Umana Yana Restaurant brings owner’s vision to life as a “place to meet people”

Orange, yellow and green permeate these surroundings. These are the virgin cocktails inked with turmeric, mango and basil. These are kaleidoscopic Afro-Caribbean-inspired street food platters, Ethiopian injera platters, and spicy stews. They are the bright interior where tangerine towels burst against teal and emerald chairs and the browns and blues of large canvases by Obaro Ene, a local Nigerian-American painter, teacher, and hula-hooping artist, anchor the walls. This is the second act for Umana restaurant and wine bar in its new location on Central Avenue (the former New Scotland Antiques) just two doors down from where it once stood.

Umana Yana takes its name from a famous thatched-roof communal hangout in owner Dale Davidson’s homeland of Guyana. Here on Central Avenue, where the storefronts are most often filled with posters and offers, its bright floor-to-ceiling windows emerge as a transparent and warm invitation. On a warm night, orange chairs and towels light up the sidewalk as plants hanging from the windows add flashes of greenery. When a sudden downpour sends staff in a rush to collect things, the perforated metal lampshades glow with fractured light and the bulbs hanging from the awning to the trees on the sidewalk emit a fuzzy glow.

The heat is apparent as soon as you enter. The staff in shorts and t-shirts warmly welcome behind the island bar and explain that they are still awaiting the transfer of a wine bar license to the new location. My predecessor raved about a South African muscat-like wine made from bukettraube grapes and a smoky, oaky 2012 Pinotage in 2014, but we are not dismayed by its absence: the tea with homemade sorrel and ginger beer offer a Caribbean touch; The blank potions include a No-jito with crushed fresh basil, lemon and allspice syrup, and a mango-mint refreshment with pepper syrup and pink salt. If you need to relax, you can add a coconut CBD boost for $ 3.

Besides the reopening, I’m here for the Ethiopian injera. With no Ethiopian restaurants for miles around, Umana is the place to be for classic teff-fermented spongy pancakes with which to scoop up Berber-flavored meats and salads layered into a colorful spread. Previously offered weekly, injera platters are now on the menu every night so you can switch between doro wat fragrant simmered chicken, asa wat fish – a spicy stew lighted with jalapeño, ginger, cilantro, cumin and allspice – or yetsom beyaynetu tofu, a spread of vegan sides. I’m trying to recall the names of trips to Philly where Ethiopian restaurants abound: Atkilt, a cabbage and potato dish is here alongside misir wat (lentil stew) and a smoked eggplant dip which is an Ethiopian version of baba ganoush. There’s braised kale with peppers, a jumble of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes to freshen things up and, finally, a fried egg on top.

If injera was the goal as a classic dish to tear up and share together, it’s by no means the only treat. French and Jerk Seasoned Lamb Lollipops are brilliant with a pineapple mint sauce, the temperature is perfect for sweet lollipop bites. The chewy soufflés of yucca and shallots mashed with Indian spices and rolled into cigar-shaped crisps have the spicy profile of samosas amplified by mango chutney and tamarind jam.

As Afro beats fill the air, patrons venture out to the bar as a thunderstorm rages outside. We make a slow roasted goat stew, pulling the meat from cut bones, savoring hints of basil and ginger, tasting bites of African jollof rice with tomato and sliding crispy, marinated tofu onto skewers. topped with red curry sauce.

Our pace slows down and a waiter walks by to offer pineapple bread pudding or flourless chocolate ganache cake, both too rich for a full stomach. We give in and share a coconut cinnamon square served hot with some melting vegan ice cream.

Umana Yana has hardly changed her ideology: Funky and warm, with a fine mix of Afro-Caribbean dishes. While no one shies away from hearty stews and snacks, the popular Sunday brunch is back with vegan scrambles, crispy johnnycakes and sorrel jam, or piña colada challah French toast. For now, Umana is a welcoming space to eat, but when its wine list returns, its new location slightly closer to Lark Street will surely make it a “people’s meeting place,” as Davidson clearly wishes.

Umana Yana

240 Central Ave, Albany, 518-915-1699; umanarestaurant.com

Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Sunday evening and Monday.


About Frances White

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