In the summer of 2011, when I first ordered sushi and sashimi at the Umi restaurant, I couldn’t believe my eyes—incredible edible art! I knew I was still home in Virginia, but I felt like I had suddenly returned to the Hawaiian Islands. Was I dreaming? All of the food was created with such care and presented so beautifully, I just wanted to sit there and look at it. How could I justify eating fine art?
Even though I had never taken photos of food before, I decided to solve my culinary dilemma by pulling out my camera before my husband Tom or I took a bite.
It’s been 2 years since our first visit to Umi, and we have come back almost every week since then. Each time, the food and the service has been consistently great, so I continue to say, “Wait a minute—don’t touch anything! Let me get my camera.”
Regardless of how hungry we are, it has now become mandatory to take a photo first (Luckily, Tom is a very patient man). The food is simply too beautiful. On my December birthday last year, even though it was cold outside, I was served the freshest flowers made of fish. It was wonderful.
On another occasion, I had the chance to taste an avocado octopus. Actually, that’s not what it was literally—that’s just what I decided to name it. The octopus was reaching out towards me with its seven legs (must have lost one in a sea battle), begging to be eaten.
I was especially fascinated by the next dish below, because it reminds me of the movie “Life of Pi.” In the back, on the right, I see 3 little boats heading towards an island topped with parsley trees. On the left, I see three animals—the octopus in the back, the tiger in the middle, and the hyena in the front. Where is Pi? My guess is that he is probably hiding under one of the jalapeño peppers. After I told this story to Tom, he said— “That’s nice. Now can we eat it? ” (Doesn’t he know? Good things come to those who wait!)
Everyone who works at Umi seems to enjoy being there. This makes the entire dining experience even more enjoyable. I think people come for both the great food and for the great company. It’s always nice to be greeted with a warm smile.
Sony Gao (co-owner) moved from China to Japan when he was only 14 years old.
At that point, he began to learn how to make sushi and sashimi by working side-by-side with an experienced master sushi chef in Tokyo. It is quite obvious that Sony was an excellent student. His attention to even the smallest artistic detail is quite amazing.
Notice how he even turned the Aji Mackerel tail and a cherry stem in the same direction.
The food at Umi is figuratively, and sometimes literally, on fire. Together, even in these difficult economic times, Jonathan Chen (co-owner) and Sony have managed to make Umi Japanese Fine Dining one of the most popular and successful restaurants in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In fact, it is so popular that they recently purchased a second location in North Stafford.
Jasper Lin, Sony’s protegé, is also an extremely talented sushi chef. Always full of energy and spirit, people love talking to Jasper and watching him make interesting new dishes (he usually explains what he is doing to the people sitting at the sushi bar). Below are just a few examples of his artistic creations:
Paul, the newest sushi chef, does a great job helping the others keep up with the ever-growing demand for more sushi!
The wonderful ladies of Umi—Grace, Rachel, Melody, and Lynn—keep the restaurant running smoothly, and always take the time to assure that everyone feels welcomed and at home.
I have taken so many photos in the past 2 years, I could probably put together an entire picture book about Umi. Every time I walk inside, I find an incredible island of fresh fish and healthy food. If you ever pass through this area, make sure to stop by and check it out (evenings, on the weekends, make a reservation. It gets extremely busy). I’ll tell the shrimp to keep an eye out for you!
***If you live too far away to visit, just look at the photos and imagine the taste—that works too! ~ms