It was a small celebration for school being out so we recommended a small group of friends to join us at Casereccio , one of our favorite family restaurants located upstairs of Umami. Our kids love the wonderful fresh oven baked pizza, and are always entertained by the well-designed kids room and activities (pizza making, hands-on toys, DVD, kids friendly height tables and chairs etc)
I am not a fan of ‘fusion’ but the décor was very inviting. So, for the first time, I, and I convinced my friends to try Umami, Casereccio'a new sister on the ground floor.
What kind of customers are we?
My partner and I are international travelers, adventurous in food, enjoy and recognize good, authentic food. In Amman, we have tried almost every sushi joint, but mostly were what I’d call mediocre 'rice wraps'. I do not consider them 'sushi'. Japanese cuisine is one of the most intricate but also expensive in comparison with other types of international food, so it frustrating and disappointing when you pay through your nose and the quality fails you.
Understandably, in Amman, owing to its location and its limited suppliers, it is a challenge to create good Jap food (sushi, tempuras, sashimi etc) There are only a couple places which we would return for sushi. And, we do - again and again Eg. Vinaigrette in Shimisani. With these criteria in mind, i review Umami, not comparing with international standards (since it is unfair to compare with say, a restaurant by a seaside where fresh seafood is readily available) but with other restaurants which serve Jap food that we have tried in town.
Umami is well located on Mecca Street but has the no-option valet parking unless you prefer to walk a couple blocks from where free parking is available if you are lucky.
We were greeted by the manager, Mr Muhannad, who personally ensured our table was taken care of. He went out of his way to welcome us with some extras which was a pleasant surprise and a nice touch for first-time visitors like us.
The ambience deserves an A – the design was nothing too loud, background music was not overbearing either, and the displays and decor attempt to represent the menu they serve. Eg wooden lattice walls, Asian decorations in wall windows remind you that one can expect different types of Asian food here, soft white sheers pulled back to divide the smoking and non-smoking areas. AC is not too cold. Wi-Fi is available. Ladies wouldn’t mind going to the powder room at all – very clean and well furnished. There is also an outdoor kids’ playground around the back, complete with slides and other decent outdoor climb around toys, plus low picnic tables for the dining pleasure of your little ones. As a parent of two young kids, we welcome this thoughtful idea and wouldn’t hesitate to combine a lovely dining experience without sacrificing my kids in a sit-down suffocated restaurant. So, parents – this is a good option for family out.
We happened to be there on ‘sushi night’ which is an of all-you-can-eat buffet of nigiri rolls, generous slices of salmon sashimi sitting on mini spoons, bowls of fresh salad with 2 choices of dressing, a choice of either miso soup OR kani salad. The miso and kani salad is a one-time serving and brought to you at the table (not on the buffet table). This, for me is unusual, as most buffets we had been, miso soup is part of the buffet – you can request for unlimited refills. And, I wonder why they would offer a chef-made kani salad, when there is already salad on the buffet table.
Half of my party went for the buffet $19.90 + taxes which will round up about 25JD. The other half of my group went for a la carte. I couldn’t make up my mind to have miso or kani so the waiter was so nice to offer (without me asking) an extra miso for my partner so we can both have miso and try the kani. However, my partner is soy allergic so we passed on the soup to someone else in our group. Still, that earned a point for me in their service, given that was not part of the buffet deal.
The kani is yummy, but not outstanding, like what we love at ‘Lettuce and Fish’.
The miso is super delicious, without leaving an after-taste of preservative like you would sometimes taste in lousy poor quality miso. It was served hot in temperature (lukewarm soup is the worst), and is not too salty either (a mistake a lot of restaurants make thinking they are trying to thirst customers to drink more green tea) making it a nice appetizer.
We made way to the small buffet area. The AC was blowing right above the buffet table. This is great for the bowls of salad sitting on crushed ice but not good for the rest of the food there. The various types of nigiri looked interesting but perhaps too exotic. There were no labels. Most sushi lovers would recognize the typical tuna rolls, but many on the buffet table exude fancy concoction of different fillings. We picked up a bit of everything but as you move across the short and small buffet table, you wonder if the already limited variety is stretched by repeating the same types of rolls but varying a little by drizzling a different color ‘sauce’ over the top of the sushi. I had never had ‘sauces’ drizzle on top of my sushi – the only ‘sauce’ that goes would be my soy + wasabi. I like to taste the essence of my sushi, not some sweet and sour sauce on top. Ok, its ‘fusion’ – so, I tried to keep an open mind.
The tempura was tasty but cold. How can tempura be eaten cold?! Imagine eating cold French fries.
The salmon sashimi – the only sashimi offered on the buffet - not fresh. You can tell when you eat raw fish, whether it is fresh or not. Even though its free flow sashimi, I couldn’t bring myself to have more than a couple slices.
Sashimi that is not fresh not only doesn’t taste good but makes me feel very afraid, and i risk getting ill. (Thankfully, I wasn’t).
The mysterious nigiri rolls – first, rice was too cold and hard. In good cooking, you would taste the different flavors, and your tongue can pick up what went in it. But in these fanciful creations, the chef seemed like he was trying too hard to inject in these tiny pieces of morsels too many types of spices or sauces that resulted in a culmination of mess mixture that sometimes do not even go together. Its like putting all your left overs together and squish them into small meatball size servings, this is perhaps what I tasted. Perhaps a fusion food expert can further critic but as a sushi eater, this definitely doesn’t cut it.
The generous bowls of salad displayed on a bed of ice – rocca, other green leaves, carrot, etc were freshly prepared, dressing was OK, but the salad content and the way the vege is cut really reflects nothing Japanese – more like what I would expect in an Italian meal that goes with my pizza.
I tried the orange dressing – tasted like Italian dressing.
Miso soup – one serving only, delicious and exceeds my expectation.
Kani Salad – average. Not that great to warrant a second. But it did taste better than the rest of the buffet.
The service was very good. Waiter ‘Samer’ was attentive. There are several buss boys who spoke zero English. The manager was very nice and made sure we tried the restaurants deserts – I am so glad he did:
Ice cream with banana fritters – very good
Lychee cheesecake – good attempt for fusion cake, nice flavor, unique
A friend of mine is on a gluten-free diet. She requested the chef to make some sushi rolls without rice which he nicely agreed to specially prepare for her.
Another 2 friends had green curry. One, who enjoyed spicy food, said it was ok. The other said it was too spicy so he couldn’t finish it.
We went upstairs to collect the kids who had a great time hanging out in the kids room. Found out half of them were still hungry because the ‘complimentary pizzas’ the restaurant offered were not served, even though I had passed the message to the manager when we first arrived and instructed the lady in the room to note. Anyway, they made the pizzas in no time and the kids had a second round.
When we left Casereccio, we did a rough math and guessed Umami had perhaps given us extra change. I went back to return the extra monies but after manager Muhannad carefully rechecked the bills, he insisted the change was correct and refused to take the monies. I left my mobile number and offered to bring back the change if he couldn’t balance his till at end of the night. He could have easily taken the cash from my hands without anyone noticing but he chose to be honest. For that, I applaud him.
EAT group customer service manager, Raed, found my data and called me the next day to request for comments on our experience. We weren’t so sure if we would ever recommend this place to anyone. This is not the first time we received after-dining follow-up but I am impressed it is a professional who was hired to do a systematic QC; not someone who just check off the list but one interested and appreciative of customers’ comments. So, after speaking with him, we are back.
One week later, I am trying the sushi buffet again. My partner decided to go for the beef steak with shrimps a la carte.
The verdict of round 2:
the salmon sashimi - not fresh. Same as before. It has the taste of freezer and freezer burn which is just horrid for raw fish. First bite, I had to pause and spit in the midst of my chewing –there was a piece of bone! I had never had bone in my sashimi!
The mysterious nigiri rolls – still mysterious as ever. No placards or signs so I had no idea what was I eating. The rice was not hard this time but very mushy. Every piece of the nigiri was made of mushy rice. All the rice grains stuck together. After a few rolls, you are done. One of the pieces tasted funny, and after two bites, tasted so foul (like spoiled) so I had to spit it out. My partner tried a piece he randomly picked from my plate, and had to spit out as well.
The generous bowls of salad nicely display on a bed of ice - still freshly prepared, same content.
This time I tried the green color dressing - tasted like wasabi, which I guess sort of ties the salad to the buffet.
Miso soup – one serving only, still very good, probably the saving grace of the buffet.
Kani Salad – didn’t try this time
Tempura – still cold, even though they had turned off the two air vents directly above the buffet table. I politely asked the sushi chef what’s inside the tempura and if he would mind making me some fresh ones so I can enjoy them hot. He obliged with a smile. The hot tempuras were much better.
A la carte- My partner’s beef was very tender, but lacking in taste.
The 3 or 4 pieces of medium size shrimps had ginger bits on the top and were delightfully displayed and flavorful – this one is a good ‘fusion’ creation.
The dish also comes complete with a good size serving of fried rice and stir fry vegetables. The fried rice has theyummy wok ‘char’ taste, flavor was right, and not too salty BUT unfortunately, the rice was hard!! - There is no such thing as al dente fried rice!
The generous serving of mix stir fry vege was tasty, above average
Overall, the a la carte dish (I think 13 or 14 JD + taxes) was good value with good size portions and average quality. It will leave you satisfied & filled, but quality wise, it’s a cross between panda express joint type fried rice & stir fry and a middle class restaurant standard shrimp and beef.
The waiter Samer had a nice demeanor, always polite and, the Philippino waitress was sweet, always smiling and hands ready to please. She offered desert which we declined but came back again to recommend their tea. I drink only decaf tea so I am very skeptical when restaurants recommend teas which they aren’t sure what decaf is.
She offered to bring out their tea selection so I could read the label. i went for their Tchaba tea. It was served in what looked like a beautiful cast-iron teapot on a teapot holder. It came with matching heavy cast-iron-like tea cups with nice patterns. As she served the tea, she started a small 3X hour glass timer that is supposed to perfectly time how long your teabag seep to give you the ideal strength. I thought that was cute. The teapot pours 4 full cups of tea (two per person if you are sharing)
The Tchaba Herbal tea I had was OUTSTANDING. It cleansed my palette especially of that bad aftertaste and remnants of that lousy piece of sushi I had to spit out.
We are not just foodies but also Asian food, particularly sushi, lovers. I grew up in a food paradise. In the other countries we had lived, we usually enjoy sushi on a weekly, if not fortnightly basis.
So, i do remember we are in a ‘fusion’ restaurant. Which reminds one that the restaurant’s intention of ‘fusion’ doesn’t stop at offering different types of Asian cuisine, but the mixture and combination of all these cuisine.
If I were management, I would consider reducing the serving size of the miso (their bestselling star of the buffet IMHO, and allow unlimited refills – common, how many bowls can one really drink? Even though I am a miso fan, I had never had more than 2 small bowls in one sitting)
We like the ambience and deserts and LOVE the tea. We wish there is a wine bar – you can sit in the al fresco area and enjoy a nice drink in the not so busy or loud environment.
However, we will not go back for sushi buffet again, but may perhaps try a la carte sushi when they have figured out how to make proper sushi rice. If we return, we may also go for some of their other Asian cuisine on a la carte but only because it is a nice family option, probably not because of the food.
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