A short 80-mile drive down I-35 from our capital city will put you right in the heart of San Antonio, the country’s eigth largest city. Sure, there are popular attractions that you’ve likely already checked off your list — a visit to the Alamo, a stroll down the River Walk and shopping in Market Square — but that’s certainly not all the old city offers.
San Antonio is largely revered for its Hispanic heritage and Mexican cuisine, but it also has become a city that now boasts inventive multi-culturally influenced cuisine from some of the best chefs in the state.
Chef Dady’s newest venture is Umai Mi, a pan-Asian fusion restaurant with a particular Thai focus
At the helm is the much esteemed chef, Jason Dady. Successful restaurateur with a reputation built over many years on the foundation of providing exceptional service and food in all of his restaurants in San Antonio (Umai Mi – Modern Asian Fare, Tre Trattoria in Alamo Heights, Two Bros BBQ Market, Tre Trattoria Downtown, The DUK Truck, and B&D Ice House – BBQ and Draft).
Chef Dady’s newest venture – and our first stop in San Antonio on Saturday evening – is Umai Mi, a pan-Asian-fusion restaurant with a particular Thai focus located in The Alley on Bitters. Step inside to the beat of Kendrick Lamar, set yourself up close to the vintage kung fu movie projections on the walls and get ready for a superb experience.
Two opinions are better than one.
In GREAT PLATES we offer two stories for you to enjoy. Get the gluten / dairy-free perspective from Jess and get the non-dietary restriction perspective from Chris. Read one article or read them both; either way, you’ll get a better feel for the atmosphere and food before you make a reservation or walk through the restaurant’s doors.
Since then, I’ve seen his name continually spring up in conversations and articles where San Antonio cuisine is of topic. Simply stated, he’s one of the more prolific restaurateurs that’s quickly changing the dining landscape there.
At Umai Mi, you see a bit of Jason’s playful side, with a slogan that says it all: “so not authentic, it’s absurd.”
At Umai Mi, you see a bit of Jason’s playful side, with a slogan that says it all: “so not authentic, it’s absurd.” The result is creative dishes on par with a chef of his celebrity.
Sitting down for our meal at Umai Mi, I was immediately taken in by the surroundings and atmosphere. A red glow lines the edges of the doors and tabletops, and a projected kung fu movie seems to flicker in unision to a steady soundtrack of hip-hop. The food and drinks rock right along to the same beat.
The setting is more impressive when you realize that just weeks ago, Umai Mi was another Dady establishment – Bin 555. Looking beneath the surface of the build-out gives you some perspective into Jason Dady the person, and not just Jason Dady the chef.
Longtime employee, Duane Sanchez, who has worked with Dady since The Lodge (his first San Antonio restaurant) will tell you that they remodeled a lot of the place themselves, working overnight to put in a new ceiling, paint the walls, and repurpose old tables.
They remodeled a lot of the place themselves, working overnight to put in a new ceiling, paint the walls, and repurpose old tables.
This fearless hands-on approach to re-invention works itself into the cuisine at Umai Mi. This is most evident in the Crispy Rice Salad – a literal take on fried rice, where each grain provides a crispy crunch and texture to the aromatic flavors of mint and thai basil. The plate is designed to be shared and enjoyed like lettuce wraps, and it is a winner of a start – especially when coupled with a cocktail like the Little Bit Country (Woodford Reserve, Maraschino Liqueur, Maple Syrup, Lemon and Rosemary).
There is something viscerally satisfying about eating with your hands, and the Wood Oven Roasted Hot Sticky Ribs and Crispy Fried Chicken Wings are great examples of what the Umai Mi concept aims to deliver: high flavor, Asian-spiced, spins on recognizable dishes.
The Sichuan Beef and Broccoli is another dish that corroborates that notion. Broccoli leaves are puréed into the sauce as part of the dish’s preparation to add distinction. The rib-eye however, with a blackened crust and delectable tenderness, proved to be a bit too salty as we worked through it. Those with less sensitivity to sodium might view this dish with more appeal as the cooking of the meat was nearly perfect.
If the entreés described above sound a bit heavy, opt for the Panang Curry, Duck, Crispy Noodle bowl. This Thai influenced dish with duck confit and crispy noodles has a well-balanced creamy curry broth that is mildly spicy and sweet.
The on-the-outskirts location of Umai Mi makes it a great first stop for a weekend trip to San Antonio. The high energy atmosphere and approachable concept also lend themselves to setting the pace and mood for your journey. Recognized most recently as “The Best Local Chef in San Antonio” by the San Antonio Current, the James Beard award nominee is a great person to introduce you to the new wave of San Antonio cuisine – itself as self-made and hardworking as the city it services.
The concept of Umai Mi is clever, and Dady’s interpretation on each traditional-turned-totally-inauthentic dish is executed to perfection, though that’s not the rule across the board. Some of the plates seem to be picked up right off a street in Bangkok. Again, I dig this anti-rule-following idea and its remarkably nuanced results. The diverse menu has something for every palate and every group, big or small. The service is on-point and the options for gluten-free dining were pointed out confidently.
Options for gluten-free dining were pointed out confidently.
A top dish is the Sriracha-Kewpie Deviled Eggs made with soft poached eggs, japanese mayo (Kewpie), scallions and a spot of sriracha. The flavors are big and well-balanced and I especially loved the subtle spice evened out with the sweet mayo…a perfect option for a tender palate.
Another standout is the Green Papaya Salad, which hums with green papaya, cherry tomato, thai herbs, palm sugar and thai bird chile. The heat is far from shy, yet the fire force is just a facet, not the dominating factor in the dish. While variations abound at Umai Mi, the papaya salad is as traditional and spicy as they come. A few gulps from a Scorpion Bowl – a dazzling communal (technically four-person)punch-like bowl of pineapple and cinnamon-infused cana brava rum with lime, orgeat syrup and orange liqueur – and the heat dies down quickly. A friendly word of advice: as appetizing as the fermented grilled pineapple may look, don’t be temped to eat it. Unless, of course, you enjoy embarrassing yourself and/or enjoy the occasional rum shot.
The Crispy Rice salad with mint, thai basil, red onion, lime and crispy shallots was the star attraction.
Above all, you want the Crispy Rice Salad – and you want it all to yourself. Seriously, don’t agree to share. This salad with mint, thai basil, red onion, lime and crispy shallots was the star attraction and it was the first time I’ve tasted flavors and textures quite like it. I expect Jason Dady’s Umai Mi to be known for this dish just as Paul Qui’s East Side King is known for its Fried Brussels Sprout Salad.
The experience I had at Umai Mi was a positive one, and the personality and shareability of the plates made for a memorable evening filled with laughs (especially when we went all in on that aforementioned fermented pineapple). Head out with a group for a spicy start to your mini-getaway.
As a lover of all that’s local, seasonal and full of flavor, she loves to create things in her own kitchen and sample all the gluten-free & dairy-free eats Austin has to offer.
She shares her photos and recipes on Forgiving Martha.
Founding Editor / Lead Photographer
Chris Perez is the founding editor of Citygram Austin magazine – a popular local lifestyle magazine and city guide. Featuring a high-profile team of Austin tastemakers and culture writers, Citygram connects readers to local people, businesses, and topics that are of the moment.