Last month, Daniel Patterson’s Plum reinvented itself under the same name, but this time in Japanese — Ume. The concept is similar: small, refined plates circulate around a dining room as sleek as polished pewter. Yet while the flavors depart from those of Plum’s old menu, the effect is rather similar.
Patterson did away with the old Plum because he felt it wasn’t working properly for the neighborhood. Plum Bar thrived, electrified by the crowds looking for pre-show drinks and bites, but the restaurant sat heavy and fancy among a clientele of folks who, maybe, just weren’t looking to get too serious.
Patterson brought in erstwhile Outerlands chef Brett Cooper to open the spot, and from the taste of it, the fit is a good one.
Ume plucks inspiration from the Japanese flavor palate, but dishes are firmly rooted in Patterson’s Californian sensibility.
Slender stalks of broccoli come oiled and charred, accompanied by a mayonnaise spiked with miso. The dish, like most items on the menu, is a simple one — both good to share yet also easy to hoard. The woody char on the broccoli florets and the salty, umami richness of the sauce echo the magic in dishes at Plum.
Seared squid dressed in lemon and basil gets a hot kick from chili and, at $10, is among the newest best deals in town. In fact, Ume’s lower price point might be the most exciting thing about it.
Though Ume’s simpler, stripped-down menu is mostly successful, I expected more surprising turns and more discreetly inventive riffing.
My favorite dish, a shy one, was a soft scramble of yuba and maitake mushrooms with egg. The maitakes lent a meaty, wood-laced taste to the egg, which crumpled like clotted cream. Warm, rich and infused with a delicate dose of umami, it was comforting.
The menu is divided into small plates, noodle and rice bowls, and a concise choice of desserts.
Of the bowls, the udon noodles with mushroom dashi were lovely in the same winter warming way as the maitake mushrooms. Yet they were too simple, and I wanted more. Mushroom broth held up as the backbone of the bowl, and the noodles were perfectly firm and barely nutty, but there was little beyond them. The umeboshi-glazed pork ribs, which come two to a serving, are crisp and fatty.
For dessert, we ordered one helping of the coconut mochi buns dosed with plum jam, and promptly got seconds. The second option was a bowl of fruit.
Ume is not exactly Japanese, although Japanese influences — homemade miso, bonito accents, drops of yuzu or dashi — color the menu. Eating at Ume kind of feels like being in Patterson’s kitchen after hours, laying waste to small bites and lucky spoils of farm-fresh deliveries and a spice cabinet inspired by trips abroad.
Location: 2214 Broadway, Oakland
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Contact: (510) 444-7586, http://umeoakland.com/
Recommended dishes: Broccoli with misonnaise ($9), scramble with yuba, maitake and egg ($9), coconut mochi bun ($3)
Price range: $7 to $17
Credit cards: All major