Noodlelove — the Asian fusion fast-casual spot that became a staple for office goers in Nolita — has transitioned into a full-service Korean-American restaurant. Umma by Noodlelove, located at 192 Mott Street, at the corner of Kenmare Street, is set to open this Wednesday.
With many more people working from home during the pandemic, and with diners craving comfort food, restaurant owner Natalie Camerino says it was the perfect time to transition the restaurant and rejig the menu.
“To keep fast-casual going we need our office workers and we need our corporate clients,” says Camerino, who reopened Noodlelove during the summer after a two-and-a-half-month hiatus due to the pandemic. But business didn’t pick up, and Camerino says she knew she had to try something different. Fortunately for Camerino, her landlord has been fully on board with the changes and working through the revamp.
“I had a moment where I thought, ‘Are we going to fail?’” says Camerino. “So I took this time to think about how I could pivot this to something relevant. I thought about comfort and cravings, and I thought about my mom’s cooking.”
And that’s how Umma — the Korean word for mother — came to be. It’s comfort food leanings — Camerino’s mom is Korean and her dad is Italian — can be seen in hybrid dishes like the Seoul alle vongole, a Korean take on spaghetti with clams featuring wonton noodles, scallions, gochugaru, and crumbled sourdough.
The K.F.C. buns with Korean barbecue sauce, spicy cucumber, and cabbage is a take on the classic fast food sandwich; and the bulgogi cheeseburger dumplings served on top of a pool of melting cheese with a side of cilantro-soy sauce evoke childhood memories of eating dumplings and cheeseburgers, according to restaurant chef Tabitha Yeh.
Yeh, who spent several months traveling through South Korea — particularly Jeju Island — prior to the pandemic, crafted the menu in collaboration with Camerino. The restaurateur had been wanting to work with Yeh for a while and the pivot to a full-service restaurant presented an ideal opportunity, she says. Yeh was most recently the chef at the short-lived revival of the Playboy Club.
The duo have worked together to reimagine the space as well, which now seats 28 people under a canopy along the Mott Street side, with an additional 16 seats along Kenmare Street to be added in the coming days. Inside, the restaurant has a total of 32 seats, a fraction of which will become available once indoor dining begins at 25 percent capacity at the end of this month.
For now, Camerino and Yeh are unsure of what the winter months will hold, but they’re looking forward to taking things one week at a time. “It’s crazy because there’s still so much uncertainty,” says Camerino. “We don’t know what to expect. We’re just excited to be given this opportunity to be a part of rebuilding New York.”
Umma opens this Wednesday, and the restaurant hours will run Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are available on Tock, but walk-ins are welcome as well. For now, the restaurant will only offer dine-in service, but fans of the fast-casual menu at Noodlelove can order those dishes for takeout and delivery.