Empanada Boy and I are in a wine club that typically meets once a month (“WTF” or “Wine Tasting Fun”). We couldn’t find a host this month, so we decided to fill the void with some auxiliary activities. One was a dinner with seven person core group of members (Focaccina, Tamago, Tuna Noodle Casserole, Hungry Man, Beetrix and us) at Umi Nom, a BYOB place in Fort Greene. King Phojanakong, the chef at Umi Nom, is half Thai, half Filipino. His restaurant is pan-Asian in a distinctly focused and coherent way, more like the Momofuku empire than the restaurants with sushi on one page and pad Thai on another. Phojanakong also owns Kuma Inn on the Lower East Side, which is reputed to be great. I was excited to check out this Brooklyn outpost and even more excited that we could bring our own libations.
Umi Nom is located on an otherwise unremarkable strip of the street. The restaurant is long like a railroad car, with minimalist, sleek decor. We were seated a longer table in the back, which allowed us to be as boisterous as we needed to be. The menu is focused on small plates and delicious Asian street food-inspired items. On the advice of those who had been to the restaurant before, we decided to order a bunch of the small plates and eat them family style. The first two dishes to arrive were the Chinese sausage (pictured on top) and the chili-glazed prawns (pictured here). The sausage was delicious, sliced thinly like fatty, spicy chips. Satisfying sticky rice and a dipping sauce came with it. Prawns were tender and well seasoned with a kick of chili that wasn’t toned down for the weak of palate.
Soon, plates of plush tofu squares in chili black bean sauce and mushrooms in soy-mirin sauce arrived at our table. We also ordered a grilled mackerel, which came whole, its tender flesh coated in nicely crisped skin, and some amazing, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly. I know pork belly is way too trendy for its own good, but this stuff was evidence of why it got that way. The edges were crisped, but the middle was smooth and unctuous. The sweet-salty sauce made the dish positively addictive. (And what a dangerous addiction that might be!)
Our party was divided about whether to try one dish on the specials list for the night: a fertilized duck egg. We decided to get one, and those not vegetarian or squeamish (Tuna Noodle, Hungry Man, Focaccina, EB and I) gave it a go. The shell came sealed, so I cracked it with the handle of my spoon. Our server told us to drink the liquid out first, so we passed it around and each took a sip. I didn’t find it very flavorful, truth be told. Then we started in on the embryo itself. EB unknowingly ate the best part, the fetus, himself. He said it tasted a little like poultry. The rest just tasted like dry, pasty overcooked egg to me. Even with the lively sauce they provided, this was the most disappointing dish.
We were stuffed, but figured we could fit in a couple desserts when all of us were sharing. One was a delicious, warm Thai chili chocolate cake, which had just the right edge of heat and smokiness. The other was halo-halo, a traditional Filipino dessert made with shaved ice, milk and a variety of boiled sweet beans and candies. The dish is brilliantly colored, but it looks better than it tastes. Still, it was great to have the opportunity to try it. It didn’t tarnish my image of the restaurant a bit. It was far better meal than I expected and as good as I had hoped. Umi Nom will be on my list of places to come back to.
433 DeKalb Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11205