I tend to expect restaurants in the Rockaways to have the same basic cuisines that would fit people who spend much time at the beach. A few years back I discovered Thai Rock. Searching for another more unusual cuisine I came upon Uma’s located at 92-07 Rockaway Beach Blvd. Rather than a rack for bicycles, this one is for surf boards. The cuisine is a different “Asian” as it centers on the country of Uzbekistan.
Conrad Karl and his wife Umida (known as Uma) are the owners. Uma is the executive chef who holds the recipes for some of most savory dishes. Conrad grew up in Philly, while Uma in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Thus, the cuisine.
The décor does not suggest fine dining but rather one of this urban beach area. In fact, you will find a surfboard in one corner belonging to Karl’s 10-year-old daughter Maya, who had taken a win in her surfing division. There is a portrait of Duke Kahanamoku, an Hawaiian who begat the sport of surfing. Entering at about 5 p.m. on a weekday there were people enjoying refreshments at the bar. I was satisfied with an imported non-alcoholic ginger beer. The bar photo was taken after they left.
Uzbek is noted for their grain farming, thus the use of noodles and bread products. Squash, eggplant and tomatoes are significant and black cumin seeds, imported from Uzbekistan, are a dominant spice as it has a much stronger and sweeter flavor than the white ilk.
My tasting began with Samsa, a baked pastry much like as if you were enjoying the crusty dough of a pot pie. Stuffed with ground beef, onions and Uzbek spices, it is served with a tiny pitcher of a spicy tomato sauce.
You won’t find “greens” in Uma’s salad. Chunks of fried eggplant are highlighted with roasted peppers, fresh tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and dill. Already creating the great mouth flavors, it is topped with a julienned mild domestic feta cheese. It is all too perfect for a meal opener.
Rather than having Borscht, I opted for the Lagman Soup, a meal in itself. Thick homespun stretched noodles are the highlight. Chunks of tender, slow-cooked beef with onions, sweet peppers, carrots, in a savory beef stock. I could taste both the cumin and dill. There is very little salt and served with a tiny amount of chili paste as well as a jar containing garlic floating in vinegar.
Manti are large steamed dumplings. I opted for a vegetarian version of which this one uses butternut squash, onions and cumin. The thin skinned dumplings themselves are tasty enough but topping them with an onion sauce and serving with a dill garlic yogurt sauce, just oozes “savory”, a combination of spicy and sweet.
Plov is the national dish of Uzbekistan. Uma uses those wonderfully tender chunks of lamb along with julienned carrots, chick peas, rice and red Uzbek raisins. Adding the spices enhanced the already great flavors, thus I did not add the hot sauce that came along with it.
That's a shot of Uma.
Since the chunks of beef were so delicious, I wanted to sample the Shish Kabob. The choices are: seasonal vegetables, chicken, lamb, lula (ground beef), filet mignon, and salmon. This seems to be the only menu options regarding protein except for chalkboard specials. I went for the seasoned lamb which did not have any gamey flavor at all. FYI there are a number of vegetarian options on both the bill of fare and chalkboard.
“Choyhona” (Teahouse) is a cornerstone of the Uzbek society. Green tea is noted to be the tea of hospitality. I did enjoy it but next time I will try the iced version with mint and lemon.