Umai Umai: The Best Sushi in Philadelphia

On the unsuspecting street corner of 22nd and Brandywine Streets in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, you will find a little Japanese BYOB called Umai Umai. I noticed this place again and again whenever I brought my cat to The Cat Doctor right across the street from this restaurant. Good sushi in Philadelphia, good sushi in my neighborhood in walking distance-could it be true? I was skeptical at first. I have experienced a few sushi places here in Philadelphia but they did not compare to the sushi restaurants that I loved in my hometown of New Orleans. You may not associate sushi with New Orleans but places like Rock n' Sake, Sake Cafe and Kyoto in New Orleans delivered amazing quality sushi with unusual and delicious combinations utilizing the best and freshest of local fish and seafood. In a sushi restaurant, I expect the usual staples but I also want to try something new. Going out for sushi should be a fun adventure. When the wildest roll on the menu is the Philadelphia Roll, count me out because I want more.

It wasn't until my ex
perience at Umai Umai that my sushi expectations were finally met with flying colors in Philadelphia. The BYOB aspect is not my favorite but it has its pros like being a more affordable option but the cons are that I have to remember to buy a bottle of wine. Sometimes, I just prefer restaurants to do that leg work for me even if it will cost me. However for my most recent visit to Umai Umai, my friend, Holly brought the wine. It was a hot, hot mid-July day here in Philadelphia, perfect weather for refreshing, cool and flavorful sushi enjoyed in air conditioning.

med by all of the amazing menu items, we just focused on the wine that Holly brought until we could collect ourselves. Looking around inside Umai Umai, the minimalist approach makes smart use of the small square footage in colors of red and black. Taking in our surroundings, we sipped our wine and chatted about life's events and finally decided what to order after our waitresses third visit to our table. It was a tough choice among appetizers like "Asian Tapas for Two-Spring roll w. lime vinaigrette, shrimp shumai w. champagne-saffron, vegetable gyoza with citrus-soy and edamame", "Salmon Tartar-minced salmon served atop blueberry-balsamic reduction with apricot miso brulee & mango-basil salad", and "Mini Tuna Burger-pan seared tuna loin, romaine, tomato, onion, mayo, & cumin BBQ sauce, served with panko crusted mac and cheese". We decided upon the "Tuna Bruschetta-tuna set atop a pressed tortilla, topped with bruschetta and finished with anchovy dill aioli". The bruschetta was crispy on the bottom, tender, melt-in-your-mouth tuna on top, and a creamy finish with the anchovy and dill aioli.

With a taste of this perfe
ction, we were thrilled to see what would appear from the kitchen onto our table next, a long rectangular while plate covered with, gorgeous and colorful rolls. We did our very best to narrow down our rolls to a manageable number but you just want to have a taste of everything. This sushi menu covers everything that a sushi lover may want. In addition to all of the delicious appetizers, comforting soups like "Vegetable Dumpling-light soy-dashi broth, vegetable potstickers and chives", "Udon-Udon noodles with chives and phyllo shrimp", or a classic Miso are available to warm you from the inside out. On the cooler side, "Calamari Salad-crispy calamari, mixed greens and miso-vinaigrette" and "Grilled Scallop-scallops with watercress, watercress vinaigrette and sesame seeds" are just some of the fresh items on the Greens menu. Next comes the entrees, which is the perfect compromise for anyone who is not into eating sushi. With items like "Chicken Teriyaki-pan seared chicken served atop Japanese pumpkin mash and sauteed string beans finished with house teriyaki", "Shrimp Pad Thai-hot wok sauteed vegetables, eggs, roasted peanuts, shrimp and rice noodles in a sweet and sour tomato sauce" and "Premium Kobe Beef", anyone, not just sushi-lovers, will love something from the menu at Umai Umai.

The Sushi and Sashimi m
enu brings a variety of fish divided into categories like "Prime", "Blue-Skin", "White, "Surfers", and "Roe". On to my most favorite part of any sushi menu, the Specialty Rolls. There are the constant specialty rolls that are on the menu as well as chef's specials that change frequently. Tremendous creativity and culinary talent goes into creating these specialty rolls. You will be utterly satisfied with rolls such as the "Poseidon-shrimp tempura, snow crab mixture, avocado and BBQ eel" and "Nemo-tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber and avocado". By far the most delicious and show stopping specialty roll has got to be the "Godzilla-shrimp tempura, BBQ eel, avocado, strawberry, honey, and roasted Macademia nuts". The use of fruit in a roll, especially strawberry, with the added sweetness of honey and crunch from both the tempura and the nuts makes the Godzilla an inspiring force on this menu. Don't feel like you have to order the specialty rolls on this menu to get something special. The house rolls pack the punch as well by taking simple rolls like a classic Spicy Tuna Roll and kicking it up with a creamy spicy mayo sauce and crunchy potato strings.

Every bite of this meal completely satisfied all of my sushi expectations. Sushi lovers gather together and get out to Umai Umai for some fabulous dining. If you aren't into the sushi, then just try one the many fabulous desserts like the "Banana Spring Roll-cinnamon and nutmeg sauteed banana spring roll, flash fried, and served atop red bean sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream". Delicious!

Umai Umai

533 N. 22nd Street

Philadelphia, PA



What's Cooking at the Jersey Shore

On every beautiful and peaceful summer weekend spent on Long Beach Island, New Jersey with my husband's family, my husband and I are given the utmost warmth and hospitality throughout our stay. One of the best treats of these weekends at the beach besides the wonderful company is the cooking. My husband's godparents, John and Fran, love to experiment with new gourmet recipes that they find using their outdoor grill and their lovely kitchen. They print out their recipe
s and plan when they will make each one well ahead of time, and do the shopping before they even drive to the beach. Aside from our many interesting conversations with John and Fran, we do tend to converse about food often. We talk about what we like and compare different styles of cooking. We discuss in detail who makes the best hot dog and how we feel about casings. We marvel in my husband's story of the time he ate "A Junkyard Dog", a sandwich in Sea Isle City, NJ, containing one egg, bacon slices, pork roll slices, scrapple and cheese on a Kaiser roll, a sandwich that should have sent him straight to the emergency room. These are the light-hearted conversations that we enjoy as we sit in rocking chairs on the porch in the evenings with a glass or wine or a cold pint from the kegerator while we take in the ocean breeze.

Friday evening was s
imple and delicious. We snacked on a mixture of Wasabi Peas and Mixed Nuts, a trick Fran learned when staying at the Four Seasons in Maui, where they served this spicy and salty snack at the bar. After lots of porch sitting, we enjoyed fresh Tuna Salad Sandwiches on soft, large Kaiser rolls. The tuna salad, home made by Fran, was perfectly refreshing with a slight crunch of chopped onion and celery and just the right amount of mayo, not too creamy and not too dry. After a long day at work, drive to the beach and wine on the porch, this yummy sandwich had me ready for bed nice and early. Saturday morning we enjoyed White Cream Doughnuts from Crust and Crumb Bakery before hitting the beach. After a long, gorgeous day of beaching, we freshened with a shower and were ready for some porch sitting, snacking and indulging in liquid refreshments. Our contribution hit the table for happy hour, a plate of freshly sliced cucumber and pita bread and an unbelievable Baba Ganoush, a roasted eggplant dip. Along with Fran's home made Guacamole and Tortilla Chips, we were snack-happy, allowing John plenty of time to prepare his highly talked about and planned dish of Beer Can Chicken.

John and Fran's "we will eat when it is ready" mentality with no set dinner time has never been a problem for my husband and myself. I was raised in a family where being late for a gathering was no big deal because it more of an open-house than a formal dinner. We had no problem with enjoying more wine and snacks while the gumbo finished cooking. This way of being is normal to me. However, many like to give John and Fran a hard time on this matter as in the past they have said dinner would be served around 6pm but the food would not be ready until 8 or 9 at night. John made sure to get his Beer Can Chickens on the grill good and early giving them plenty of time to cook, so he would not have to hear any comments about dinner being served "late". The four chickens to serve 14 people were rubbed down in spices and marinated well in advanced. With this being a kegerator house, the only cans available were soda cans. After a good rinse, these empty cans were filled to the rim with fresh, light beer from the kegerator before sitting a chicken on top of each one. The four little chickens got situated on the grill where they roasted for a good two hours. During this time, fresh-picked Jersey Corn Cobs were being boiled inside while a huge casserole dish of cheesy, creamy Scalloped Potatoes were cooking in the oven. Baked fresh bread, cucumber and onion salad, green salad with fresh fruit and deviled eggs completed this Saturday summer night menu. The meal was served very close to "on time". Two long tables were set up on the back patio where we dined on this feast under the stars.

Satisfied and full, we stayed up later that night allowing for plenty of time to digest. Sunday morning we got up and took a long walk on the foggy beach and brought home cinnamon sugar doughnuts from the other bakery on the island, Marvel's Market. Everyone grabbed up one of these to hold them over until the next meal. Sunday's meal would be our shore staple, Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese on Everything Bagels. Seems fairly simple but with the fine execution between John and his good friend also named John these quick Sunday morning hangover cures became gourmet. Pork roll was cooking and bagels were toasting on the outdoor grill, as a large pan of fried eggs sizzled in the kitchen. All items came together on this perfectly salty and cheesy egg sandwich keeping our protein and caloric levels high all day as we took in a few more beach hours before our drive back to the city.

The Sunday afterno
on drive back from the beach is always sort of depressing. Headed back to the hot city with no ocean, no wrap-around porches, no sea breeze just reminds me how are summer weekends are numbered. Only a few more weekends and we will be on to cool nights and autumn leaves but I can always feel the warmth of summer just by thinking of the good times and good meals had at shore. Being able to enjoy time spent with family and friends, surrounded by delicious food that we are so fortunate to have is the essence of a happy life. Try to get away from the stresses of life, step away from your i-pad and i-phone, and turn off the news. Find a way to sit back and take in the peace and enjoyment from the simple things that life has to offer like good company, good conversation and good cooking.


Battle Doughnuts Down the Shore

Last weekend I had the pleas
ure of visiting the perfect summer getaway of Long Beach Island (LBI), New Jersey. Along with thousands of other Philadelphians, Friday after work we headed to the beach or "down the shore" as many locals would say. My husband's godparents own a lovely home right near the beach; and they are so kind to invite us to stay with them during the summer again and again. Their home and company is so comforting and relaxing that we rarely leave the house or the porch except to go to the beach. And rarely do we eat out, since they are incredible hosts, who cook and serve fabulous recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, there is one good reason to leave the house. Doughnuts.

Long Beach Island, a beautif
ul barrier island on the Atlantic Coast and summer escape for Philadelphians, New Yorkers and New Jersey residents, is home to not one but two amazing doughnut shops, which are so popular that lines creep out the door and down the street at each location every weekend morning during the summer. When we visit LBI, conversation often turns to food and one debate that is never solved is what place has the best doughnuts, Marvel's Market or Crust or Crumb Bakery.

Saturday morning we h
ead out down the main drag, Bay Avenue, to purchase new sunglasses for our beach weekend, buy deli meat and cheese for lunch and pick up some White Cream Doughnuts from Crust and Crumb. Our stop to Crust n' Crumb was late enough in the morning so we didn't have to wait in the usual long line. We walked right in and ordered a half dozen White Creams, the star item at Crust & Crumb Bakery and Deli. You can tell just how dense these doughnuts are by the weight of the white box of doughnuts. As soon as we got back to the house, we dove into the doughnut box with a fresh cup of coffee. These large crumbly doughnuts are rolled in just the right amount of white powdered sugar and filled with a sugary-sweet white cream that could send you straight to the dentist. I cut my hefty doughnut in half to see all the white creamy goodness hidden inside. This is the kind of doughnut that you cut little pieces from it thinking that there is no way you can eat it all but you end up eating it all anyway because it is so good! Thoroughly satisfied with our doughnut breakfast, we were ready for a long day enjoying the beach.

Sunday morning comes too fast but one thing we are ready for is a trip to another LBI doughnut staple, Marvel's Market. After a nice morning walk on the foggy shore, we continue our walk to Marvel's, which is not too far from the house. Much hotter than the day before, we hope the line is not too long. But long it was! Out the door and trickling down the street, the line was just as long as it usually is. The sun was beating down as the dedicated LBI regulars waited to put in their doughnut order. Some left as the long line and hot, hot sun was just too much to take but we hung in there. After about 20 minutes or so, we were approaching the entrance and soon enough we were inside, where it was equally as hot as outside. With little air circulation and fresh doughnuts cooking before your eyes in the doughnut fryer, it was sticky and steamy. As we inched our way to the counter, I could feel our victory getting closer and closer. We watched as perfectly round doughnuts dropped into the fryer, two by two. The doughnuts went on their little journey down the conveyor and dropped into the giant bowl, where they are immediately picked up and tossed into a sweet cinnamon sugar mixture. Into white bags and into happy customers hands, Marvel's Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts can't be beat. The journey for these fresh off the fryer doughnuts was about to end because we could not even wait to get home before sticking our teeth into one of the dozen and a half cinnamon sugar delights. The soft and buttery freshly fried dough melts in your mouth while the sweetness of the sugar and spice of the cinnamon offers an undeniable flavor combination. As soon as we brought the white bag of Marvel's marvels to the house, everyone grabbed one of these to enjoy while they were hot and fresh.

In Battle Doughnuts, I have to pick M
arvel's as my number one pick but it isn't really my style to choose favorites. A Crust & Crumb doughnut and a Marvel's doughnut are so different that they should not be compared. They fulfill two kinds of doughnut styles and are both excellent choices when visiting Long Beach Island. It is too hard to choose between these two which is why we stopped in at both. Next time your travels take you to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, then be sure to stop in at Crust & Crumb and Marvels for the best doughnuts "down the shore".

Crust & Crumb Bakery
Bay Village, 9th St & Bay Ave
Beach Haven, NJ

Marvel's Market

4 W Maryland Ave
Long Beach Township, NJ

Classic Caprese Salad

You may have noticed less recipes in the past couple of months from me or maybe you haven't. It should be no surprise to myself that working more hours in my job as a Special Events Coordinator and attempting to buy a house can suck your time right away from you. After getting home from work around 6:00 pm, I have little energy or time to concoct an exciting recipe. Instead, we have been eating a weekly turkey burger or beef burger, still home made, with a side salad and corn on the cob. Usually there is also a pasta dish with veggies and maybe quesadillas or tacos throughout the week. Sometimes, it is as simple as a salad and fresh bread. The other reason for the lack of cooking is because the use of the stove makes our kitchen about 120 degrees during the hottest summer ever. Forget about the oven. I have boycotted the oven ever since the week in mid-summer when it was 100 degrees for a week straight. With no central air conditioning, cooking can be unbearably hot.

Another thing that has been difficult to maintain this summer is our garden. With the stretches of incredibly hot weather and then a week straight of downpours, our garden has been inconsistent to say the least but we do have one successful plant, our basil plant. The basil in my garden has been growing rapidly producing 3-4 inch long delicate, fragrant basil leaves. I trim and trim and it keeps growing and growing. Basil has been my key ingredient this summer in salads, pizzas, and pastas. And to think that if I didn't have it growing in my garden that I would be paying $2.99 or more for a rink-a-dink plastic container of less than 10 basil leaves, which would brown in less than 2 days. What a money saver! Even though I have been cooking less, simple dishes come alive with a touch of this beautiful, fresh basil. A Caprese Salad is the epitome of how delicious and simple a dish can be. If you have not tried this classic or have not had it in a while, then I suggest giving it a go this summer, especially if you have access to fresh basil and/or tomatoes.

Lizzy M.'s Classic Caprese

1 large beefsteak tomato, sliced medium to thin
1 large ball of fresh Bufulo M
ozzarella Cheese, sliced in round, thin slices or small balls of fresh Bufulo Mozzarella cheese, each ball sliced in half
Fresh Basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Prepare ingredients. Place tomato slices on each plate first, followed by the slices of fresh mozzarella and basil.

2. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

3. Serve these Caprese Salads with fresh crusty bread or as a side salad with any meal.

I hope you enjoy this simple summer salad, a satisfying meal that you can make even if you are short on time. Happy Summer!


Bear Moon Bakery and Cafe

My latest travels took me to a small German town outside of San Antonio, Texas called Boerne (pronounced bern-ie), which happens to be the current home of my parents, sister, brother-in-law and nieces. Every time I visit this perfectly cozy place with a beautiful historic main street, gorgeous oaks, precious goslings by the river and views of the vast Texas Hill Country, I am introduced to a new, intriguing place. This time the intriguing place I was introduced to was the Bear Moon Bakery and Cafe located on Main Street. My parents, who relocated to Boerne from New Orleans post-Katrina, and my sister and her family, who relocated from Colorado last fall, all have raved and commented about their frequent visits to Bear Moon.

Owners Paula Hayward
and Jack Cushman have enjoyed bringing the community their delectable baked goods and cuisine for over a decade. Bear Moon offers a complete "Bear Moon Breakfast Experience" with a buffet of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, skillet potatoes, bakery-crumb pancakes with syrup, fresh bakery granola, breakfast breads and pastries of the day. You can also order items "solo" like a full stack or short stack of their signature Bakery-Crumb Pancakes. You can enjoy this breakfast buffet Tuesday through Friday until 10:30am or on the weekend until noon. If you don't make it for breakfast, then no problem because Bear Moon has you covered for the lunching hours as well. Star vegetarian items include the "Eggplant Sandwich-griddled eggplant, zucchini and onions on toasted chef's choice of bread with pesto, tomato and provolone", the "Avocado Veggie Sandwich" and the "Cream Cheese Veggie Wrap". For something meatier, this Texas cafe pulls out none other than the "BBQ Beef Sandwich-bathed in special sauce on Ciabatta bread" and a "German Open-Faced Reuben Sandwich". Of course, you can build your own sandwich with the meat and cheese of your choice and one of the many freshly baked breads. With three home made soups featured daily, a quiche of the day, and a salad named the "Best Caesar in Boerne", you are sure to enjoy a delicious, fresh meal at the Bear Moon Bakery and Cafe.

If you live in the Boerne a
rea or its neighboring towns near San Antonio, then you must treat yourself to both a visit to Boerne's Historic Downtown Main Street and a stop at the Bear Moon. For locals, check out Bear Moon's extensive catering menu, which would be perfect for any gathering. Need to bring something to your kids' school, playgroup or pool party? Bear Moon will take care of you with a variety of cookie trays and baskets. Pastry Boxes are available with the choices of all of Bear Moon's scrumptious treats like their "World Famous Piggies". Yes, like piggies-in-the-blanket except these are huge with options for "Cheezy Piggies" or "Jalapeno Hogs" baked in a buttery flaky pastry dough. Cinnamon Rolls, Bear Claws, and Scones-Oh My! So much deliciousness all from one cozy little cafe. If the tasty baked goods and cuisine aren't enough, then you will certainly be charmed by the warm Texas smiles and friendly service.

I hope you too will have the pleasure of experiencing this lovely town in Texas' gorgeous Hill Country and all it has to offer!

Bear Moon Bakery and Cafe
Historic Downtown

401 South Main Street

Boerne, Texas 78006

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