Tom Nycz/The Journal News

NEW ~ Article
The Journal News

Menus for kids get a new look
By ELIZABETH JOHNSON
(Original Publication: November 29, 2005)

Umami Cafe in Croton-on-Hudson has a new entry in the keep-the-kids-busy-at-the-table category: The View-Master.

As adults are handed a menu, children are handed the familiar toy. But instead of flipping through 3-D images of "Pinocchio" or "The Chronicles of Narnia," the young diners are perusing something else: the children's menu. There are photos of macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and a bowl of spinach, which comes with a child-friendly caveat — "Yuck!"

Craig Purdy, the cafe's owner, got the idea at a seminar for restaurateurs in Las Vegas last year. As participants brainstormed on how to compete with the chains, someone shouted out the idea of putting a dessert menu on a View-Master. Purdy thought the toy was a better fit for a children's menu. (He also offers extra reels with a game called I Spy.)

"It's great entertainment for them while we're waiting for dinner," says Margaret Anderson of Cortlandt Manor, who has five children, the oldest of whom is 7. "We talk about which food is in there and what they're going to have."

The View-Master, which was first introduced at the 1939 World's Fair, falls somewhere between crayons and the Playstation Portable on the tech-savvy scale. It looks like a bulky pair of binoculars, into which you slide a thin reel studded with transparencies. Look inside to see a 3-D image, and pull the lever to go to the next one.

It's been a source of amusement for several generations — and it seems to be a hit as a menu. On Sunday, one girl had five machines at her table.

"In this digital age, it's kind of square and corny and old-fashioned," Purdy says. "The parents are more pleased with it because it's their generation — the pre-electronic age." (The photo of chicken fingers winks at adults; it includes a giant garden glove and a rooster.)

Purdy spent months trying to develop the idea on his own before throwing up his hands and calling Fisher-Price, which owns the brand name. The company sent him a 3-D camera and the View-Masters. Now Fisher-Price is marketing the idea to other restaurants.

"It cost me a bomb — money I shouldn't have spent on that — but I think it's a nice gesture to the kids," Purdy says. "It certainly works, and it functions on a certain level as the baby sitter or pacifier that it was intended to be."

 

NEW ~ Article
Orient-Express Magazine

Taste Five
A new taste being recognised in the west; The Truffleman uncovers the elusive, glorious umami.

By the Truffleman, a member of Les Amis Gourmets and the British Academy of Gastronomes, who works for a major luxury goods company.

Only recently did I discover that all my favourite dishes share the same basic taste. Serrano ham from the black-footed Iberico pig, thin chips cooked in goose fat, sun-dried tomatoes, truffles, Parmigiano Reggiano, foie gras, Peking duck, ahi tuna, barbecued baby back ribs...all include copious amounts of umami— the fifth taste.

Our conventional wisdom dictates that there are only four basic tastes —sweet, sour, bitter and salt. Initially, I struggled to pinpoint this mysterious, quixotic fifth taste called umami (from the Japanese- pronounced "oo-mom-ee"). In fact, even my gastronomic Japanese friend, Nobuyuki Matsubara, indicated that it was "difficult" to demarcate its boundaries. It fell to Heston Blumenthal, the three Michelin star chef of the Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, eventually to define it: "Umami is the ultimate in savoury—it is that meaty, mouth-feely taste".

Despite its comparative obscurity, umami is not new. The Chinese have already been talking about it for over 1,200 years, and food-philosopher Brillat-Savarin was familiar with it, too. It was, in fact, a Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda, who first isolated the specific taste in 1907. He discovered that glutamic acid was the active ingredient in a broth called kombu—and called it "umami" after the Japanese words for "delicious essence". Ikeda developed an artificial form of "glutamic acid"—the infamous MSG or monosodium glutamate—as a seasoning.

Experts, such as Jeffrey Steingarten, have insisted that the controversy over MSG is overstated—but opinion is divided. But what is clear, though, is that no study appears to have proved that glutamic acid, in its natural form, has any negative effects. To the contrary, I believe umami may help release endorphins to improve our sense of well-being.

A fascinating feature of umami-rich foods is that so many of them are fermented or aged. This is certainly true of sauces such as Thai fish, Worcestershire, soya and hoisin. Mature flavourful Chardonnays and delicious champagnes ooze umami, as so many Masters of Wine have revealed. I believe that this palate-stimulant is released in abundant amounts during fermentation. Despite its oriental name, it is found in different cuisines the world over, and cannot be pigeon-holed into particular regions.

I am delighted to report that I have discovered a restaurant that focuses on my favourite taste. Once I heard its name, I had no choice but to make a pilgrimage to the Umami Café in New York State. And I was by no means disappointed when Chef Jonathan Pratt had me taste his dishes, following his mantra "think globally—eat locally". From the duck-amaki, to the truffled cheese panini, the pulled pork and foie gras—everything I tried was simply "more-ish".

In fact, Chef Jonathan enthused that, apart from its unique savoury taste, umami is undoubtedly a flavour sensation that can become addictive. Which is fine by him, as his smiling patrons just keep coming back time and time again!

~Review
Dining Out with Eton Drinkwell - Destination: Dutchess County
Inside Out Hudson Valley, May/June 2005
Read the Review...

 

~Review
The New York Times
June 2004

For Freshness and Style, Twin Cafes
by M.H. Reed
Photograph by Chris Maynard

It may be that Jonathan Pratt, executive chef and co-owner of Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown, Ümami Café in Croton-on-Hudson and the latest, a second Ümami Café in Fishkill, is starting an empire. With the help of his partner, Craig Purdy, the newest venture is almost a clone of the original café, and it promises to be as successful.

Ümami in Croton-on-Hudson is usually packed with neighborhood diners. In Fishkill, its twin — though it’s a stretch for most Westchesterites looking for a quick dinner — is a place to remember now that vacation days are coming up. It makes a tasty rest stop for those headed to Dia: Beacon, the contemporary art museum in Beacon, or to the Roosevelt home or the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park. Delivering fresh ingredients and exhibiting innovative design, both cafes offer virtually identical menus and, for this kind of quality, bargain prices.

An informal deck augments the limited dining area at the Croton location. The soaring space in Fishkill makes a perfect backdrop for some charming artworks, among them a painting featuring the comic strip character Krazy Kat with Ignatz Mouse, Offissa Bull Pup and other denizens of Coconino County.

At any point in a meal at either café, tuck into a few mini tacos, crisp little half-moon folders holding a delectable combination of lightly seared tuna, chili-touched guacamole and sour cream. Green papaya is not often used in American salads, but it is a wonderful addition that needs more exposure. Here shards of green papaya and jicama lend crunch and heartiness to Ümami salad with peanut dressing.

Two standouts retained their title: duck-amaki (like negamaki), duck strips crisped and rolled around a center of bright scallions; and mac-and-cheese, the elbow pasta lusciously sticky with a sauce of gruyere and fontina, fragrent with essence of black and white truffles.

Quite spicy, vegetable-packed coconut lime soup will spark up the most humid summer nights. Another winner was slices of juicy portobello and fresh mozzarella on baby greens, showered with sweet pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette. Gluey steamed dumplings and ordinary calamari contributed little interest to this menu.

Evil Jungle Prince, a curry-scented stew, has such an unusual name that most diners order it at one time or another. When overflowing bowls of soupy chicken curry and of rice arrive, servers offer no advice on how to mix them. But ask for an empty bowl.

Coconut rice did much to soothe the tongue after a taste of huge grilled shrimp glazed with hot Thai chili sauce (sriracha), and the resulting flavor was appealing. Citrus yuzu balanced the richness of a good chunk of salmon. Sweet soy-sesame sauce, less outstanding, gave hanger steak a hint of barbecue; and pad Thai noodles and mee crob, another noodle dish, was tasty but over shadowed by other menu selections.

Wines and beers are available. Particularly refreshing is sangria, $15 for the icy pitcher.

Date cake lavished with maple syrup and brown sugar took the desert prize. Chocolate lava cake and key lime pie couldn’t hold a candle.

Compared with the menu two years ago at the café in croton, the present offerings were somewhat dumbed down. Apart from desert, many other dishes were too sweet; wasabi sour cream; overly employed; vegetables dull. The operation has been streamlined, and we missed some of the great details of the old days: steamed fish, more complex concoctions (huitlacoche fig, currants); and not least, the menu’s silly asides, once part of the restaurant’s personality.

Ümami Café
717 Route 9, Fishkill,
(845) 896-1979,
325 South Riverside Avenue,
Croton-on-Hudson,
(914) 271-5555

VERY GOOD


ATMOSPHERE Sheltered deck adds dining space to the tight dining area at the Croton location. In Fishkill, the lofty building offers lots of walls for artwork. Brisk, accommodating service at both.

RECOMMENDED DISHES Tuna tacos with guacamole, duck-amaki, wild boar spring roll, mac-and-cheese, Ümami salad, grilled portobello and mozzarella, Evil Jungle Prince, grilled shrimp, yuzu salmon, date cake.
PRICES Appetizers, $4 to $7.50; entrees $10 to $16.

CREDIT CARDS Major credit cards accepted.

HOURS Dinner only. Sundays through Thursdays, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 to 10 p.m.

RESERVATIONS None accepted.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS Ramp.

RATINGS Excellent. Very good. Good. Satisfactory. Poor. Ratings reflect the reviewer’s reaction primarily to food, with ambience and service taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change.

Review published: June 2004

 

~Review
Review of newest ümami café from
The Poughkeepsie Journal - Dining, October 2004  
Read the Review...

~Review
Review of Peter Pratt's Inn and sister restaurant, ümami café,
from the Westchester County Times, September 2004  
Read the Review...

~Review
Hudson Valley Magazine
July 2004

Ümami café in Croton-on-Hudson has been a big hit ever since it opened a couple years ago. “It’s been phenomenal,” says the exuberant Craig Purdy, who co-owns the place with chef Jonathan Pratt. “We were on the Today show, there was an article in Wine Spectator, a Japanese newspaper did a story – It’s been astounding.” So what do you do when you’ve got a successful restaurant on your hands? Why, open another, of course! On May 6th, the pair launched a second branch, also called Ümami café (why mess with success?) in Fishkill, Dutchess County. “Jonathan and I promised we’d go up the Hudson River because of all the scenery and the energy,” says Purdy.

The mission is the same: kid-friendly fine dining, everything from scratch, and lots of dishes containing that almost indefinable fifth taste – after sweet, sour, salty, or bitter – called Ümami by the Japanese, who probably know what they mean, even though we’re not quite sure. (Apparently, it translates to “yummy,” though.)

The new Ümami is on Route 9 where Tutti Quanti used to be. The building, empty for six years, was gutted for a major makeover. “It was all designed by our builder, Adam West, who did our Croton restaurant,” Purdy reports. “He’s a high end custom builder slash frustrated restaurateur and benevolent patron. The place is stunning and dramatic.” We have to agree: the 80-seat eatery has luminous yellow walls, with violet, red, and orange accents – very contempo.

Adding the indefinable essence in the kitchen is chef William Silsdorf (a “seasoned pro,” Purdy notes), who graduated from the CIA and honed his skills at The Odeon in NYC. “Jonathan moves from one location to the other to keep things from straying,” says Purdy. Creative dishes include appetizers like wild boar spring rolls with spicy sweet chili sauce, and an all grown up version of mac and cheese with black truffle butter and white truffle oil. Among the entrees is the popular Evil Jungle Prince, an aromatic Thai-style chicken curry, and boneless Pekin Duck, glazed with tamarind and served with braised greens. Is your mouth watering yet? More delicious news: prices are moderate, with entrees ranging from $10 to $16

They’re open for dinner daily in both locations. “We have a little sailboat, so we can’t open for lunch because you need to sail in the middle of the day,” Purdy declares. (We knew that.) And will the empire continue to grow? “If things go our way, the sun will never set on the Ümami realm,” he replies. “We’re having a ball.”

They’re at 717 Rte. 9 in Fishkill, and 325 South Riverside Avenue in Croton-on-Hudson. Reservations are neither required nor taken.

~Review
The Briarcliff Bulletin - Student Newspaper
May 2004
Most Briarcliff students venture south to White Plains or Manhattan when looking for quality restaurant and a good time. However, many delicious options can be found just ten to fiteen minutes north in Croton-on-Hudson.
...Read the complete article...

     ~Review
Westchester Magazine
January 2003

From "What's Hot This Winter"
by Judith Hausman...
Photograph by Alex Arrieta

Chef an co-owner Jon Pratt shows a clear sense of humor at Umami, only hinted at in his family's other restaurant, Peter Pratt's Inn. New to our area and to our palates, his funky restaurant in Croton is buzzing with bright colors as well as steady crowds. What is drawing the masses is the chance to sample a menu built completely around foods that contain Umami, the hard-to-define Japanese concept of a fifth taste. Loosely translated as satisfaction or deliciousness, Umami is traceable to certain amino acids found in many favorite foods from Parmesan to Worcestershire sauce, foie gras to potato chips (Make sure you indulge in the house-made chips at Umami. Forget Frito-Lay!)

Umami crisscrosses the globe, striving to wow us with taste sensations without borders Tame that Evil Jungle Prince, a Thai curry, with coconut milk. Now jump continents back to mac and cheese with truffles, not for kids only. Seared ahi tuna mini wonton tacos wrap up several major ethnicitie into crunch bites. Not for the purist, Umami is hopping, all very original, adventuresome and (very) reasonable with entrees between $10 and $16.

~Review
Westchester County Times
January 2003

"Life With Umami"
Written by Charlotte Kaiser, Photographed by Kent Miller

What would the world be like without umami? Without the sublime richness of foie gras, the heady earthiness of truffles, the just-picked juiciness of fresh tomatoes and the satisfying saltiness of soy sauce? Until Jonathan Pratt and Craig Purdy introduced me o the concept at their Croton hotspot, Ümami Café I had no idea that such a thing existed. Umami, also known as glutamic acid, is an amino acid compound that a Japanese scientist discovered in 1908. It is found in the aforementioned foods, as well as in countless others that appear on the menu at this comfortably casual spot.
...Read complete article and recipes...

 

~Review
Esquire Magazine
November 2002

 

Excerpt from "Editor's Letter"
by David Granger

 

...Briefly, I have to commend John Mariani on his choices this year for our "Best New Restaurants." Yet I cannot resist adding a few observations of my own...The new dish I ate over and over again with pleasure was the steamed fish at Umami Cafe in Croton-on-Hudson, New York...

 

~Review
The Journal News - Foodline
Wednesday, September 19, 2002

Click here to read this review.
Pictures and review courtesy of thejournalnews.com

 

~ Review
The Journal News
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Click here to read a printer-friendly version of this review..
(Requires Adobe Acrobat.)

 

~ Review
The New York Times
Sunday, April 28, 2002

by M.H. Reed
Considering the paucity of interesting restaurants along Route 9 in the northern reaches of Westchester County, the three-month-old Ümami (prounounced oo-MAH-mee) is an unusual and welcome spot that has already been discovered.

The boxy building is easy to miss, and the dark blue walls and a theatrical red drapery do little to disguise what was previously a pizza parlor, but undeterred locals jam the waiting area, especially on weekends. Prices are remarkably low for the high quality of the ingredients used here; the servers are vigilant; and the food, simply delicious.

This restaurant's savory dishes are inspired by the mellowed spicy heat and citrus flavors of Pacific Rim cooking. John Pratt, the chef and Ümami's owner, has studied the chemistry of taste, and he balances the qualities of sweet, salty, sour and bitter with a relatively new found fifth taste called ümami. Ümami is an amino acid that accounts for appeal of items like Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, truffles and soy sauce. An enhancer, it adds an inscrutable deliciousness and body to soups and sauces.

The sensibly small menu matches the small dining room, which seats only 45. Nothing, however was small about the flavor-packed offerings. To experience the power of ϋmami, try the ordinary-sounding mac-and-cheese. What arrived was ramekin-filled with elbow macaroni in a rich, heady sauce of Gruyere and fontina cheeses, black truffle butter and white truffle oil. Just as mouth-watering were miniature tacos stuffed with slices of lightly seared tuna, guacamole and wasabi-laced sour cream. Two duck dishes were equal delights: wheels of sweet "duck-amaki" (similar to negamaki); and duck quesadilla with a generous application of hoisin sauce and a dash of crème fraîche, of which there could have been more.

A sinus-clearing peppery tang sparked coconut lime soup (with chicken, shrimp or vegetarian options, this choice available in a number of dishes). It was a stunning alchemy of vegetables, sharp citrus and smoothing coconut cream. We took the shrimp option, but found the shrimp overcooked and tough. All these fine dishes easily outclassed leaden potato-filled samosas and bland wild boar spring rolls.

Excellent, pearly short-grain Japanese rice, came with quite a few soupy dishes, like fragrant Thai-style chicken curry called Evil Jungle Prince. Here the hot curry was balanced with sweet carrots and coconut milk. All fish preparations were clean-tasting under their seasonings. Black beans, sesame, ginger and coriander enhanced a chunk of lovely steamed black bass. Gently seared halibut took nicely to sweet onion and miso (fermented bean paste) sauce. Braised spinach came with this dish, but green vegetables were absent from most dishes. Grilled medallion of venison was the only disappointing entry; a gross portion of fries made the dish additionally unappealing. On two tries the meat was tough and bitter, seemingly from an herbal rub.

But the plate also included wonderful grilled corn on the cob lavished with huitlacoche (corn fungus) butter.

Ümami is said to decrease sugar cravings, but it would be a pity to skip ultra-creamy Blue Pig ice cream or one of the simple but tasty banana concoctions like chocolate-banana parfait and fried banana. Crème brulée proved standard.

Ümami stocks beer and a handful of moderately priced international wines. A glass of delicious Saw Mill River lager or one of the assertive, fruity reds or whites complemented the food nicely.

Diners who wish to share dishes are accommodated; helpful waiters can make recommendations. The restaurant is north of Croton Point Avenue and at the corner of Oneida Avenue. A three-course dinner averages $26 without drinks, tax and tip.

 

rom the
Getting to Know Peekskill/Cortlandt Magazine, 2002

New Restaurants in Town
"Ümami Café: Think globally, eat locally"

Ümami Café is a quirky, eclectic eatery in Croton, with a menu that reflects its owners' globe-trotting tendencies and sense of humor. Dishes such as Evil Jungle Prince (a savory Thai-style chicken curry) and Truffled Mac and Cheese are an unexpected marriage of ingredients and cultural cooking styles that blend the sublime and the ordinary, resulting in a feast of flavors.

Owned and operated by Jonathan Pratt, a highly respected restaurateur and caterer, and Craig Purdy, a flamboyant, funny and smart-as-a-whip promoter, the restaurant offers an imaginative array of interestingly prepared foods, using exceptional ingredients. It is, as Purdy puts it, "three-star" quality food at incredibly affordable prices. He adds, "Our motto is: 'Think globally, eat locally.'"

The ambience of Ümami is imaginative as well. There is an outdoor eating area, reminiscent of a tropical beach shack, adorned with Japanese paper lanterns, fringed in blue. Inside, a dramatic, heavy red velvet curtain separates the waiting area from the restaurant, which has wood tables and cerulean blue walls.

The kitchen is manned, with a cadre of up-and-coming chefs, a number of whom are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and other notable schools that teach the art of Haute cuisine. For more information about this delightful dining establishment (and a definition of Ümami), call 271-5555.

 

From the The New York Times
Sunday, April 28, 2002
ümami
325 South Riverside Avenue,
Croton-on-Hudson
(914) 271-5555.

VERY GOOD

ATMOSPHERE Small, unprepossessing restaurant with hard surfaces that augment the noise level at peak moments. Lunch hours and additional dining on the adjoining deck are expected in the near future. Accommodating, cheerful, intelligent service. Parking in back of the restaurant.

SMOKING None.

RECOMMENDED DISHES: From a short menu. Truffled mac and cheese, mini tacos with seared tuna, spicy coconut lime soup, duck-amaki, duck quesadilla, steamed fish, Evil Jungle Prince (Thai-style curry), seared halibut, Blue Pig ice cream, banana desserts.


PRICES Main dishes, $10 to $16.

CREDIT CARDS Major cards accepted.

HOURS Sundays through Thursdays, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 to 11 p.m.

RESERVATIONS None accepted. Tiny waiting area. No bar.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY Ramp.

THE RATINGS Excellent, Very good, good, Satisfactory, Poor.
Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction primarily to food, with ambience and service taken into consideration. menu listings and prices are subject to change.

 

ümami café:

325 south riverside avenue
croton-on-hudson, ny10520
914.271.5555 fax 914.271.6651

open all days for dinner
sunday-thursday 5:00pm-9:30pm
friday & saturday 5:00pm-10:00pm

reservations are not required nor taken
licensed to serve beer and wine

Cash, MasterCard and Visa accepted