Jill: It seems fitting that the final meal Maya and I shared during my trip to New York was at Umi Nom, a restaurant with a chef of Filipino and Thai heritage and a focus on Southeast Asian cuisine. Why? Three days ago, I booked my trip to the Philippines and Thailand, and as soon as Maya can manipulate airfares in her favor, she’ll have her tickets, as well.
At the time of my visit, I knew that I’d be going to the Philippines, so I was extra eager to begin my education in Filipino food. My limited knowledge of the cuisine, from a (vegetarian) friend in the Peace Corps, was that she was coerced into eating reptiles and that she missed cheese. Imagine my surprise when, as an on-the-house amuse bouche, we received what appeared to be half of a crab rangoon. Cream cheese in Filipino food? Either Umi Nom wasn’t going to be exactly authentic, or I have a lot to learn. A quick look through both Umi Nom’s menu and the Philippine Cookbook that I bought this weekend proved both of these statements to be true.
Maya: I was just excited to try a restaurant within walking distance of my apartment; pure Filipino-style or not, there aren’t a whole lot of sit-down places in my neighborhood. I’d been talking up Umi Nom to friends and Carnivore alike since it opened, but this was my first chance to test it out for myself.
Jill: We spent quite some time determining the correct mix of small plates to order. We needed something healthy and a starch and, of course, pork belly. But what else? This, my friends, is a cross between Maya’s “What else?” face and Maya’s “I’m so not going to let you publish this on the blog” face.
Maya: It’s also my “Aren’t you done taking pictures of me yet?” face. The perils of having a true photographer as a dining companion….
Jill: If I remember correctly, a lot of our plates came at once. Luckily, the table next to ours was empty. We used it to hold unessential items as we rotated through our courses. First up: roasted Manila clams with a spicy black bean sauce, served in a dramatic dish with quite a bit of spice. As always with seafood-in-the-shell, the broth at the bottom was to die for.
Maya: I couldn’t believe how good this sauce was; as much as I love seafood—and make no mistake, I love seafood—the clams were secondary to the broth. Spicy, shellfish-tinged liquor, punctuated by pungent, fermented black beans and thinly sliced chilis, was equally delicious when slurped from the empty shells as it was from the spoon.
Jill: Next up was something they call ma-banh, which was was essentially beef jerky served with a smoked chili sauce. I found the sauce interesting, but with my not being a beef jerky fan, the value of the tough strips eluded me. My goal is to challenge my palate in the months prior to our trip, so I can enjoy the real thing.
Maya: Even as a jerky fan, I have to admit that I didn’t see the beauty of this snack until the next day, when I had the leftovers for breakfast. (Better than oatmeal, in case you were wondering.) I actually liked the ma-banh better without the sauce; the meat’s seasoning really came through when taken on its own.
Jill: This one makes me giggle. In our pre-order discussions, we needed something healthy, preferably a vegetable. This bowl of shiitake mushrooms served with a soy-mirin glaze seemed to qualify as that healthy option. While they were delicious, we might have succeeded in our original plan (nutrients with our meals) if we’d ordered the house pickles (assorted seasonal vegetables) or the Asian greens with garlic. Oh well; next time.
Maya: Though the mushrooms were perfectly fine, I’m guessing I would’ve been happier with the greens when the rest of our choices were taken into consideration. We’d wanted something to provide a refreshing edge, and the glaze meant that these were anything but. They were, however, a great match for the next dish.
Jill: At least our next choice came with the variety of color that nutritionists love so much.
Maya: The pancit canton, a tangle of thin egg noodles, bok choy, and carrots, tossed with soy and fish sauces and studded with sausage and chicken, was one of my favorites. We gave the leftovers to the Carnivore, but I wasn’t happy about letting them go.
Maya: He had to be satisfied with only a description of the pork belly in adobo, though; as rich and fatty as it was, we cleaned this plate with no problem. It’s an overused description, but the meat really was melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Jill: It will come as no surprise that my favorite part of the meal was this special. An entire plate of pork belly with no obstacles, no noodles to work around, no rice to mess with? Count me in. So good. And so dangerous. When I saw people lining up to the bar for their carryout, I was glad I don’t live in Bed-Stuy. I could easily see myself begging them to make it for me at least three nights a week. And then, eventually, bribing them to drive it to my house. So yeah. The IF official mantra stands: It’s a good thing that we don’t live in the same city.
Jill: To close, dessert. I was certain, at the time, that this warm Thai-flavored cake was from the GFS catalog. Now, I’m not so sure. Either way, it really didn’t do anything for me. Perhaps I was disappointed to not see fried banana on the menu.
Maya: For the record, I would like to state that I had nothing to do with ordering dessert—I won’t take the blame for this one. If I’d had a say in the matter, I probably would’ve gone with something lighter, like a sorbet, instead; I’m pretty tired of the warm chocolate cake thing. But hey, at least we got to walk it off on the way home.
Restaurateurs, take note: There’s a dearth of quality cooking—my favorite West Indian spots notwithstanding—in Bed-Stuy, especially with the BBQ truck currently out of commission. We will travel for good food.
433 Dekalb Avenue