Can food be too happy for you?
That is the unavoidable question you face on a gray weekday afternoon, wandering into Umami, which opened in late October on a relatively quiet stretch of Main Street in downtown Huntington. If you’re in something of a foul mood, as I happened to be, the grand opening flags will likely torture with festivity before allowing entry into a pleasantly dark, comfortingly somber interior. Which is the exact moment when you are greeted by Umami’s uber-cheerful waitstaff, all of whom seem ecstatic about the prospect of hawking sushi on a cloudy Monday at 3.
Generally speaking, you are ambivalent about cheerful servers, known as they are for constant check-ins, which are the bane of the solo diner’s existence. But there is a unique flavor to the place in question — and I’m not talking about umami — that almost instantly sets it apart. Notwithstanding its shadowy dining room, Umami is a place of near constant sunniness. No sooner has the bottle of Sapporo Light arrived ($5) than your server — having instantly divined your need for a serious attitude adjustment — has directed your attention to a dish on page 43 or so of the menu.
Its name, you note, is somewhat homely — it’s called simply “sushi and sashimi combo” — and the $28 price isn’t exactly spirit-lifting, but ultimately you are won over by the server’s joie de vivre. Hardly has she deposited the menu when she's recalling it and marching to the back, and hardly has she been gone 5 minutes before returning with — well, you see it up there.
It is sushi as theme park. There is the scallop shell amphitheater and tower of menace, the bubbling volcano of dry ice. Nearby, thin shavings of sea bream tumble down a hill like translucent tongues on a roller coaster, plunging ultimately into a forest primeval of sea bass, tuna, salmon, and shards of yellowtail resembling cotton candy matchboxes. Just past the path lined with cucumber and radish shavings, a train whistle can be heard as a spicy tuna roll lumbers by, transporting you to yet more attractions on the periphery.
And none of it would be affecting in the least if it weren’t for chef Sean Chen’s judicious selection of wonderfully fresh fish expertly cut for your enjoyment. This is sushi to make you smile in spite of yourself, and soon you find yourself nodding helplessly in agreement with the six stools at the sushi bar in the back, each competing to heap fulsome praise on chef Chen.
Your verdict? Umami’s food is not at all too happy for you. Rather, it is just happy enough. You leave the place and find that the sun’s come out, but then you know that would happen.
Umami is at 329 Main St. in Huntington, 631-421-4726, umamihuntington.com. Hours are from Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 1:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.