Today is the grand opening of Umami Mia Pizzeria. Located in the old Romeo’s building on Barton Springs Road, the theme is pizza with a twist. That twist being umami, the fifth taste.
I attended a media preview, so I get to give you the scoop.
The decor is colorful and casual. A subway map design appears on the walls and on the menu and it was modeled after the Rome transit system. The walls are painted bright splashes of color: red, yellow, blue, and green. The effect is not so much an urban feel and it definitely doesn’t lend itself to the subway in Rome, which is quite dark and dirty. Rather, it feels more like the Google offices. Stark white with the Google colors everywhere and inexplicable bottles of colored water lining the walls.
The cocktail menu is huge and diverse. My group and I sampled fizzy, fruity concoctions, my favorite being the Blackberry Caipirinha, although everything I tasted was divine. The fresh blackberries, Tito’s Vodka, simple syrup, soda and lime was so refreshing and I will be stealing this recipe for future parties. The draft beer list features classic local favorites.
Okay, onto the food. Our appetizer was described as Roasted Peppers and Coppa, or Capicola, as I grew up calling it. But the dish was so much more. Strong flavors of anchovy, olives, lemon zest, parmesan, garlic aioli, and fresh herbs were served with grilled bread. This was my favorite dish of the night.
The Italian salad included watermelon radishes, roasted red peppers and salami on top of frisee and arugula. The homemade croutons were the standout ingredient in this dish.
The Meatball Sandwich. Sigh. Coming from New Jersey, where you can get great meatball sandwiches everywhere, I was hoping to have a solid place to get them in Austin. This is not the place. It’s not that it was bad, but it was not the classic meatball sandwich that I desired, with good marinara, a hard roll and a sprinkling of cheese. No, this one featured an oak grilled meatball with fig sauce, gorgonzola, arugula and lemon. So really, it’s just a totally different sandwich that happens to feature a meatball. For me, it was too sweet, although the meatball was tasty enough.
Next up were the pizzas. And this is something I was excited about, as my longtime readers know I’ve been on a serious pizza quest in Austin. I really wanted to try a classic, plain pie, but on this night they wanted to showcase their umami pizza. The clear winner was the Prosciutto & Mission Fig, with the salty meat playing nicely with the sweetness of the fig.
The Mushroom Pizza was a miss for me. The sparse mushrooms were lost in the umami tomato sauce, caramelized onions, goat cheese, roasted garlic, and balsamic reduction. I would recommend Coco Chanel’s advice to take one thing off before you leave the house, meaning don’t overdo the accessories, or in this case, toppings. I’d take off about three things. And then I’d add some mushrooms.
The Mexican Pizza was just…not good. Everyone in the group took a bite and didn’t finish. Two separate people who had spent time in China remarked that the meat tasted like generic Chinese sausage. This pizza does not do any favors to Italian, Mexican, or Chinese cuisine. Heavy with wet toppings, yet low in flavor, I hope this dish is reworked.
A very exciting part of Umami’s menu is the fresh pasta. We tried the Carbonara and the pasta was so light and delicate. Really well executed. I appreciated the plentiful fresh herbs (other than the dill, which has no place in carbonara) and wished the pancetta had been as plentiful. The toasted pine nuts were a nice touch.
For dessert we had a couple selections of pot de creme. A grainy chocolate offering with golden raisins, malt balls and orange, and a bland green tea choice. I cannot recommend either.
My takeaway: Umami Mia Pizzeria would be a nice place to visit for a novelty. Those that aren’t pizza connoisseurs will probably like it and everyone will like the fun and inspired cocktail menu. Since Austin lacks a real casual Italian presence, it would have been nice to see some restraint with the toppings and just delicious, high quality pizzas. Sadly, this feels more like a California Pizza Kitchen than anything I experienced in Rome. There is no common thread between the decor, the menu, and the name. Umami would have worked on another level, perhaps a Japanese street food take on pizza. The bright, Google-y decor feels like it’s for kids, yet the extensive drink menu implies otherwise. I will be interested to see what happens with Umami and how it evolves over time. They certainly have a fabulous location.