi at a time when the Baton Rouge food scene was getting more adventurous with ingredients and plating, and chef-driven menus were all the rage.

Former owner and chef Cong Nguyen was known for dishes that looked like art. He also specialized in omakase, an experience where the diner trusts the chef to lead them through a multi-course meal catered to their tastes, which Umami still offers today.

With a change of hands in 2021, I was curious if Umami retained its inventive dishes and quality sushi. So I visited on midweek with friends.

It had been a few years since my last meal there, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the crowd of diners still offered a mix of adults who know good sushi and college students who crave it close to LSU.

Lollipop Lamb Chop at Umami

We started with a couple of cocktails and warm sake, and then dove into the small plates.

First up was the Spicy Garlic Edamame. The soybeans were super tender and the garlic and chili oil had a nice kick, but we were all surprised at the lack of salt. Usually, you’d see a visible sprinkling of sea salt, but there was none here.

We knew there would be plenty of fish on the horizon, so at our server’s suggestion, we tried the Lollipop Lamb Chop next.

Two respectably sized lamb chops were coated in a garlic soy sauce and balsamic reduction and cooked to a nice char. The sauces made a bright dressing for the accompanying spring mix and cilantro puree. But the lamb chops were the showcase here. A friend even commented he would have picked away at the bone with his hands if we weren’t in public.

Umami’s Hamachi Crudo

The last of our starters was possibly my favorite dish of the night: Hamachi Crudo.

Five slices of yellowtail sashimi were doused in yuzu citrus sauce and basil oil, then topped with black sea salt and a sprinkling of microgreens.

The sweet yellowtail practically melted in the mouth, and the sauces were subtle enough to let the fresh fish shine. It was lovely.

With the starters out of the way, we were ready for sushi rolls.

I’m usually a sushi roll purist: Give me fresh tuna or salmon wrapped in rice and nori.

But Umami’s list of signature rolls is long, and I was encouraged to go for a more elaborate option.

The Sexiest Woman Alive roll at Umami

Thus, came the Sexiest Woman Alive roll, featuring—deep breath—spicy tuna, jalapeno and snow crab in a soy wrap topped with interwoven slices of tuna, salmon, mango and avocado, drizzled with wasabi aioli and eel sauce and topped with microgreens.

It was a lot. And also difficult to eat without it falling apart between chopsticks. I found myself picking out each ingredient, but this mostly just reminded me how flavorful the components were. I avoided the overly generous sauces pooled on the plate, but appreciated that Umami’s spicy tuna wasn’t gloopy and mayo-laden.

My friends ordered the Sumotori and Love At First Bite rolls. The word count limit for this review prevents me from listing all of those rolls’ ingredients (Reader, there are a lot!). But suffice to say, there were no complaints. Highlights included fried crispy bits of shallots as a topping and a sweet, bright-orange passion fruit sauce.

Umami’s Bluefin Toro
Umami’s Bluefin Toro, nicknamed “Wagyu of the Sea.”

To round out the sushi feast, we wanted something straightforward yet intriguing. From the sashimi options, we tried the Bluefin Toro, which the menu called the “Wagyu of the Sea.”

The two slices from the fatty belly portion of bluefin tuna were deep pink in color, clean, buttery and topped with a delicious wasabi scallion relish we all wished could have accompanied each dish.

After all those savory-salty flavors, dessert was in order. Anyone who has read 225 regularly knows of the writers’ fondness for Umami’s Matcha Crepe Cake.

But I wanted something new, at least to me: Ube Cheesecake.

Slice of the bright purple, Ube Cheesecake, with whipped cream and sliced strawberry on the side
Ube Cheesecake at Umami

Ube, or purple yam, gives this dessert its brilliant hue. This cheesecake was more cake than cheese, and we were all OK with that. Garnished with whipped cream and slices of strawberries, it was a simple and mellow end to the meal.

There were very few misses in our dinner, and some dishes I can’t wait to try again.

We all left feeling like Umami nailed that consistent flavor and freshness we remembered. Perhaps the presentation wasn’t as meticulously artful as it used to be, but the quality and interesting ingredients are still inspired.

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Monday-Thursday, 11a.m.-9:30p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11a.m.-10:30p.m.

This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of 225 magazine.