This summer, Chef Gustavo Vargas and his team at Uma Nota in SoHo have created 10 new Brazilian-Japanese dishes ranging from palate-awakening ceviches, to hearty sharing plates, to innovative desserts. Uma Nota continues its mission to offer diners a taste of the unique blend of flavours found in the Japanese diaspora in São Paulo, particularly its street food. This marriage of cultures is not seen anywhere else in the world.
We were invited to sample a few of Chef Vargas' new creations, as well as a few favourites that will remain on the new menu. Oh, and we had plenty of cocktails too. Here are our thoughts on the dishes and the drinks:
Croqueta de linguiça ($75): the pork sausage croquette with wasabi and cucumber mayo was excellent. The exterior of the croquette was nice and crisp and provided a good contrast to the soft filling. You want the inside of a croquette to be rich and unctuous, and here, the pork and potato filling was silky, rich and full of flavour.
Polvo teriyaki ($135): a simple dish consisting of pan-fried octopus and sweet potato in a homemade teriyaki sauce. The ingredients speak for themselves. The octopus had a great texture, not overcooked and mushy, and was elevated with the addition of sweet potato. While pan-frying worked well, I think grilling the protein would further increase the smokiness of the octopus, going well with the umami-laced sweetness of the teriyaki glaze.
Ceviche Nikkei ($175): sashimi and ceviche are two siblings separated by the Pacific Ocean, but this dish of raw white fish, octopus, rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, dashi, lime juice, coriander, red onion and avocado reunited them. The dish is well thought out and well balanced, with no shortage of acidity and varying textures.
Tuna picadito ($145): our side of the table universally agreed that the tuna tartare on deep-fried tortilla chips with sriracha and sweet chilli sauce was moreish to the point of fuelling addiction. These one-biters were delightful to behold. However, the dish could benefit from adding a few halves of lime on the side for those who want to up the zing.
Robalo assado em folha de bananeira ($290): anything cooked in a banana leaf is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. This roasted sea bass fillet in banana leaf with fried banana and cassava farofa warmed the stomach and heart. The fish was perfectly steamed inside its parcel and was falling-apart tender. The tomato and red onion bought the fish to life with their vibrant flavours, and the fried banana gave each bite sweetness and starch. I personally loved the addition of cassava farofa, which gave the dish a further dimension of texture to cut through the rather soft elements on the plate.
Lombinho de porco ($250): the pork tenderloin confit with Saikyo miso mashed potato and pickled fennel was exceptional – easily my favourite dish. I personally prefer my pork slightly less done, but the pork tenderloin remained succulent and juicy here. What really worked for me was the mashed potato. Not only was the mash sufficiently creamy, but the miso made it feel even richer. Lastly, the pickled fennel helped to cut through all the richness and was a pleasant surprise with each scoop of mash. Perhaps adding an element of heat – some pickled chilli, for example – to wake the palate might bring the dish together even better.
Berinjela ($230): all I can say is, if you roast a whole aubergione with miso, goat’s cheese and cashews, it will always be delicious. The rendition of this dish was greatly satisfying.
Beef skewers with farofa ($115): one of the favourites on the menu – beef on sticks with a zingy dipping sauce. Lovely.
Tuna skewers ($115): the aji amarillo and chipotle tuna with pickled red onion fell slightly flat for us. We would have liked a bit more char and caramelisation on the exterior of the fish. The tuna could have been grilled longer or could even have been given a once-over by blowtorch if the sauce had been thicker.
Black sesame mousse ($80): the black sesame mousse with meringue, fresh raspberries and mint was a well-conceived dessert. The flavours were solid, and the balance between the richness of the mousse, the acidity of the raspberries and the crumble of the meringue worked really well together.
Brazilian cheesecake ($75): the cheesecake with orange, ginger syrup and a Brazil nut crumble was a solid dessert. All the flavours worked and it was texturally pleasing. This dish and the black sesame mousse (which are the only desserts on the menu) are similar in texture and temperature. With desserts, there is a lot of room to play with these elements, so we think that Uma Nota could make improvements in this area.
Last but not least, we sampled a few cocktails, ranging from the classic caipirinha ($95) to wonderful Brazilian-Japanese creations. We can attest that there is something for everybody here, and it would be best to talk with the bartender or members of staff about the flavours you seek.
Overall, Uma Nota’s new spring menu performs at a high level, but there are certainly improvements that could be made that would make some dishes on a par with the rest. The new dishes stay true to the conceptual and inspirational roots of Brazilian-Japanese street food and capture the flavours of a unique community found only in Brazil. Bring a lots of friends, order a dozen dishes to share and enjoy a few cocktails.
38 Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2889 7576, book online
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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