Most of our dining out is in the Cleveland Heights area. We try to be adventurous, but driving a half hour for dinner still seems like a trek. Chagrin Falls, though, is a bit of an exception. A drive down Carnegie or Chester is not particularly smooth or scenic. To get to Chagrin Falls, though, we hop on Shaker Boulevard, then go to Lander and then Chagrin. There are trees and light residential the whole way, and we completely bypass the congestion around Eaton.

Winning a free dinner from Umami’s “name that herb” Twitter contest was a great excuse to ride out to Chagrin on our scooters. We’ve enjoyed Umami before and looked forward to another meal there.

We started with the Tofu Frites appetizer ($6). Tofu gets a bad name from poor preparation, but well-fried tofu is meaty and satisfying. The sesame “breading” added flavor and texture, and the sweet, pungent dipping sauce tied everything together. We all enjoyed this.

We also ordered the local tomato salad ($10), which was outstanding. The sweetness of the seasonal heirloom tomatoes was perfectly paired with tangy goat cheese and savory pesto-like sauce. Again, this was a hit all around.

I started my meal with a wheat beer, but I couldn’t resist also trying one of their intriguing cocktails (and with a free appetizer and entrée, splurging a bit felt okay). I had the Lotus ($10), one of the best mixed drinks I’ve ever tried. The flower name is appropriate considering the fragrance of the lychee paired with the citrusy yuzu and sharp ginger grounding everything. I don’t generally like vodka drinks, but the complex flavors and aromas make this well worth trying.

Sarah ordered a dish with scallops, noodles and peanuts (apparently not currently on the menu) which was very tasty. The scallops were perfectly seared, and the noodles were bursting with bright, tangy flavors.

I decided to try something with the herb that helped me win the contest, the yellow curry black cod with fenugreek ($27). It was outstanding, with plenty of vegetables including local tomatoes and Japanese eggplant. The curry element was quite mild, letting the ingredients–including the fenugreek–really shine through.

Jonathan had the California roll for his entrée, stuffed with fresh lump crab, avocado and a subtle touch of wasabi oil. He is a sushi fan and considered this the best sushi he’d ever tried. He has sampled Whole Foods version since and has said it was not anywhere near as good. We seem to be raising a food snob.

Our server was friendly and attentive, and chef Matt stopped by our table numerous times to guide us through the menu items. He also sent us home with a bunch of the locally grown fenugreek.

It has an intriguing curry-ish aroma and a subtle, almost buttery flavor. On his suggestion, I cooked it up with some potatoes later in the week (Aloo Methi), giving us yet another excellent dish even after we left. He’s trying to get his grower to grow more of it, which will hopefully happen. It has a really pleasant flavor, much milder than the seeds, which could easily grow on you.

Chagrin Falls is a fun place–we walked by the river after our meal and stopped by Jeni’s–and Umami is a great restaurant. We look forward to our next visit.

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