Monsoon Wok and Lounge in Brookfield was a restaurant that had a good idea but just couldn’t execute it. They tried to create a fusion of different Asian foods (mainly Japanese and Chinese). I didn’t hate the food there, I was just underwhelmed with it. The Chinese dishes were not as good as ones at local places like Golden Gate or Ching Hwa and the fusion dishes just seemed to miss the mark. Apparently the public agreed and in 2007 Monsoon was sold to Michael Polaski (who also opened Mi*keys in the other Monsoon location on Jefferson St. in Milwaukee), who has transformed the place into Umami Moto.
The concept at Umami Moto is somewhat similar to Monsoon, a mix of different ingredients cooking techniques, and dishes from across Asia served in a hip and stylish place. The name refers to the Japanese term for savory and is supposed to represent the fifth taste (the others being bitter, salty, sweet, and sour). Accoring to wikipedia, umami is better described as a “deliciousness factor deriving specifically from detection of the natural amino acid, glutamic acid, or glutamates common in meats, cheese, broth, stock, and other protein-heavy foods.”
Fortunately Umami Moto executes this concept in a manner which exceeded my expectations. While they aren’t quite firing on all cylinders (a somewhat dull appetizer and a scatterbrained waitress knocked my rating down a notch) it is still one of the better dining experiences I have had on the chain-restaurant littered Bluemound Road.
We had a reservation and were seated immediately in the stylish dining room. The room is painted in hues of red, yellow and orange with white and red lights. There is a pretty cool sculpture in the dining room that looks much like the logo above with red lights at the end of the branches. I was impressed with the overall decor of the whole place, but I think that the bar and lounge area is the most impressive. I could see this becoming a popular hangout for people in Brookfield who have a limited number of nice bars to patronize.
Our waitress was somewhat flighty and inconsistent, which unfortunately is the norm out in the western suburbs. She also had a propensity to claim that every dish was “amazing.” Maybe the waitstaff needs a thesaurus. We were planning on getting a maki roll as a lighter appetizer. Actually they are called Zushi rolls at Umami Moto. Our waitress suggested the special that night, which was a Zushi roll filled with braised pork and some type of sweet sauce (maybe Hoisin). Of course she said it was amazing. While the roll wasn’t bad, it was pretty boring and was far from amazing.
Thankfully the entrees were a different story. I ordered the Beef Tenderloin ($27) It was perfectly cooked to the medium rare that I requested and the soy sake marinade and added a nice Japanese accent to a cut meat that sometimes lacks flavor. This delicious Siracha butter added a little kick (I would have preferred a bit more heat) to the meat. The tempura onion rings were cooked to perfection and the citrus mushrooms and long beans were a great accent. This was the first time I had long beans and they were pretty tasty . The beef was borderline fork tender and it was one of the better fenderloin steaks I have had in a long time.
My wife tried the Shitake Crusted Scallops ($25) that were served with these fried bamboo rice things that were spectacular (see, I didn’t have to use the word “amazing”). They were like the Asian equivalent to Arancini, which is breaded and fried risotto. The rice was formed into cigar shapes, breaded with panko, deep fried, and in keeping with that theme wrapped with a cigar “band” of nori (the dried seaweed used for wrapping maki sushi rolls). The result is a crisp crust which gives way to flavorful, rich rice with a risotto like texture. The scallops themselves were decent sized and tasted very good. The flavor was almost earthy with the mushroom crust. They were awakened a bit with the ginger leek butter they were served with. As with the siracha butter on the tenderloin, the scallops would have benefited from just a touch more of the butter sauce.
We also ordered a side of asparagus in a soy-hoisin reduction. ($6) Even though the entrees were very good, this may have been my favorite thing I ate there. The asparagus was cooked to perfection and the sauce added a hint of sweetness, a hint of saltiness, and the umami mouthfeel that the restaurant is named for.
Overall the food was successful. The beverage selection was impressive with a wide array of wines, sake, and beers. They also have several specialty cocktails in the 8-11 dollar price range, many of which are made with sake. I wanted to try the Sake-Jito (a mojito made with sake) but then I saw that they had Rogue Brewery’s Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale. This beer is a collaboration between Rogue Brewery and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. I first tried it about a year ago and knew I had to order that instead. American Microbreweries can make a better version of most beers in the world and this is no exception. It will destroy your preconceived notions about what a Japanese-style beer can be. It is bold, malty, and slightly hoppy. It has that American microbrewery boldness and craftsmanship white still retaining that Japanese beer flavor and mouthfeel.
The biggest issue I had was the service. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great. Our waitress was scatterbrained and sometimes disappeared for a longer period of time than is customary. It took her forever to bring our drinks and and our check when we were done dining. She also never brought our requested waters, another employee who was helping bring meals out ended up doing it because we couldn’t find her. Despite the service I would still recommend this to anyone who has grown tired of all the chain dining options in Brookfield (though I will admit that I do enjoy Bonefish Grill). The prices are moderately high and if you get drinks and an appetizer your check for two peeople can creep up unto the 80-100 dollar range. Umami Moto can be found at17800 W Bluemound Raod, Brookfield, WI 53008 (262) 782-7253. Their website is www.umamimoto.com
EatWisconsin Rating: 3 out of 5.
Rating Guide: 0=Absolutely terrible, avoid at all costs, 1=Bad, 2=Mediocre/Average, 3= Admirable, 4=Excellent, 5=Sublime