Incredible Edible Art

In the summer of 2011, when I first ordered sushi and sashimi at 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 one of the most popular and successful restaurants in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In fact, it is so popular that they have now opened a second location in the Stafford/Garrisonville area:
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 some of his creations:Sushi-spoons

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. Ladies-of-UMI

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 (evenings, on the weekends, make a reservation. It gets extremely busy). I’ll tell the shrimp to keep an eye out for you!   For directions:
***If you live too far away to visit, just look at the photos and imagine the taste—that works too!  ~ms




About Mary Strong-Spaid

You can find me any time wandering around in my own mind gathering thoughts.
This entry was posted in food, Nutrition, Photo Essay, photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Incredible Edible Art

  1. Heather says:

    awesome artistic approach to food…

  2. Jade Reyner says:

    I have never eaten sushi and given that I am not a lover of fish or seafood, then I don’t know that it would be for me! Lol. Your photos here and on your other posts are stunning and you have really captured the beauty and atmosphere of the art of sushi and I really enjoyed reading this post. 🙂

    • Thanks! I took a friend to Umi one night and she was afraid to try the sushi. Sony came over with one of his marvelous “Tuna Spoons” and charmed her into trying one. She loved it, but then….she still decided to order steak for dinner instead of sushi. And actually, that was very good too!

  3. Bonnie Bites says:

    Great post! So many dishes – how did you manage to finish it all?!

  4. Incredibly beautiful and artistic. You are really good at capturing them too! I find it very difficult to take photos of food – seem to be hopeless at making them look as tasty as they really look in reality. Sometimes it’s difficult to overcome that I will have to destroy those works of art by eating them too..

    • I agree with you. Food often has a tendency to catch the light of a camera in strange ways. If I don’t use the flash though, the photos usually don’t turn out very good. I don’t have a DSLR camera with different settings, so I just take more than one photo and hope one of them is good. 🙂
      I did read that, if you put a very thin cloth over the flash, it will diffuse the flash nicely. But, for whatever reason, I haven’t tried that yet.

  5. Steve says:

    Thanks for posting! Incredible photos, and I can’t believe I’ve driven past this place dozens of times and never really gave it a thought (and never really even noticed it to be honest). This is now on my short-term “to do” list!

    • Steve! The outside of the building is deceiving, I agree. I drove past it for about a year before I went inside–and then I was so wonderfully surprised. You should stop by when you can. Ha!! Tell them Mary sent ya!
      My husband Tom and I always sit at the sushi bar. It is really interesting to watch them make things. Umi does get busy at night, especially on the weekends. They do take reservations, but we just come right before 6 pm, to avoid the rush. The hours are 11 a.m until 10 p.m. (I believe they are open until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday nights…but I’m not totally sure about that).
      The food reminds me so much of Hawaii! It’s really, really good.

  6. lautal says:

    Thank you for taking us to the virtual dinner! Great pictures and experience.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What an amazing artistic presentation of food! Who knew? And so clever of you to document the whole experience with gorgeous photos and history of the artists.

  8. WOW – art and it is edible – YUM!!!

  9. Thanks for this lovely delicious and artistic journey through one of your favorite restaurants! I loved seeing and reading every bit of it!

  10. Shari says:

    Great pictures! I bet you are wondering why you hadn’t tried sushi sooner!

    • Oh, I had tried sushi before. I lived in Hawaii for about 11 years.
      My husband and I have a favorite restaurant on the island of Kauai called “Kintaro.”
      It’s right on the ocean. Incredibly fresh fish and awesome sushi.
      So I wasn’t happy with the sushi anywhere else…until Umi. I was so excited when I found such great sushi and sashimi right here in Fredericksburg, VA….only a few miles away. I couldn’t believe it at first! I felt like I was back on the islands. So happy!!

    • Thanks!
      And the extra bonus… tastes as good as it looks.
      By the way, I was reading what you wrote on your Gravatar.
      I’m not a morning person either.
      Especially when the weather gets cold….give me a few more hours underneath a warm blanket!

  11. Amanda says:

    Your photography of the sushi is gorgeous!

  12. Japanese food is elegance and finesse. Love it. If my food looks like this, I would probably think twice eating it. Just kidding.
    I am now in search of the nearest Japanese restaurant here. 😦
    Hope you can visit my blog and leave a mark too!

  13. Iñigo Boy says:

    They sure look delicious! My mom would love this post because she loves japanese food!

  14. Some wonderful photographs here! Such amazing artistic food – I wish I had the patience to create the same. Would make meal times so much brighter!! 😀

  15. Jerry says:

    Photos of perfection. Beautifully done Mary. Love them all.

  16. ohiocook says:

    Thank you for stopping by my blog and the “Like” of my post.

    • I appreciate your recipes. I grew up in a very large family, so I learned how to cook incorrectly. Spaghetti sauce consisted of 1 or 2 cans of tomato sauce and about 5 cans of water or more (to make the sauce go farther and feed more people). Lunch was generally a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I like but…..
      That’s why I love to see posts with recipes, and there is no love button. 😉

  17. Sheryl says:

    Beautifully done. The Umi chefs sure know how to artistically present food.

  18. Sharifah says:

    Great photos. Love sushi, and one of my favorites is unagi (eel) sushi. Do you like that, too?

  19. Fotostream says:

    I enjoyed a lot of beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing the photos. They are slightly different from original Japanese sushi. But it’s splendid to have added an original style to match the US. I think that the sense of the youth is alive.

    • Yes the sense of youth is alive.
      Hopefully it is alive in all of us, regardless of our age.
      A true master is not afraid to approach the world with childlike wonder, combining wisdom with play. Once basic knowledge is firmly grasped, then there is room for unlimited imagination based on that discipline and understanding. This is what I see reflected in these photos–Pure joy!!

  20. Incredibly beautiful food art and photos! No wonder the restaurant is a great success! Thanks for sharing.

  21. nfrodrigues says:

    At first I just scrolled through the photos, but being a fan of japanese food, I had to back to the beginning and read the whole article. I think I’m hungry now… 🙂 And your photos make the food look so delicious.

  22. Randee says:

    They are artists! And your photos are art! I hope they all got to see your blog somehow.

  23. Wow! This post made me hungry.

    Your descriptions reminded me of finding faces and castles in cloud formations.

  24. SPFischer says:

    Oh, how I love sushi! And, oh, how I wish there was an Umi in my backyard!! My mouth truly is watering. The saying “we eat first with our eyes” is so true, so I appreciate your need to take pictures of these works of art. Wonderful story, beautiful photos – what a tribute to the talented people who make Umi what it is.

    • Thanks! It’s almost in your backyard, except the dreaded trip on I-95 south is in the way. There is another UMI being built in Garrisonville Virginia—slightly south of Quantico.
      That’s a little closer to northern VA. 🙂

  25. These pictures are amazing. I’m salivating and you’re correct, the artistry deserves to be photographed. Wow!

  26. Gary Lum says:

    Great photographs of the food

    • And now I live in Texas, not Virginia.
      I miss the great food and people at Umi, but I simply can’t get there anymore.
      Too far away! So far, I have not found another place like that…and I don’t think I ever will.

      • Gary Lum says:

        One day I hope to take long leave and holiday in the USA. I want to drive west to east across the south and eat everywhere. I then want to drive north and try all the sandwiches along the east coast.

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