Ever on the search for a great burger, a friend took Richard and me to the latest LA burger phenom: Umami Burger. The last time we all took a ‘trendy’ burger excursion to the latest ‘trendy’ restaurant – oops, excuse me, it’s a ‘bar’ (see Burger Nazi) turned out to be a dreadful experience so I wasn’t expecting this latest ‘trendy’ burger to amount to a hill of beans.
I was wrong. It was a hill of beans and more.
The restaurant, a simple unadorned place with a minimalist Asian feel, is strictly a burger joint, albeit gourmet burgers. The first thing I asked: “What’s a Umami burger? I mean really “Umami?” Que pasa? Michael, our young and ‘burger-informed’ waiter, along with Kevin, another young member of the wait staff, explained. It’s the 5th taste: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and ‘umami’ … OK… “Umami?” Savory? Meaty? Are they Japanese burgers? They tried to enlighten me, but I was still in the dark, so I decided I had to have the signature Umami burger to see if I could figure it out.
The menu promises that ‘you will crave this one.’ The menu was right. The burger had among its toppings parmesan crisps, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed shitaki mushrooms and caramelized onions on a really terrific burger bun and was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. I mean EVAH! The meat was cooked to juicy perfection, red but not raw, and every taste blended together like a well designed room. But I could not detect that 5th taste. I even tried researching it on-line when I got home and read something about a natural MSG used to enhance the meat’s flavor. But, it was more than that. The meat was different. More ‘meaty’ perhaps. I don’t know – but I do know that I have to go back for more.
Of course I couldn’t just try the Umami burger, I wanted tastes of some of the others on the menu, so Richard ordered the Port & Stilton burger w/ caramelized onions. Oh, my, be still my heart - stilton is one of my very most favorite cheeses. Stilton and port one of my very most favorite “desserts.” And married to a perfectly cooked, juicy burger was a marriage made in heaven.
Coming from New York, I never experienced lettuce, tomato and onion as a regular topping on a burger until we moved to LA. So when our friend ordered the SoCal burger (Southern California) with lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions, I thought, ‘Big deal.’ Well, it is a big deal. That 5th flavor thing, again.
This little burger joint also has “sides”… you know, like the one’s you get in most diners or coffee shops – things like fries and onions rings, but these sides are a tad different. The thick fries are hand cut and triple cooked and though they were good, they could have been cooked a little crisper (confession: I prefer skinny fries anyway, so I’m prejudiced) - the malt liquor tempura onion rings were, however, just plain delicious. Michael, the waiter also brought the restaurant’s Umami ketchup made with anchovies, Chinese spices and soy as well as the normal ketchup ingredients. Dipping a fry into this ketchup took that fry from a 6 to a 10.
Also included on the menu is a truffle beet salad, a market salad, a root beer float, ice cream sandwiches, real sodas and Mexican coke. Mexican coke? I didn’t ask.
Other burgers include the Manly burger w/ beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings and bacon lardons, the Hatch burger with 4 types of green chiles and house cheese, Turkey Miso burger with Asian BBQ sauce and avocado relish, a Triple Pork burger made from fresh ground pork with chorizo and applewood smoked bacon, manchego cheese and pimento aioli, the Truffle burger with Italian truffle cheese and a truffle glaze and a Casablanca burger made with fresh ground leg of lamb, merguez lamb sausage, pickled apricots, arugula and pomegranate aioli...
As the Governator would say: “I’ll be back!”
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036