Umami by Travail: The Sestina

Taylor Baldry
Taylor Baldry

UMAMI by Travail is a temporary restaurant that may not be as transient as the Travail team intended. Originally opened as a “pop-up restaurant” to raise funds for the new Travail space, it may be sticking around since the Travail team’s Kickstarter campaign runneth over mightily. (As of this writing, all UMAMI tickets were sold out.)

Here, we present our review of the 10-course Asian-street-food-inspired experience in a sestina — a slightly obscure poetic form that follows rigid guidelines: 39 lines, 7 stanzas, and 6 words that repeat, in a different order, at the end of every line. This one is loosely based on ALTAFORTE! by Ezra Pound.

(Illustration by Taylor Baldry)



Damn it all! all this our North Side stinks of fast food pork.
You whoreson dog, Brown, come! Let’s to skewer!
I have no life save when the liquid nitrogen smokes.
But ah! when I see the standards of Little Caesar’s and McDonald’s surrounding
And the asphalt parking lot between them is blackened,
Then howls my tongue nigh mad for respite at Umami.


In the clamorous din, we wait at Umami,
Where mustachio’d Chefs pervert all that is pork
And the flames from the open kitchen do blacken,
And there is nothing that shan’t arrive via skewer,
And the iPhones do chime, their glow all surrounding,
And the ticketed seats are so hot, they almost smoke.


Hell grant soon we should taste meaty smoke!
We sit while the Instagramming diners at Umami
Cluster ’round communal tables surrounding
Every delicately tweezed permutation of pork.
Ham hock dumplings, congee, sous vide corn! The skewers!
Bah! There’s no Chinese sausage like the kind blackened!


And I love to see the rosemary on hot coals, blackened
And I smell the curling tendrils of pungent smoke,
And my senses are pierced through, as though skewered
With rich flavor, deep meatiness, the essence of umami.
When chefs elsewhere scorn and defile pork,
The Travailians’ might shines ‘gainst those lesser surrounding.


What sounds are these, what’s this clamor surrounding,
Thrown from a Marshall guitar amp, with old Tolex blackened?
Rock music pumps loudly, the soundtrack of pork
As it’s braised and geléed, tucked next to ramen, or smoked
Nudged along a path to expressing umami,
Beasts of the sky, land and sea travel via yakitori skewer.


What conventions these ruffian chefs do skewer!
No servers to speak of, just the chefs surrounding
And placing tiles or wood planks a-heap with the food of Umami.
A French press usually seen filled with coffee grounds blackened,
Here holds herbs and dashi broth, redolent of smoke
Then plunged and poured over octopus, beans, veggies, and pork.


Umami! Meant to be briefly afire and then blackened,
Hell grant soon that the fire should remain a-smoke!
For the North needs this congee, takeout ramen, and pork!


  1. Mike DeCamp

    The title of the Ezra Pound sestina is Altaforte. Just thought you might want to amend that.

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