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  • Teryiaki filet at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Ceviche at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Chocolate ganache cake from Umi Grill.

  • The AG Roll at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Umi Grill, just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road, is one of the most impressive restaurants in terms of design as well as food.

  • Umi Grill, just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road, is one of the most impressive restaurants in terms of design as well as food.

  • The Seafood Salad at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Tuna Cubes at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • The Cowboy Roll with teriyaki filet at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • The house salad at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Tablet menus are one of the unique features at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • The "Lucky" nigiri sampler with California Roll at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Umi Grill is Fort Wayne's newest sushi restaurant, just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • The Japanese Roll Cake from Umi Grill.

  • Baked Scallop Roll at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

  • Spicy Chilean Sea Bass at Umi Grill just off of West Jefferson on Getz Road.

Sunday, June 04, 2017 1:00 am

Expectations exceeded at sushi restaurant

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Umi Grill

*****

Out of a possible five

$$$$

I remember when it first opened in an abandoned Dunkin' Donuts in Terre Haute in 2001.

I kind of scoffed at the idea of a sushi place opening in my hometown. But then I started hearing more about it and its amazing chef, Yan Qi.

Before long it moved from the doughnut hut to a bigger, much nicer space and the accolades followed. Qi had literally traveled the world learning to be a chef and had settled in Indianapolis before starting his own venture an hour or so west along Interstate 70. And his fans followed.

This hidden gem of sushi has been touted by many state publications and there are posts galore naming Umi Grill as one of the must-try places in the Hoosier State. So when I heard the second Umi Grill was coming to Fort Wayne, I was excited – but had questions.

Would this Umi be as good as the original? Its local owners, Brian Bauer, Ryan Gonzales and Aaron Garofola, took great steps to make sure it would. Bauer is the CEO for Lutheran Heath Network and was once the CEO at Terre Haute Regional Hospital. Gonzales, of Fort Wayne Oncology & Hematology, and Garofola, Dupont Hospital CEO, also came from Terre Haute Regional. All were regulars at the original Umi.

“Qi is like family,” Bauer said. “We are honored and humbled that he entrusted us with it.”

The three have done nothing but improve Qi's reputation. Umi Grill surpasses its predecessor in its modern makeup and its food is just as amazing. I knew it from the first bite.

The Tuna Cubes had pieces of blue-fin tuna that were so fresh and firm they chewed more like steak than raw fish. They were dressed in a spicy soy marinade, along with fresh avocado. It was not overly spicy but did wake up the palate. Next time, I will ask to have diced mango mixed in because I think that would be perfect.

That mango idea arose from another exquisite dish that was perfect in every way except name. The Ceviche featured thin slices of red snapper sashimi, shrimp, lobster, avocado and mango dressed with a citrus-garlic marinade all beautifully laid out flat so it looked like a piece of art. All of the components were perfect as was the marinade, but I felt it needed some heat to truly represent the Latin American dish – a little pickled jalapeño, perhaps.

What didn't need any accents – not even soy sauce, wasabi or pickled ginger – was Umi's salmon nigiri. The salmon is cured in house and to say it was like butter on the palate was not a stretch. It was easily the best piece of raw fish I have ever eaten.

All of the nigiri was fabulous and fresh. Umi gets deliveries from Chicago nearly every day, just like the Terre Haute store. Salmon, striped bass and sea bass arrive whole and are broken down on-site.

The Japanese striped bass, which was somewhat sweet and firmer than the other offerings in my “Lucky” nigiri combo, and the albacore, which was seared and seasoned with a vinaigrette made from orange juice and sriracha, were my favorites next to the salmon.

I was also surprised by the unagi (cooked eel), which was flaky and very mild with just a subtle funk that melded nicely with its sweet dark sauce.

The vinaigrette that flavored that albacore was borrowed from the best sushi roll I had at Umi – the AG. It featured crispy shrimp tempura inside and raw tuna on top with raw garlic, spicy mayo and that spicy citrus vinegar. The vinegar punch, heat and crispy shrimp had me thinking this was the Buffalo wing of sushi rolls. It is a must-try and will be a must-order every time I visit.

The Baked Scallop Roll looked daunting with what I thought was a heavy sauce covering the warm roll of scallops, crab, asparagus and avocado. That slightly spicy sauce packed a lot of flavor but was surprisingly light on the palate. The seafood was perfectly cooked, the asparagus was crunchy, and I enjoyed every morsel.

The only roll I would not have again was the Cowboy, which my server said is a popular choice. This roll was topped with teriyaki beef filet and had shrimp tempura, shitake mushrooms and grilled onions. It was a whimsical play on a surf and turf – Midwestern sushi at its finest – and would be a great option for those scared by raw fish. It just wasn't for me or probably anyone else who isn't.

As an entrée, that teriyaki filet was outstanding. It was super tender, perfectly cooked and worth having again. Umi Grill has several options if you do not like sushi.

The Spicy Chilean Sea Bass, for example, included one of the highest-quality pieces of this delectable fish I have had in the Summit City. When I just grazed it with my fork, it flaked apart, and its dark, sort of brooding sauce of ginger, garlic and red pepper paste was worth soaking up with the sticky rice that accompanied it. Snappy edamame on top provided crunch and freshness.

The house salad was a better choice as a complimentary starter than the miso soup, which I found to be salty. The salad had a yummy peanut-miso dressing that separated it from the ginger dressing most sushi places serve.

That dressing was even better when kicked up with some garlic and vinegar on the Seafood Salad, which had asparagus, marinated squid, sliced shrimp and a lot of imitation crab that was so good I was nearly fooled into thinking it was real. Both salads had crunchy romaine instead of the usual iceberg, which was a bonus.

Another thing Umi had that most other sushi places don't – dessert. My favorite was the Roll Cake, which featured two thick slices of a vanilla, cream-filled cake roll surrounding a giant scoop of red bean ice cream. If red bean ice cream is too intimidating, the Chocolate Ganache Cake will do the trick.

This three-layered cake from Hetty Arts Pastry looked decadent with rich fudge layers in between each and a lighter milk-chocolate ganache on top. But the cake was surprisingly light and airy which made it easier to enjoy after already having all of that sushi.

The crowning touch at Umi Grill, however, was the service and its setting. The staff left nothing for me to criticize. There were several different people who graced my table to ensure everything was in order. And they did so without me feeling like they were lurking.

And to say Umi Grill is the most impressive restaurant in terms of design is not an overstatement. It has ultramodern decor and is quite intimate with tables deftly divided and even a wonderful little private room with a large booth for families. Its computer tablet menus featured professional-quality photographs that made perusing the offerings seamless and a lot of fun.

“Every time Qi visits, he says, 'Too fancy, too fancy,' ” Bauer told me.

Kidding aside, he should be very proud. His vision has come a long way from that old Dunkin' Donuts.

Restaurant: Umi Grill

Address: 2912 Getz Road

Phone: 203-9975

Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

Cuisine: Japanese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Seafood Salad ($14), Tuna Cubes ($20), ceviche ($18), Baked Scallop Roll ($17), AG roll ($16), Cowboy Roll ($15), Lucky combo ($28), sea bass ($35), Teriyaki filet ($33), Roll Cake ($6), Chocolate Cake ($10)

Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 max.), service: * (1 max.)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.