By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 3, 2010

Umami does have a short list of select sakes, but a lot of the creativity has gone into cocktails. A rose mojito ($8.50) had the usual rum and muddled mint, with a subtle overtone of rose water I quite liked. Hitachino owl red rice ale ($7.95), from Japan's leading microbrewery, has a conversation-starting dark cherry-red color, with many of the sweet notes of rice brews and yeasty complexity without a lot of hop aroma. Since many American macro-brews use some rice to get the sweetness, it can be an oddly familiar quaff despite the color. There are wines from all over, many under $30, and a glass of 2006 Chateau Jouclary ($7.50; $28/bottle) suggested the strawberry-raspberry aroma of the grenache grape, although this seems like a red blend. I thought a 2008 La Posta malbec ($7.50; $28) had some of the aroma of violets that small plantings of malbec still add to certain Bordeaux wines. At the price, I assume it is La Posta's "cocina" label, which is blended with some syrah and bonarda, and it is certainly light for a malbec, but again a red wine all the better with a variety of food.

Green tea ($3) is the declaration of independence from sushi-bar stereotypes: a Stash tea bag served with an empty cup and hot porcelain teapot of water. So it tastes more like black tea than the spinach-like aromas of Japanese brewed teas.

There were only two desserts our night, and they were more visual than fattening. A special on pumpkin custard ($6) was four bites of mild custard in a cute but undercooked (and thus ornamental) tiny pumpkin. Durian custard ($5) was even smaller, but that's probably what most people want from durian, the famous fruit with the horrible aroma and additively rich flavor and texture. People who love durian mostly want to eat the fruit itself. There aren't a lot of recipes for it, and they mostly are about evoking the fragrance to arouse nostalgia in established durian eaters. This one does that with just a little custard, distributed over sweet black sticky rice and cut with fresh mint.

The owners backgrounds are Japanese and Thai, and their previous venture was Khao Sarn, an outside-the-box regional Thai restaurant. It must have seemed natural to them to do a fusion bistro with a Japanese name, and the restaurant has gradually found its crowd, probably starting with neighbors who wanted something a little more refined than American Craft next door. The room, however, looks like a high-end sushi bar, with paper lamps, one wall in lime-green, the rest in a warm brown, with dark wood tables and real flowers at each table. Service is good.

One Japanese element here is that this is not really a restaurant for people who are very hungry. And, like Japanese restaurants, there is a shift of perception to more subtle elements, even though those elements here are often Euro-American. What you get isn't what you expect when you look at the sign and read the menu, and it's still not what you expect when the food arrives.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at

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