Where to Umami in North Cambridge.
Why Because Hana Sushi closed, and this is its pedigreed replacement, serving multi-course omakase menus. Omakase is the Japanese tradition of letting a chef choose your order; translated, it means, “I leave it to you.” No quickie tuna rolls to go; this is a leisurely experience in which the chef selects each morsel for you and chats — proudly, endearingly — throughout as you watch him delicately plate each course.
The backstory Umami is owned by sushi chef Gary Lei, assisted by chef de cuisine John Liang. Liang was chef de cuisine at Chinatown’s Ruckus; Lei hails from Tony Messina and Ken Oringer’s Uni, arguably home to the Back Bay’s finest sushi. “[He] learned about the Boston clientele and what they want when it comes to sushi. Now chef Gary wants to give the customers a more traditional omakase vibe, an experience where the customer sits at the sushi bar and sits by the chef as he prepares dishes,” Liang says.
What to eat Don’t arrive expecting a grab-and-go experience. During service, Lei says he hopes to introduce something “new” to Cambridge: fixed menus, flawlessly paced, with plenty of customer interaction. He prefers to serve at 5 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9 p.m., allowing guests to arrive at the same time and enjoy an orchestrated experience. Choose from a weekday 12-course menu ($68) or a 15-course plating ($98). There’s also a $138 blowout menu that incorporates foie gras and caviar. On a recent weeknight, Lei serves chubby, meaty oysters on a fine bed of salt; king salmon dolloped with plum sauce; fluke topped with a tangle of pickled red onions on a palate-cleansing shiso leaf; torched scallop with smoky bacon jam; octopus with tart papaya salad; creamy Arctic char offset with dill; and generous slabs of toro — fat, rosy bluefin tuna accompanied by a lacy cloud of scallions, savory and sweet. The final course is a hand roll, in this case eel. “If you like anything, I can make you more,” Lei offers, standing back and grinning. “I want your feedback.”
What to drink There are sake pairings for $28 or $38, as well as individual bottles and a modest wine and beer list.
The Takeaway Luxurious fish. Personalized service. A well-meaning owner who is so very eager to please. This is a rare find, a lovely way to spend an hour or two if you have the time and the budget. Hopefully the neighborhood agrees.
Umami, 2372 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-868-2121, www.umamiomakase.com.