Reviewed by Mark Alyn
When you think of burgers, it doesn’t bring up visions of culinary delight. From companies that sell billions of burgers each day, to standard burgers that dot interstate highways, burgers are just, well, burgers. At least until now.
Comfort foods such as meat loaf and mac n cheese have been re-invented as culinary delights. Lobster mac n cheese is on many menus these days. Now it seems the lowly burger has also risen to new foodie heights.
Umamiburger is hip, upscale and fun with the classic sandwich as its centerpiece. Anyplace that makes it’s own ketchup is a must try in my book.
Surprising, the menu is simple yet very interesting. There are a number of burgers that looked interesting, along with an ahi tuna burger, a vegetarian patty made of mushroom and edamame, along with a re-work of a turkey sandwich. But the star here is the once lowly hamburger.
The meat is a special blend ground at the restaurant, making it very fresh. I dislike premade patties because you never really know how old they are. Central commissary grinding is also less attractive. This is a great thing. The menu notes that burgers are served medium rare.
I need to stop here and point out a few interesting items about Umamiburger. The menu is based on the Japanese Umami food science. This is specific combination of fats, sugars and other ingredients that blend to give a unique dining experience. This could also be a problem with the place.
I’m a purist when it comes to burgers and hot dogs. I don’t want bacon, pâté, or anything else on my sandwich! I want lettuce, tomato, condiments, pickles and sometimes cheese. Usually hold the cheese for me (I don’t like American cheese slices –they taste funny to me). Cheddar is great but usually not available.
The burgers are exceptional. They cost about 3 times what a Big Mac costs, averaging 11 bucks each. It’s worth it. Mind you I’ve paid $30 for a hamburger and the ones at Umami beat anything else hands down. The meat is juicy, with the special bun (stamped with a “U” on the top) soaking up most of the juice so you don’t loose it. The bun is soft by the way, which I like. Hard rolls are difficult to navigate.
We tried several burgers. We ordered the Manly, but being out of one of the condiments, it wouldn’t be served (out of the bacon). I said this was okay with me, but they refused to take the order. This struck me as strange and I asked about that. The server explained that changes on the burgers are not allowed. Hmm, I thought I was the diner.
Other burgers sampled included the Truffle burger (with house-made truffle cheese and truffle glaze), the Cali (butter lettuce, slow-roasted tomato, house spread, house-made American-cheese and caramelized onions), Umami (shiitake, caramelized onions, parmesan crisp and Umami ketchup). All are outstanding, but there is something missing: customer care.
For sides, we tried the house pickles, thin fries, and tempura onion rings.
The fries and onion rings are good. Too much batter on the onion rings, making them a little thick. The house pickles are amazing. For five dollars you get a very small amount, enough for maybe one or two people. I ran out of them and had one more bite of burger to merge with a tasty pickle. I was told that I needed another order of the pickles to accomplish this. They couldn’t give me an extra pickle to keep me happy? Gee, all the deli’s pile on pickles for free. In New York some places even add cole slaw to the free stuff.
The plate has several different pickled vegetables on it including bread and butter and a kosher style dill my favorites. There’s also pickled okra and beets. I needed one more bite to make my Umami experience work.
When I order something at a restaurant, I want some control over what I’m eating. At Umamiburger there are very few substitutions. You can take something off, but you can’t change cheese types for example. According the server this messes with the taste and blending of their food. I always assumed I could order the kind of cheese I want with my food: apparently not at Umamiburger.
Umamiburger has a full bar and a great selection of beer. There’s a short list of sweets that we didn’t bother to try. I had a sour taste left from not getting that last pickle bite.
There are about a dozen locations in the Los Angeles area, with more in the works. Plans are to offer a fast food version (Umami Ko) throughout the country soon.
If you like a good burger, their way, Umamiburger is something you try.