Umai is not a kids' restaurant. However, Ken Lumpkin, the chef/owner, has an eight-year-old son (who can sometimes be found helping out), and will not look at you in fear should you decide to bring your kid(s) to his restaurant. (He's even specifically invited a whole bunch of kids to his restaurant before!)
Located on Madison just east of Overton Square, Umai is a delightful, cozy restaurant unlike any other in Memphis. Specializing in French/Japanese fusion, it is one of a kind. The interior features an open kitchen with a long bar and a few adjacent tables, a small dining room, and a lovely patio. Umai recently started serving wine and is the only place I know of that has Miki Moto beer on tap.
The monkeys (Satchel, 7, and Jiro, 5) are big fans of Umai because they know Ken and his son, Kai. Satchel recently went to Umai with Kai (and his mom) on Kai's birthday and came home raving about the unagi hand rolls. In fact, he talked about them so much, Warren attempted to ease his craving by making some at home. This calmed him down a bit, but when I finally announced that we could eat dinner at Umai, he was overjoyed and immediately started licking his lips.
We went on a Thursday evening around 6:30pm. Warren was busy working in the garage/future "man cave," so I braved the (fine) dining with monkeys on my own. I was a little concerned about what Jiro was going to eat, so I broke one of my rules and let him bring his DSi in the event that he ended up with no food to keep him busy. Satchel was so excited about eating at Umai, he didn't even ask if he could bring his, which is unheard of. (They always ask and I always say no. Well, almost always.)
We walked in, greeted Ken, and took a seat in the small dining room. I noticed that Ken had recently installed a wine cooler and wine rack, and noted that it was a nice touch. There were a couple of other tables already seated. While I perused the menu, Satchel repeatedly told me that he wanted three unagi hand rolls and a crunchy crab roll.
The sushi at Umai is pretty sophisticated and the menu didn't actually list either of the two items Satchel wanted, nor something simple that Jiro might like. I turned to the regular menu and got distracted by tantalizing items that I wanted to eat. When the waitress came over, I asked her if Ken could do a repeat performance from Kai's birthday and make some unagi hand rolls and a crunchy crab roll. This didn't seem to be a problem at all. Then I ordered a spicy tuna roll and a my favorite roll with tuna, red pepper, and green apple as well as the Spicy Tuna Poke and a Romaine Salad with fresh fruit and a tomato lime, ginger vinaigrette. I planned to eat half of everything and take the rest to Warren. (Looking back, I should have ordered a grilled beef hanger steak with creamed potatoes or something else as a back up for Jiro.)
Satchel sat absolutely still with his hands in his lap and literally counted the seconds until his food arrived. Since Ken makes everything to order, we had a bit of a wait, but not too long. Every few minutes, Satchel would ask, "Where's my unagi hand rolls?"
The waitress brought out a few amuse bouches--complimentary appetite whetters. They were small spoonfuls of some savory stew. I found it quite yummy, but Satchel was hesitant. I picked out the beef bits and mushrooms for him and he liked those just fine. Jiro refused to even try his, so Satchel and I split it.
Next came my salad, which neither monkey had any interest in, but which I found quite pleasing--both visually and gastronomically. The fresh fruit was grapefruit and oranges, which I love. It was so pretty that I wanted to take a picture, but I soon realized that I didn't have my camera. (Doh!)
Next came the Spicy Tuna Poke, which also had a small salad. Satchel was getting impatient. "Where are my unagi hand rolls?" he asked me pleadingly. "They're coming," I assured him. Jiro was happily off in DSi-land. The poke was great, but definitely too spicy for the monkeys. It came with some fried crispies (some kind of bread or wonton wrapper) that Satchel sullenly munched on while waiting for his beloved unagi hand rolls.
When the sushi finally arrived, Satchel's eyes lit up. The unagi hand rolls contained two plump strips of unagi, thinly sliced avocado, and sushi rice rolled up in nori cone. I watched as Satchel popped each one into his mouth in one big bite and chewed with a big grin on his face. They were literally gone in less than a minute!
"What am I going to eat?" Jiro asked sadly. I pointed him to the crab roll, which is usually his favorite at other sushi places, but he didn't like something about the way it looked. (I think the real crab versus the crab stick threw him off!) Satchel too decided he did not want the crab roll. "Fine, more for me and Daddy!" I replied.
Exercising great restraint, I asked the waitress to box up all of the leftovers, and we paid our check without incident. It was probably the best I have ever seen the monkeys behave in public. It was weird! Too bad Umai is a bit pricey, barring us from more frequent visits. (Hint: Sunday brunch might be a more affordable way to give Umai a try. And, you can get Umai sushi to go at Miss Cordelia's!)
On the way home, I stopped at Sonic where Jiro and Satchel both pigged out. (Warren also requested a chocolate malt to go with his leftovers.)