Eat on the Wild Side 

When sushi lovers cannot give up the ship.

click to enlarge food29_umi_200.jpg

When sushi lovers cannot give up the ship. I love sushi. And I particularly love tuna. But considering the side order of heavy metals that comes with tuna, it's going to have to be only an occasional indulgence. It's not really a problem, though, because there are lots and lots of other great things on a sushi menu, such as shrimp (ebi) or salmon (sake) (though salmon has its own problems with PCB contamination), eel (unagi) or, my favorite, sea urchin roe (uni). As long as you stick to the fish nearer the bottom of the food chain, you can eat sushi much more often than if you go for the big, bad fish.

Umi Sushi Bistro, across the street from Short Pump Town Center, is a great place to give in to temptation. The former owner of Ichiban, Sue Wang, has brought everything that made her first restaurant so wonderful -- excellent rolls presented in imaginative guises -- into a new space that's slicker, darker and more cosmopolitan than the raffia and bamboo casualness of the old place. Tall, fat stalks of bamboo separate the dining area from the sushi bar, and strategically placed lighting streaks down to the dark tables. Opposite, a blue Lucite bar glows against the purple and burnt sienna walls, giving the corner an unearthly glow.

All of that darkness makes the food shine even more brightly. The ichiban roll with crab, spicy tuna, caviar and avocado maintains the first spot on the chef's special rolls menu, but the fujiyama, with yellowtail, scallion and caviar, is a lavishly soft roll that almost melts away into a briny memory as your teeth sink into it. The green dragon snakes across the plate, succulently stuffed with eel, and the hot dancing tuna sparks with spicy tuna, asparagus and "crunchy," a shell of flaky tempura much beloved by the chefs here and at Ichiban.

Faultlessly prepared regular sushi arrives in minimalist repose on big white plates with a single, broad leaf and a tall chive shoot arching out of the wasabi. Best is the unagi, or eel (originally ordered as an afterthought), which arrives a la carte, glistening and hot atop warm, vinegary rice in a dramatically tipped white bowl with a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds.

Although it seems as if every time I turn around, something I love is deemed dangerous, the warmth exuded by owner Sue Wang and the exacting precision of her chefs make Umi Sushi the perfect choice for taking a chance and walking on the wild side. S

Umi Sushi Bistro
11645 W. Broad St.
Monday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Sunday: noon-2 p.m., 5-9 p.m.
Handicapped accessible and non-smoking

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