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Restaurant Review: Ramen gets an upgrade at Umami

Grade: A-

Let me start by saying that if you’ve had Cup Noodles, your mind is about to be blown by Umami. The restaurant, located on a bustling corner in downtown Bangor, is the perfect place for a warm bowl of ramen on a snowy Maine evening. The place appears a little run down from the outside, but is clean and welcoming nonetheless. Finding seating isn’t an issue, with many two-tops available lining the large windows encasing the restaurant. These seats are perfect for people watching, but can get very drafty. So what better way to warm up than with a steamy bowl of ramen?

I arrived with my boyfriend around 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night and the place was scattered with a few other patrons, but was calm and quiet. An alternative music radio station played lightly in the background and made me wish I had brought work materials so I could study and sip ramen at one of the booths.

The appetizer selections are limited and all follow an Asian-fusion cuisine theme, but prove tasty nonetheless. Edamame, Gyoza, Scallion Pancakes and Umami Wings are among the starter options, all averaging around $6. I opted for the vegetarian scallion pancakes. Arriving pre-cut on a platter with sweet chili sauce, they were delectable. Very crispy and sometimes hard to chew, but they paired great with the sauce and altogether were a great starter.

But if you visit Umami, you’re really coming for the famous ramen, with bowls starting at $9.25. Signature bowls are a mix between fan and employee favorites, like the Tokyo Tonkotsu, Woodland Forager, Vegan Venture, Big Easy and Employee Meal. While those choices are tempting, many people opt to create their own bowl, myself being no exception. The process of creating your own custom ramen bowl is laid out on the menu, but the employees are always willing to walk you through with any questions you may have. Every bowl already comes with carrots, scallions, sprouts, dried shallots, nori and sesame seeds, so they’re already packed with flavor.

Step one: choose a broth. With options like veggie, chicken and pork, beef, yellow curry, miso and the exciting Tom Yum, there’s a ramen base for everyone.

Step two: choose a noodle. Ramen and rice noodles are staples, but egg noodles, soba and udon are offered as well (at an additional $1).

Step three: add a protein to your meal. Tofu, portobello, chicken, pork, beef and kielbasa as options make deciding difficult, especially considering pork belly and shrimp are offered as well (at an additional $1 and $2 respectively). And let me tell you, the pork belly is worth the extra buck if you’re looking for added flavor.

Step four really amps up the experience with any add-ons. Every add-on increases your total by $1 to your total and this can rack up pretty fast. But if you’re looking to splurge, any one of the following could enhance your ramen experience. Broccoli, snow peas, napa cabbage, kale, spinach, eggplant, boiled egg, sautéed onion, shiitake mushroom, jalapeno, skillet corn, pickled daikon and kimchi round out the array of potential flavor additions. They could all contribute to the quality of the ramen, so it’s tempting to overload, but keep in mind your bowl already comes with some staples.

After lamenting over the decision, I finally chose a miso broth with egg noodles, tofu, eggplant, onions, mushrooms and two boiled eggs. Two eggs may seem overboard, but I stand firm in my belief that they are the highlight of any ramen bowl. And right I was. My custom ramen bowl arrived steaming hot about 10 minutes after I placed my order and every bite was better than the last. There’s no need to include as many add-ons as I did to create a memorable ramen bowl, but if you’re okay with splurging I would highly recommend it.

There was only one employee working the counter, but he certainly made up for any shortcomings with his friendly, energetic and helpful manner. Everyone coming in was welcomed heartily and when anyone left they were wished a good night. Ordering was done at the back of the restaurant, but afterward you were free to take a seat wherever you pleased and the food was brought to you. At the end of the meal we cleared our plates at a dish station, with accompanying trash and recycling bins.

Overall, my dining experience at Umami was positive. The hearty portion sizes and the delicious and diverse ramen options could lift anyone’s spirits and depending on how creative you get with your choices it can range from cheap to pricey. Regardless, you still get plenty of bang for your buck and if you don’t finish the giant ramen bowls, takeout containers are available upon request. Umami also provides a convenient takeout option, which you could call ahead for or order in person. For any UMaine students looking to warm their bellies on a cold night (and don’t mind the drive to Bangor), I would recommend Umami.

Located on 1 Main St. in Bangor, Umami opens everyday at 11 a.m. and serves food and drinks until 9 p.m., with special late night hours on Friday and Saturday till 3 a.m.

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