In Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, uminom means "to drink." In the voguish dialect of Clinton Hill, Umi Nom means "to wear designer frames and discuss soon-to-drop albums over small plates of Filipino and Thai specialties." That's not at all a bad thing, mind you, unless you eat too much and bust a button on those skinny jeans.
Comfortably seated in the two-table mirrored alcove, we sipped our glasses of viscous mango nectar ($2.50) and young coconut juice known as buko ($3), trying hard to fit in. The buko especially offered good bang for the buck, as we had to both sip the sweet water and chew the tender chunks of coconut. Across from us was a line of tables against a long bench; a simple bamboo sculpture adorned the exposed brick wall. Every few seconds someone's off-the-shoulder top fell further. Occasionally we could hear a sizzle from the large kitchen in back.
Chef/owner King Phojanakong opened Umi Nom as a sister restaurant to trendy Kuma Inn, on the Lower East Side. Like its sibling, it attracts a happy crowd, looking for fun over Asian tapas. Unlike its sibling, Umi Nom faces a forlorn square of lawn abutting brick towers that would make Jane Jacobs wince. The restaurant itself, which still sports a sign for the dry cleaner that used to occupy the space, is sandwiched between a bodega and fast-food joint. The location might not tempt some to make the journey to Clinton Hill.
The seasonal selection of housemade pickles ($8) went from mildly sour (cucumbers, long beans) to a vinegary medium (daikon, daikon with carrots) to lip-puckeringly sharp (red onion). An order of chicken wings tossed in salt and pepper ($10) or shrimp-and-pork spring rolls ($8) would have combated the intensity of our lone appetizer.
Packed with chicken, thinly sliced sausage, and plump shrimp, the bahay kubo fried rice ($11) tasted heavily of soy and garlic, with egg, carrots, and peas tossed in to offset the otherwise somewhat mushy texture. We fell into a lengthy discussion about whether this dish represented an Asian take on jambalaya or whether jambalaya is actually the Creole version of fried rice. Meanwhile, we kept eating it.
Sandwiches like the grilled pork belly ($9) or umi burger ($9) come with incongruous crinkle-cut fries, though you have to ask for a squeeze bottles of ketchup or hot sauce. We opted for a dish not not widely available, longsilog ($10). The breakfast platter featured shavings of sweet pork sausage over garlic fried rice and two scrambled eggs, a gratifying blend of sweet and savory, fluffy and pungent.
We weren't asked if we wanted dessert, perhaps because our server overheard our fried rice debate. Given the choice, we likely would have tried the warm Thai chili chocolate cake ($8) or the shaved ice topped with fruits known as halo halo ($8).
With its minimalist chic and unconventional location, Umi Nom is best for: a date whose coolness quotient you wish to evaluate.