The literal translation of omakase is “I’ll leave it up to you”– meaning the chef– but at Williamsburg’s new Japanese restaurant, Ume, chef Danny Zhang is turning the expression back on the diner. The specialty at this homegrown spot is a “deconstructed omakase” that leaves it up to you.
Confused? Allow us to explain. Rather than presenting dinner in traditional omakase fashion– involving the chef’s choice of dishes, plated separately and presented one at a time– Ume offers a $45 dinner set, served on one big board, consisting of a soup of the day; a bowl of Kyoto-style vinegar rice; an assortment of sauces and salts, such as truffle sea salt and Peruvian smoked salt; vegetables such as radish or cabbage, pickled in house; four or five sheets of nori; and ten to 12 pieces of fish, such as pickled saba, aged hakami, and torched-pineapple unagi. You can combine each of these daily-changing ingredients in whichever way you see fit.
Linda Wang– who owns the restaurant with Zhang, a former chef at Sushi On Jones and Sushi By Bou– said they wanted to open a Kyoto-style restaurant that also played with unconventional flavors like rosemary, thyme, yuzukoshō, and ghost-pepper salt. True to the Kyoto inspiration, Ume has a super minimalist storefront that makes you feel like you’re entering a private home. In keeping with that idea, diners take off their shoes in an entry alcove and wash their hands in stone sinks. Unless you’re at the small sushi bar, seating consists solely of bamboo mats and cushions on the floor. Even the reservation system is intimate: Instead of using Opentable or Resy, you’ll have to text the restaurant or DM them on Instagram.
The restaurant’s interior is as minimal as its exterior, with a view onto the backyard zen garden acting as its primary decor. Most of the color is provided by the food, which– true to Ume’s name– often incorporates pickled plums.
During the restaurant’s first two weeks in business, the “deconstructed omakase” experience has thrown some customers for a loop. “When people come in, a lot of them are– I don’t want to say confused, but they’re not sure where to start,” Wang tells us. But she says the experience shouldn’t be overwhelming. “We do make sure that everything on the plate pairs well with each other, no matter how you pair them.”
Unfortunately you won’t be able to pair the food with beer or wine until the liquor license comes in, but rest assured the sake will be flowing eventually.
Ume, 237 Kent Ave., bet. N 1st and Grand St., Williamsburg; text for reservations.