Food & Drink

UMI Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge Lights a Fire in Winston-Salem

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Kristi Maier | @triadfoodies

I have to admit. I was unaware until early this year that a big Japanese Steakhouse was going up on Hanes Mall Boulevard. And once I learned a bit more, I truly was curious. Even more so when I found out that this type of restaurant would be the first of it’s kind in Winston-Salem—an actual, locally owned Japanese hibachi style steakhouse that also serves entrees and sushi.

You know you love it. Sitting around an eight-person table while spatulas fly and knives cut effortlessly through thick pieces of steak and butterfly the shrimp and cube the chicken. You might smell like oil and onions for the rest of the day, but it’s fun and festive and communal and that’s what keeps folks going back to places like this. Big, soothing plates of piping hot rice with that sweet sauce don’t hurt either.

UMI opened in early March and is owned by Ryan Li and Vince Li, who owns several similar restaurants in Ohio. Vince Li says Ryan encouraged him to consider Winston-Salem for his newest venture and not only did he choose the city for his restaurant, but also his future home for his family.

Early on, some members of the press got a bit of a preview during VIP night. We were unable to attend, so a few days later, we accepted an invitation to lunch to take some photos and get an idea of what’s on the menu.

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When you enter UMI, you’ll find an inviting bar that can open up to an attached patio that also has a bar with screens. It’s vast and can seat 500 people with private dining rooms available. The front portion of the restaurant also has what’s described as “intimate dining,” for those who forgo the hibachi experience. You can order entrees, like bass, appetizers, bento boxes, as well as sushi here. But hibachi is super fun. And you can gather around the table and still have all the choices of the entrees and sushi. So it’s like the best of all worlds.

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Li and his team let us just pick our pleasure, if you will. One of our littles especially loves gyoza. We were lucky enough to steal a piece from her plate, as she’ll tend to make it her entree. The steamed gyoza had the perfect sear. The sauce could’ve had a bit more sweetness to it but she was a fan and if that’s the case, we’re happy. The vegetable tempura that arrived next was perfectly prepared and included some tempura broccoli, to my delight. It’s served with a similar sauce as the gyoza.

We are sushi lovers and really enjoyed the Winston Roll, with spicy tuna, tempura crunch and raw eel. The fish was fresh and it was beautifully prepared. Li then brought out some sashimi and nigiri pieces of sushi and proudly unveiled the Sea Bass entree, which is featured on the regular menu. It was beautiful with a bright selection of seasonal vegetables (asparagus, onions, peppers) served with black bean sauce. The entree menu includes udon (thick rice noodles), katsu and a number of tempuras.

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But most folks who visit restaurants like UMI are all about that hibachi. Each entree comes with the customary soup and salad. You don’t get a lot of choices of dressing but we highly recommend you go with it and get the ginger dressing. We let the kids share a child’s portion while my husband and I ordered steak and shrimp. And to our delight and increasingly full tummies, the chef let us try just about every protein option there is. Filet, shrimp, chicken, scallops, snapper, lobster and salmon even. All the typical fun elements are there. But what stood out to us was the welcome inclusion of broccoli and carrots and mushrooms to the usual suspects of onions and zucchini. A happy colorful plate of veggies. The hibachi chef was fun and from what I can tell, most can perform all the tricks that make hibachi what it is.

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We had so much left over and enjoyed every last bit of it. Our daughter was so pleased with the overall experience that she requested UMI for her birthday. So we returned a few weeks later with extended family and everyone ordered hibachi this time. Once again, we had the complete experience with a fun chef who enjoyed tossing food at us to catch in our mouths. We did have a moment of a mini-crisis when he realized his cook top hadn’t been prepped and wasn’t hot. But he entertained us with his spatula antics and his reassuring chatter. The colorful veggies, perfectly prepared rice and protein choices all stayed true to form and preparation. There are many meat combos to choose from and they encourage the guest to create any combo they like and they’ll accommodate.

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So all in all, I think Winston-Salem has a winner with UMI. As we have mentioned before, with any new restaurant, all those kinks need to be worked out. We’ve had excellent service each time, realizing the first time around was a special invite but the real test is when you go in with your people, some of them a bit hard to please and big time fans of Japanese-style steak houses. And all the members of our group left full and satisfied.

Wanna go? UMI Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge is located at 1280 Creekshire Way off Hanes Mall Boulevard in Winston-Salem. Visit umihibachi.com for more information. Open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Reservations are accepted.

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