Nestled in an unassuming, tiny strip mall in Verona at 18 Grove Avenue sits Umai Sushi + Steak House, a high-end sushi omakase restaurant. Opened just over one year ago, Umai is already making its mark as one of the best-quality sushi restaurants in New Jersey. Manhattan transplants can attest to the fact that Umai’s sushi quality and flavor combinations are parallel to eating at an omakase counter in New York City. Read on to get all of the details on Umai Sushi + Steak House.
^ Chopped Eel
Allen Perchonok worked in the fashion industry for twenty years, and during that time, ate at every omakase restaurant in New York City. He was enthralled by legends like Sushi Seki and Sushi of Gari, and dreamed of one day opening a restaurant of a similar caliber. It inspired him to go to culinary school, and he knew that one day he’d end up in the restaurant business.
When he eventually got sick of being in the “schmatta” (a Yiddish word for rags) business and found himself unemployed two years ago, he jumped when a location in Verona opened up. He decided it would make for the perfect sushi spot. His wife reminded him that he didn’t know anything about sushi except how to eat it, but he had no concerns that he would figure it out.
“Coming from the fashion industry to this, it’s so much more gratifying,” said Allen. “I get to make people happy every day. People walk out of here every day telling me that this is one of the best meals they’ve had in their life. Nothing beats that.”
About The Restaurant
At Umai, the food takes center stage. It’s a no-frills establishment for a reason — the sushi is just that good. The fish is flown in daily from Japan, so diners know they’re always getting the freshest quality sushi.
There are tables scattered around the restaurant, but it’s best to sit at the omakase counter when you can. Here, you’ll get a front-row seat to the sushi chefs, Allen included. He’s there daily, and when he’s not preparing the sushi you can usually catch him chatting with guests and sharing his personal tidbits about the sushi.
Umai is packed nightly, and is always full of energy. While the restaurant is casual, there’s always fun music playing and a lively crowd of people. The sushi counter brings diners together, who bond over each omakase bite. The restaurant is BYOB, and you’ll see many diners pairing their sushi with sake, wine, or even tequila. Allen is something of a tequila connoisseur, which is apparent from the empty bottles of Casa Azul lining the windowsill.
The Omakase Experience
There are two options for omakase (chef’s selection), the 12-piece (priced at $85) and the 18-piece (priced at $150). When at the counter, pieces are served one by one. Each piece is carefully crafted by the sushi chefs, and topped with ingredients that bring out certain flavor profiles of the sushi. The sushi is to be eaten without soy sauce (Allen has a very strict rule about this!).
Diners start with pieces like Hamachi (Japanese Amberjack) and Kampachi (Yellowtail), and if they’re in it for the 18-piece, will work their way up to the Big Mac (Wagyu, Scallop, O Toro, and Uni). Allen’s favorite fish is the AJI (Japanese Horse Mackerel) topped with ginger and scallion, and his favorite overall bite is the Triple Decker (O Toro, Quail Egg, Uni, and Osetra Caviar). Other crowd favorites include the Chopped Eel (with crisped rice, avocado, and sesame) and the Akami (tuna topped with three types of garlic).
Some of the pieces were inspired by Seki and Gari, and others are Allen’s own creations. Either way, every piece is always consistent. As Allen put it (as a former fashion executive), “it’s the couture of sushi”.
^ Big Mac
Diners can round out their meals with special items like handrolls and bumps of caviar. And there’s also an extensive menu of starters, salads, rolls, sushi and sashimi a la carte, and steak from the kitchen. For those interested in takeout, the restaurant also offers Omakase boxes to go. Umai is open Tuesday through Friday from 1:15PM-10PM, and on Saturdays from 5PM-10PM.