The one time I visited Japan was over 20 years ago during the summer. I was still too young and inexperienced to fully appreciate the food as I do today. After 3 weeks in Tokyo and Kyoto what I missed most was dairy. A friend of mine who was living in Japan sensed my craving and invited me out for some “cones.” Anticipating that my desire for what I thought was surely going to be sweet creamy ice cream in a sugar or waffle cone was about to finally be fulfilled, I was crestfallen when handed an uni temaki. Flash forward 20 years and I’ll take a sushi cone anytime over the lactose filled cone. A temaki (手巻, "hand roll"), as I now know and love them today, is a large cone-shaped piece of nori (seaweed) on the outside with the neta (sushi toppings) spilling out the wide end. Temaki should only be made fresh by hand rolling the cone and must be eaten quickly, sans chopsticks, after being made to maintain its crispness and bite.
The Japanese culinary influence in Latin America runs very strong. Besides massively popular ceviche, a veritable temaki frenzy has overtaken Brazil as late night temaki stands have popped up all over to serve the partying crowds who apparently are not sober enough to handle chopsticks. Inspired by Brazil’s “temakerias,” founder Cynthia Kueppers has teamed up with former Morimoto and Ai Fiori chef Chris Jaeckle to open the first NYC flagship location of Uma Temaki, which will hopefully become a trend here as well. Critically acclaimed Chef Jaeckle is free to completely indulge his Japanese side notwithstanding the obvious Japanese presence in his nominally Venetian dishes which he currently serves at the fantastic All’onda. The menu is also playful rather than slavishly Japanese as crushed potato chips lend crunch and umami to the fish ‘n “chips” temaki.
Uma Temaki is set up assembly line style like Chop’t or Chipotle where you can choose your fish (tuna, salmon, crab or fluke), rice (white or brown),veggies (carrots, cucumbers, pickles, peppers, etc.), and sauce (wasabi ginger, avocado lime, tobanjan mayo), to be hand wrapped in crispy nori “cones.” There are chef suggested combinations or you can take matters into your own hands and design your own hand roll. Uma also serves beer, wine or sake or, if you lean towards Brazil, raw coconut water.
Everything at Uma Temaki is very fresh, very fast and hands down beats the hell out of the plastic encased sushi by-the-piece from other “fast-casual” sushi joints like Wasabi in Times Square, the corner deli or (ew!) Duane Reade and Walgreens.