It’s unfortunate that the grand opening of Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar on Madison’s East Side occurred just a few weeks before dump trucks and fork lifts rolled in to tear up Willy Street in a major road construction project that won’t conclude until October. Umami is located at 923 Williamson Street in a building that, from the outside, just looks like a renovated house. Inside, though, the space is modern and I dare say hip… all this in a neighborhood where tie-died shirts and Crocs are considered appropriate dinner attire. You can still wear your Crocs there, but you might feel upstaged a bit by the sexy lighting, bamboo accents, and sleek bar, which has an impressive list of sakes and creative cocktails. You could go there to sit at the bar and make a meal of their appetizers, such as pork buns and pan-fried dumplings with fillings like chicken and shiitake mushrooms (my favorite) and pork and chives.
What Umami has already begun to be known for, though, are its heaping bowls of ramen. If you are picturing curly noodles from a packet loaded with MSG, think again. There are three options for ramen bowls at Umami: tonkotsu, miso, and veggie.
The tonkotsu option is made with pork broth and hunks of roast pork. This rich option is highly recommended for pig enthusiasts. I went for the miso ramen, which has a chicken-based broth and savory, marinated chicken meat. I would love to have this dish again on a cool, rainy day. The veggie option has a shiitake mushroom-based broth and is loaded with bamboo shoots, nori seaweed, bean sprouts, and green onions (these veggies also come with in the meat-based options). The miso and tonkotsu bowls also come with a soft-boiled, flavor infused egg, which sounded gross to me on the menu, but was actually quite delicious.
I was impressed by the service at Umami, as well as the restaurant’s commitment to supporting other neighborhood businesses. The delicious noodles for their ramen are made by RP’s Pasta, which is just a few blocks away. The handmade pottery bowls in which entrees are served are made across the street at Midwest Clay Project. If you’re craving Asian food, a comforting meal, or a beautiful place to sip on drinks and scarf down appetizers, Umami is worth a visit. Don’t let the construction keep you away. They do have a parking lot, but if braving the one-lane, one-way traffic isn’t your style, I urge you to walk there if you can, or take your bike. It will be worth it.