I’m highly critical of Ogden and northern points when it comes to dining choices, so I was pretty excited Umaii opened in Porter’s Neck. It’s a long slog to get any good Asian food from that area. While Umaii turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag, it still is worth a trip.
The restaurant is perched about as far up Market Street as it can be while still being in Wilmington. It is appointed elegantly in approachably Americanized Asian decor. The design is easy on the eyes and efficiently maximizes space for seating. The old maxim is that the most expensive thing in any restaurant is an empty seat, but the hidden cost is not having an available seat for a hungry diner. Umaii handles that problem as well as anyone could.
The bar boasts a decent selection of liquors but no wines. The liquor options particularly excited me; however, that matter became moot because they have my latest obsession on tap: Broomtail Bucket List Blonde Ale. Brewed just a few miles down the road, it’s a secret just starting to get out. Check it out at some of your better-stocked local bars or stop by Broomtail Craft Brewery tasting room on weekends. I always am glad to see any of their products on tap, so any restaurant carrying local beer gets a couple of bonus points.
I’ve been noticing papaya salads on more menus lately, which is not to say they haven’t always been there and missed my attention. Umaii’s comes marked with two red peppers on the menu, which indicates that it is one of the spicier dishes available. The menu isn’t lying. The first bite of that chili-garlic dressing delights, but the heat takes over, and the ingredients matter very little as they become no more than tasteless textures. It’s a shame because the shrimp are prepared perfectly plump and cooked spot-on, with a nice sear and mild seasoning.
The masaman chicken curry is a favorite because I always have liked the texture and flavor of potato cooked in curry. This dish forewarns with a single red pepper. To be honest: It isn’t particularly spicy. By the Umaii heat scale, I suspect a one-and-a-half pepper dish hits the spot.
The curry is pleasant even if predictable. The chicken seems a touch dry, but the curry masks it. The vegetables stay crisp, though the onion ratio is badly skewed. A few more carrots to balance them out would be preferable.
I have to confess that my jab about the perfect level of spiciness might have been unfounded. The Yum Grilled Beef carries a one-pepper rating and has a decent kick without overpowering everything around it. The tender beef maintains its own flavor under the weight of the dressing; however, the kitchen again may be just a bit heavy handed with the onions. The lime dressing gives a bright and acidic finish to the beef. I might quibble with the copious dose of cilantro, but I never have been the biggest fan of the herb, so others’ opinions may vary.
The Pad Prik Khing, too, brandishes an unearned one-pepper rating. While flavorful, it doesn’t pack much heat. The chicken is a bit dry but this dish doesn’t have coconut milk to cloak the issue. The ginger paste adds a little heat. I love the taste of ginger, so it saves the meal. (I suspect if I’d tried it with the shrimp I’d rave about it.)
By the way, everything comes with jasmine rice. Personally, I don’t think jasmine adds a whole lot to rice, especially when doused in curry. But Umaii deserves credit for consistently sending out rice that’s firm but fluffy. Finding just the right stickiness for Asian cuisine is a skill in itself.
Umaii has a pretty good thing going in a part of town that only has a couple of good restaurants. I think it deserves consideration.
8209 Market St.
Mon. – Thurs.: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. -10 p.m.; Fri.: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Sat.: noon – 10:30 p.m.; Sun.: 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.