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Umami Burger: Two Visits

  • Suebee Feb 23, 2009 09:18 PM
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For review and pics: http://reservationforthree.blogspot.c...

Umami, Part One

Have you, by chance, heard the This American Life show about fiascos, specifically the part about the school play that devolves into one hilarious fiasco? If not, head over for a listen (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio...). As Tater and I were driving down Pico on the way home from lunch at Umami, I was thinking about how unfair it is to review a newly opened restaurant. And I was reminded of this classic This American Life bit.

Now let me pause to just say several trustworthy bloggers have been to and enjoyed meals at Umami, so my first experience may have certainly been an exception. But as Tater and I were sitting there, waiting and waiting for my sliders, I realized I had just witnessed a true fiasco. I'd also just like to say up front that the sliders were pretty darn good, so at least the food is off to an encouraging start. And they carry Cake Monkey's amazing cakewiches and cookies which is always a good thing.

It turns out that Heather John, from Foodinista, was also at Umami at the time and caught the second of the two arguments I heard. The first, between the owner and a couple and then one between the couple and another table. There was actually talk of "taking it outside" during the second fight!

Anyhow, in the hour or so that we were there, we witnessed two tables angrily walk out, two confrontations, and the poor cashier/server running around overwhelmed, yet trying to remain calm. It took way too long to order and even longer to finally get the sliders. I'm pretty sure they forgot my order, even though by the time I got my order I was the only table in the place! The sliders turned out to be pretty tasty, though there was just the tiniest bit of blue cheese and just a few onions.

They ran out of food which prompted an early closing. It felt like things were spinning out of control and I left wondering just how this place would fare.

Umami, Part Two

I didn't want to review Umami without trying it one more time, so the three of us went today on the way to shopping for glasses. Good news, Umami was SO much better today in almost all areas. The owner seemed more relaxed, there was a busser and more staff in general, our burger was delicious, and there were no brawls. The fries were pretty good (I prefer shoestrings), even better with the aioli and the buttery bun was perfect. A couple menu changes: the sliders are only for kids now (with blue cheese and onions??) and the order of fries is larger and $3.

While Umami is quite small, there's enough space for the portable high chair and I think loud baby noises would be fine. Tater didn't freak out during both of our visits so I'd say he seems to like it. They must have amazing PR because they're being mentioned everywhere. I'm hoping their operation can keep up with the crowds.

Umami Burger
850 South La Brea
Mid-Wilshire
323-931-3000

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Umami Burger
850 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

 
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  1. I'm glad you tried it again, although that first time sounded crazy! They actually didn't have any PR until it had been open a week or so already. The owner is well known around L.A. and it was mainly through Chowhound and a few blogs that the word spread. I'm going back soon after a few days of less meat-eating.

    1. I live around the corner (almost) and was a bit worried about trying it after reading all the reviews about them running out of food, closing early, bad service, etc. And then I tried it with 2 friends on Friday, at lunch (reviewed somewhere on the "new burger place on La Brea thread" and had a really good experience, and the burgers were awesome! I hope they stay open a long time.

      1. I love how these posts keep getting deleted. Well, not love, just find it funny. Does anyone know when they'll be officially open?

        3 Replies
        1. re: sarcasmsk

          As explained in our posting guidelines, "We don't allow reviews of "soft open" or "friends and family nights", which are held for a select group prior to the restaurant's opening to the general public. These nights represent either the restaurant pulling out all the stops to impress for a smaller than usual crowd or the time when a restaurant is still working out the kinks and not expecting public review. They won't usually accurately represent the actual experience of dining at the restaurant once it's fully open for business."

          Umami Burger had a longer "soft open" phase, but since it is officially open as of this week, that policy no longer applies.

          1. re: The Chowhound Team

            Thanks Chowhound Team for the explanation of your reasonable policy.

            In all fairness to Umami, I think our first visit was probably in their "soft opening" phase so the chaos was totally understandable. As with most new restaurants, it seems like Umami is ironing out the kinks and continuing to improve.

            Suebee

            1. re: Suebee

              i thought they were already open, what is this about soft openings. i think i first hear of it on a thrillist blurb a few weeks back.

        2. We add a very tasty lunch their last weekend as well. No staff drama. In fact, the waiter was unusually friendly (in the right way) and accomodating.

          The pork burger was the best I've had since a solitary experience at Lucques years ago. Really delicous. Toddler loved the truffle burger and husband went with the classic. I particularly like the loosely formed patty texture. Liked the chunky fries a lot. We had half a burger left over and we took it to go for toddler. Husband ate it the next day (!) and said it was delicous. Go figure.

          Wasn't wild about the cookies. Way too much stuff going on and too sweet by half.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JudiAU

            LOVE that your toddler is such a gourmand - it gives me hope for our little one! And I'll have to try that pork burger, it sounds divine!

          2. Went to Umami burger on Saturday around 3:30 pm. It was just us in the restaurant and as we walked in there were many tables that hadn't been bussed. There were some staff in the kitchen, my wife actually said hi to one of them, but we still sat for 10-15 minutes and no one came out. I walked up to the register and a guy who i think is the owner came out and didn't make eye contact until I asked if he was open.

            Anyways, we ordered the Umami burger, California burger, and fries. Umami was just ok, a little on the dry side. The California was pretty good and very juicy. We liked the fries as well, quite thick but once they cooled down a little, very tasty. I think we'll be going back, hopefully the service will be better. The burgers aren't mind blowing, but pretty solid.

            1. I went Saturday at lunchtime... got there a bit after noon and it was almost empty (only 1 table occupied) ... we were confused about where to order: at the counter or would they take our order at the table. I think it's usually counter service, but the owner(?) told us he could take our order at the table. So we sat down and he took our order.

              I ordered the Umami Burger and my friend had the pork burger. The Umami Burger was great... can't really describe it but it had this great mouth-feel. And it tasted great too. My friend's pork burger was good too. We split an order of fries, which didn't seem like much, but we left full anyway.

              By the time we left (around 1:00) the place was full.

              All in all, decent burgers, and I'd go back if I was in the area, but I wouldn't make the trip across town for it again.

              1. I went to Umami tonight with a friend and had a decent overall experience. I had the chili burger and fries, she had the turkey burger. Both burgers ($8 or 9, can't exactly remember!) were very good. I've never tried such a juicy turkey burger. The chili on my burger was tasty without being overwhelming as with most chili burgers, and the burger itself was juicy and a nice medium/medium-rare.

                The fries ($3) were ok - you get about 7 or 8 "triple-cooked" fries. They are thick (which I actually like) but really greasy. Tasty, but I didn't want to eat more than a couple. I feel like they may have been overthinking these fries. Perhaps they could add a simpler preparation to the menu for those of us who just want once cooked fries!

                Service was friendly and quick. Atmosphere is nice although if this place ever gets really popular, there's not a comfortable place to stand and wait, so diners may get crowded by others waiting.

                One tip - there's TONS of street parking that opens up exactly at 7:00pm because it's a no parking zone between 4 and 7. Much easier than the tiny lot.

                1. Overheard somebody saying they were going to write up Umami for tastingtable.com, which is a daily candy style food-oriented email-a-day service.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: olivethegreat

                    I went the other night and had mixed thoughts. I had the fries, the chili and the porkburger. My fries were good and the chili was very tasty. The porkburger unfortunately was raw on the inside. Not the biggest ordeal - had them grill it for a few more minutes. I also wished the bacon and chorizo was not so overwhelming. It sorta took away from the great flavor or ground pork. Will definitely check it out again. Like the simplicity of the concept. Service was very good.

                    1. re: kproq323

                      Hi... A question: when you say that the kitchen took back your partially eaten undercooked pork burger and then grilled it for a bit longer -- did they actually just put the same burger back on the common area of their grill?? Or do you think that they 'segregated' your partially eaten burger on another individual grilling surface? If the former, I wonder it that is common practice or unusual? I reckon the flame handles anything 'personal' that returns with the partially consumed item, but I was just thinking that if this was done often enough over the course of a day, the cumulaative effect of 'returned' food might be an issue. just thinking aloud, here...

                      1. re: silence9

                        yeah, i would have them just start a new burger altogether.

                        i hate when that thing happens and they just re-cook it more. reheating pizza might work, but not burgers or steaks (especially not steaks) that's why THERE'S A LOST ART TO GRILLING

                        WWW.MOVIEFOODIE.WORDPRESS.COM

                    2. re: olivethegreat

                      annnnd here it is: http://tastingtable.com/entry_detail/...

                    3. I went with a friend this past saturday after I decided against the drive to San Gabriel for chinese food. It was good enough for $9. Not transcendant, but I'd go back. My stilton and port-caramelized onions (no, i couldn't taste the port) burger was good, if a bit salty. It did need something fresh on the bun--tomatoes? Arugula, or is everyone doing it? I would be fine with arugula--if one had to marry a vegetable, arugula would be my choice. Peppery, plus a great cuddler.

                      They definitely take themselves seriously, as evidenced by the fact that the burgers come medium-rare unless requested otherwise. And the fries are serious fryage--thrice-cooked, crispy outside, fluffy interior.

                      Especially considering the price, I'd say it's a good choice. Considering how many crappy patties you can get around town for 10 bucks, $8-11 piece of serious meat is a good deal. Hee.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Rosiepigs

                        i really really really liked the fries here, thrice fried.
                        they do look like a cutesy stacked up lincoln logs of sort but luckily it does not detract from the pleasure at hand.

                        1. re: Rosiepigs

                          Hi Rosiepigs,

                          *Thrice-fried* French Fries?? Wow. This sounds good. :)

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            Thrice-cooked: first boiled, then double-fried.

                        2. I had dinner at Umami Burger tonight with a friend. We both are very happy we gave them a try. We split 4 burgers, Umami, Cal., Pork and Reduced Port & Stilton. All were cooked just right. The pork was the winner, delish. The Port was very good as well but I would have liked a bit more cheese flavor. The Cal was like a great home made burger and the Umami was very rich and hearty. The fries were very good but the onion rings were even better, tempura type batter with a bit of a salty tang. We also had some sweet potato chips. I usually don't care much for sweet potato chips but these were very good. We also tried a plate of various house made pickles, all very nice. Umami offers a few different root beers and we had one from Alabama made with cane sugar, delish. Service was friendly, all of the staff was nice and a fun to talk with. I will be back.

                          1. Went yesterday for the first time and had an amazing burger. There was nothing about the place that bothered me. Service was fine, found a parking spot immediately, price was OK. I just thought the burger and O-rings tasted delicious. I opted for the Umami burger, but definitely want to try a few others. Dare I say this place tastes better than FO? I think so. FO still has all the beer and other delicous menu items, but Umami trumped them on the burger.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: wooster

                              That's my question, actually... would anyone else like to weigh in on how these burgers compare to some of the other city favorites?

                              1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                I like it much MUCH better than the F.O. burger(meat is unmemorable, too sweet and the "bun" does nothing for me). It's been a while but it's comparable in my experience to the Comme Ca burger but Umami's is half the price so I give the nod to Umami. I'm blanking on other burgers I've tried that I can compare to...

                                Still, my absolute number one burger in LA is at Morton's but Umami is probably around my number two or three. I've yet to try Lucky Devil's, but I don't expect it will dethrone Morton's, or Umami for that matter.

                                1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                  Compared to ALL of LA's fave burger haunts,
                                  Umami Burger is certainly worthy of you gettin' in there and trying one!

                                  1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                    Just brought my parents (in from out of town) to FO again (they requested it), and man, that burger is just fantastic. I only had the Triple Pork Burger at Umami, which I thought was very good, but I still would put FO #1. Though, to be fair, I have to go back for (one of) their beef burgers for a fair comparison.

                                    1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                      They are just different burgers. One doesn't have to be better than the other. They are both very different and each has their strengths.

                                      Overall, I probably will want the FO burger less often. I don't need blue cheese on a burger every time I go. I like the ability to have a few different kinds. The pork burger is stupendous, in particular.

                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                        That's kinda what I was gonna say. I've recently had both the Umami and Triple Pork Burgers which were wonderful. I love Sang Yoon's Office Burger (and he had the best beer I've ever tasted-Russian River Consecration, on tap last week) so my point is that it's all good. L.A. is a BIG city and I love that there are so many new upscale burgers in the mix!

                                        1. re: sel

                                          Yeah, I was thinking today about the 2... (even though I still have yet to try the beef burgers at Umami)

                                          I think FO may be a better overall tastebud experience, but Umami is probably the one that I'd be more eager to go back to more frequently.

                                  2. Figured I would piggyback on this thread.

                                    My wife and I went for lunch today (Saturday). We got to Umami around 1:20, and the place was HOPPING! Got in line, and decided we would split a So Cal Burger and a side of their Thrice-cooked Fries, as we had other culinary ideas to follow up on after leaving Umami.

                                    We found a couple of seats in the room off to the side, and my wife stayed while I got in line to order. With a couple of couples ahead of me, it still took a good 10 minutes or so to get to the register and place my order, but it was all good ... the guy running it was super friendly and, despite being a bit harried due to the number of folks, patient with answering any questions.

                                    And then we waited ... and waited ... and waited ... and, well, you get the picture. I'm pretty sure we hit them at the peak of their lunch rush (or maybe on the downside of the slope), but still, there's no reason it should take 40 - 45 minutes to knock out a burger and fries.

                                    Finally the burger arrived, well plated with the stacked "Jenga-style" Fries, and we cut it in half and dove in. Man this is a delicious burger! Perfectly cooked medium-rare, juicy, with all the fixins and a good, greasy bun to boot. I don't know that I could distinctly distinguish between each and every flavor of the components, but they sure did all work together in perfect harmony!

                                    The fries were a bit of a let-down; the interior was perfect, with that fluffy, pillowy burst of potato I like, but I just wish the exterior was a little bit crispier -- it was a little too soft for me. That being said, next time I would ask they cook them a bit longer on their second dip in the fryer, and that should take care of it.

                                    I choose the Garlic Aioli and House-made Ketchup for the complimentary condiments (not realizing the ketchup would be included with the fries -- they only let you choose two condiments) ... the aioli was decent, if run-of-the-mill, and the ketchup was certainly more unique. I can imagine it really appealing to some, though it was not the flavor profile either my wife or I wanted. I might be wrong, but I definitely got a hint of fish sauce in it, or maybe anchovy?

                                    Anyway here's the "long" and the "short" of it:

                                    We waited a ridiculously long time, but in the end, the time we took to eat was short because it was so damn tasty. While getting a refill of our water on the way out, I mentioned to both the owner and the aforementioned gentleman behind the register that it was delicious, and they both were appropriately apologetic about the delays. One even mentioned that they basically only have room on the grill for 4 or 5 burgers (surely an error made during the build-out -- they should definitely have put in a larger grill than that), which would explain everything.

                                    That being said, I am quite happy and content that we took the time to drive from Sherman Oaks down to the Miracle Mile area for this delicious burger. We will both, happily return ... though we might choose our time a bit more carefully.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: a213b

                                      I planned on a third trip to Umami Burger today as my previous 2 weekday trips were solo during the late afternoon and I was the only customer. I wanted GF to try it but the place was so slammed with customers flowing out into the parking lot when we got there around 2:00 PM that we left.

                                      1. re: sel

                                        has anyone tried the special scallop burger there yet?

                                        it sounds really good.

                                        and i do like the fries a lot, you had me at thrice fried.

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          With heartfelt and appropriate apologies to the Commodores & Lionel Richie...

                                          "You're once, twice
                                          Thrice times a french fry
                                          And I love you
                                          I loooooove you"

                                          1. re: kevin

                                            I did not see a "..special scallop burger..." or any other choices of a non-mammalian nature but if available when I go back this week I'll sure try it!

                                            1. re: sel

                                              I know they also do a fish burger, as I overheard the counterman telling the customer they have one, even though it is not on the menu. I believe it is Tuna, though don't hold me to that.

                                              1. re: a213b

                                                Thanks, I'll be sure to ask later this week!

                                                1. re: sel

                                                  I went yesterday at 2:30 pm and they were out of the 'scallop burger'.

                                        2. re: a213b

                                          Hi a213b,

                                          Nice review. Thanks for the insight. I have to get over to Umami Burger soon... :)

                                          1. re: exilekiss

                                            Thanks exile! Coming from the likes of an extraordinary reviewer/poster such as yourself, I consider that high praise.

                                            Enjoy!

                                        3. I went there with some friends. I live down the street and wanted to try a new burger place so we hit the place up before a show. Waited a few minutes to be seated even though there were plenty of tables available. Took too long to get our order and much longer to get our food. By the time we did get our food the table next to us that sat down a few minutes after us had already eaten and was paying their bill. They were a table of 3 while we were a table of 4. It took roughly 45 minutes for us to get our food from the point of walking in.

                                          The burgers were VERY tasty an order of fries or chips was about 8-10 actual fries and the chips a very small handfull for about 2-3 bucks. The burgers were very small. one of my guest ate his in a few minutes. On top of this they got our order wrong when we were served and this is after the waiter came out to clarify our order. This place has great potential if alot of things change.

                                          1. My wife and I went there for the first time this past Saturday (March 21). Ordered the Umami, Triple Pork and Port & Stilton burgers along with some onion rings. The burgers were cooked to perfection and awesome! The onion rings were just okay, nothing special. The bad? Be prepared to wait, but it's worth it. Hopefully as the restaurant continues to work out its kinks, the wait will get shorter. I will definitely return! (While I love the FO burger, this place is the new burger champion in my book.) One last complaint -- it's a small restaurant with not too many tables and it can get a little loud.

                                            1. I was thinking it was possible to change my mind on Umami today. But, alas, it was not to be. I've been on a bit of a burger tear lately and while I have not yet tried Lucky's I have hit the hot ones:

                                              Umami
                                              8oz
                                              25 degrees
                                              The Counter
                                              Father's Office

                                              Also BLT Burger in Vegas - that would be #2 on the list. Taste for taste, Umami is the best. The bun, the meat, all good. The only thing I would change is the size. I'd make it bigger. The middle east burger is amazing; I dream about it. Today, I finally tried the fabled Father's Office and boy, was I not impressed. We tried the lamb & the burger. First, they brought the lamb out a good 7 minutes before the burger (that was kind of weird) and once there, I was not impressed. The meat was over done, not seasoned very well and the accompaniments were okay at best. I really don't see the fuss at all. The lamb was really poor; even the pickled cucumbers were just fair. Umami, I can't complain about at all. I adore all four of the burgers I've tried (middle east, classic, pork & umami). I plan on taking everyone I know there. I hope it stays around.

                                              1. we went on Sat. night as well. Early. Parking in the lot showed signs of promise. The service was pretty bad but since we expected it, we were prepared. The Triple Pork burger was the stand out for me. I ordered the Max Onion. I wouldn't again. Just not that interesting. The meat itself was outstanding but the rest of it just junked it up. Nothing special.

                                                The fries - ok (but again, not enough for the price). The onion rings - eh. Don't bother.
                                                I'm going back to try the Middle East burger.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: lolabelow

                                                  This board's experiences at Umami remind me of that "Ten Blind Men and the Elephant" parable. It's all about your individual experience.

                                                  I arrived today at opening, 11am. I parked for free in the lot, walked right in and ordered. No line, no wait.
                                                  The server who took my order couldn't have been more helpful or courteous. Also present was owner/chef Adam Fleischman who was . . . well, if he'd been my server, I'd have left immediately and written a letter to the owner. He was surly, slovenly and dismissive. When I quietly pointed out that the wood flooring was so slippery I almost fell when I walked in, he just shrugged and walked away. If he'd been really busy or significantly "under it" I'd have understood but that was not the case. My guess? This guy is just ... a douche.

                                                  But more importantly . . . I ordered a Hatch Burger, a Triple Pork Burger, Onion Rings and Fries with House Ketchup and Relish as my "free" condiments. The bill for this was $25.00. I don't mind spending money on even small portions of outstanding grub but this was not the case.

                                                  The fries and rings had fabulous texture and would have been exactly to my preference had they not been overly greasy with an "off" taste. I attribute both these issues to the oil. It was likely neither hot enough or fresh enough,creating an unpleasant end product. Often , these issurs are the result of a cavalier attitude towards the consumer and a skin-of-our-teeth business plan.

                                                  The burgers did not suck. As other folks have mentioned, at $9 bucks a piece, they should have been larger than a MickeyD's 1/4 pounder. The Triple-Pork burger was tasty juicy and well spiced but would have benefitted from a more creative topping. (Steal from Animal, use a dollop of kimchi). The Hatch Burger was also moist and beefy but for the life of me, while I could SEE the chiles, they were taste-free. The ketchup was another oddity, thin and watery, a little too sweet. The relish was probably the best thing I tasted however, I probably won't come back just for the relish. Of course, that's just me.

                                                  It was great having an opportunity to check the place out as it's been a prominent topic since it opened. While it was quite a haul to get there from my digs in the Valley. the trip wasn't a total waste. . . I stopped at La Brea Bakery on the way home and found every manner of treat. Love the servers there and they've GOT to be wearing the coolest uniforms in town.

                                                  1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                                    Funny. you might be right. I've three times but it just doesn't do it for me. and the last (third time) i went the umami burger was just not that good at all.

                                                    1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                                      Exactly.

                                                      1. re: Suebee

                                                        Followed the crowd to Umami Burger with a friend. It was OK. Friend and I decided to share the Umami Burger and the Port-Stilton burger. Was disappointed that the much talked about Triple Pork Burger was replaced by a Five Spice Pork Burger. Neither burger was great. The tempura onion rings with the garlic aioli was very good. I've not had a great burger in Los Angeles yet. The best burger I've eaten was the burger at the Red Door Bistro in Calgary with the gruyere, the tomato confit, and the melted onions. Awesome burger!