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Mar 26, 2009 12:39 PM

Umami Burger: emperor's new clothes?

I’d had a burger craving for about a week and there was Umami Burger, on my way home. I let all the hype over this place sway me and decided to give it a try. Ordered the namesake, Umami burger, and fries.

I ordered the burger medium. The meat was oddly cooked: well done on the outer 3rd’s and bloody the inner 3rd. I could have almost drawn 2 lines separating the layers. Maybe if was cooked on a too hot griddle. Or perhaps it was precooked to a rare and reheated (this is what I suspect because the meat was lukewarm). The toppings were tasty but paltry - a tiny slice of parmesan, the Umami "signature" sauce, grilled onions, 2 tiny reconstituted dry shiitake mushrooms, tomato compote of some kind (couldn’t really make out what it was because it was such a tiny dab). Ok, so that’s 5 toppings. The menu said Umami x 6 so I’m missing something, but could be that it disintegrated into the rest of the burger. Or maybe the burger itself counts as one of 6. I wouldn’t know, because my “this is my second day” server couldn’t tell me what the toppings were.

All this would have been just fine, if the meat had been good. And this is my chief complaint when it comes to most burgers and steaks: it didn’t taste BEEFY. I don’t know why, but I keep having this problem. I stopped ordering filet mignons for this exact reason, opting instead for the New York strip, which is generally fattier and beefier. But I digress. Back to the Umami burger. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. It just wasn’t beefy enough for me. For a $9 burger, it didn’t make me want to have it again. The bun was great but I don’t eat a burger for the bun. I expect it to be good but a great bun doesn’t save a mediocre burger.

Now the fries. I know some people love these fries but I didn’t care for them. They are cut so thick - the thickness of a fat finger. When you bite into it, you get the initial crunch of the exterior, which is nice, but end up with what feels like a baked potato due to the thickness of the fry. I guess I just prefer the higher outside-to-inside ratio of a standard french fry or a shoestring fry. And the house ketchup on a Chinese spoon is just ridiculous. That’s what Jeffrey Steingarten would say, for sure. And it doesn’t hold enough ketchup even for 9 fries. I ran out after 4 fries.

For my money (and when all was said and done, I was looking at $16), I’d rather go to 25 degrees, Lucky Devils or The Counter for “gourmet” burgers. Still haven’t tried Father’s Office… I even prefer the In-n-out burger (though not the fries) to Umami at a fraction of the cost.

Umami: Oooh, mommy, the emperor has no clothes!

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  1. Sonia, if you try the FO's burger and STILL don't think the burger tastes "beefy" then I think we have to conclude your taste buds need to go into the shop for a "tune up"... ;-D>

    9 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      Umami = Not beefy
      FO = Cheesy
      OR ELSE
      Sonia = Not peefy

      1. re: RicRios

        Ric, if I were a compiler I'd put you on report for that wild syntax. ;-)

        I haven't been to Umami Burger yet, but I like Sonia's review and hope a few Umamites will address her comments about the odd cooking technique, tiny toppings, amateur service, lack of burgerliciousness, and baked-potato-style fries. Any review that notes the lousy fries at INO Burger deserves applause!

        Sonia, it sounds like you prefer well-aged beef, with its rather dry texture but intense beef flavor focused through water evaporation.

        1. re: sbritchky

          I really like the baked potato fries, but then again I love steak fries too. so go figure. as to the burgers themselves it did seem to be too rare in the middle and crusted on the outside, also ultra-juicy and a beefy (there was definite beefiness to the whole ordeal).

          i'm curious to try their Hi-End chili.

          1. re: kevin

            put me down for one who likes her burger with a nice sear on the outside with an even gradation from brown to pink, and just the thinnest layer of rare meat in the middle. this burger was kind of ... pasty.

            1. re: soniabegonia

              To each their own, granted I'm not a huge fan of the burger nor am I a naysayer.

      2. re: Servorg

        Truly, the FO burger is lame at best. It' really doesn't deserve to be in the same category of other really good burgers in LA. I had one (finally) this weekend. And to say that I was underwhelmed is putting it mildly. It's a nice place, but it's a BAR people. The food is pedestrian at best. IMHO, It's serviceable, but not worth the money or the accolades accorded it on this board and others. After she read my disappointment, my GF wrote and said I should have talked to her first. She said when she used to go FO, she'd order drinks and then order slices of pizzas from Louise's. Oh, SNAP. If that isn't a put down of the highest order, I don't know what it is.

        Umami, on the other hand is pure bliss for me. I'm talking the burger - not the fries, cause frankly, the best fries in town are at Mariposa in Neiman Marcus (truffle, oh yeah baby!) and not at hamburger joints.

        My fave is the middle east burger ($9), but all the others are $8 and $9 except the truffle burger. I love the joint and tell everyone I know, if they want a darn good burger, try Umami.

        1. re: Ndelible

          I really like the FO burger, got a little late to in the game. but I believe it's one of the best out there. Maybe it functions more as a gourmet sandwich than a burger. but who cares when it tastes so darn good.

          1. re: kevin

            I just don't taste it at all. Way better burgers out there than FO, IMO. As a matter of fact, I prefer the burger from Callendar's to FO, it's cheaper and comes with fries and an apple!

            1. re: Ndelible

              I hate to admit it, but I LOVE the burger at Calendar's (miracle mile), but has incosistency issues sometimes. Fries are real good too!

      3. That sucks. The burger I had there a couple of weekends ago was outstanding ... one of the best I've had in the city (SoCal Burger).

        Maybe it was just an off night?

        6 Replies
        1. re: a213b

          Nope, I had a So Cal Buger for Lunch today and it really was OUTSTANDING...

          IMHO Her comparisons to 25 Degrees and the Counter are no way close. the 25 Degree burger was Meh... and the Counter Burger has inferior meat. Now, I have only tried the Lucky Devil's Kobe Burger, but that was like eating cotton.

          The patty I had today was a generous size of beef, well seasoned and just beefy enough. It TOTALLY reminded me of our home made burgers, we do a course grind, plenty of fat stuffed within so it's nice and juicy. This burger was not so much soft, as it was TENDER... a true rare thing in the world of burgers...

          She however, does bring up some very true points... The way the cooked the patty really reminded me of a Black and Blue Steak... a nice sear on the outside and nice and rare on the inside (Which I love). This helped the burger stay together nicely unlike some other gourmet burgers I've had recently that have fallen apart.

          As for the thick cut fries... I agree with the baked potato part... except I LOVE baked potatoes! LOL! Don't get me wrong, I like little thin crispy fries too, but these really reminded me of a more 'natural' version of my beloved Langers Crinkle Cut. Crisp on the outside (Even after a 20 minute mad rush back to the office) and soft and tender on the inside.

          All in all, I very much look forward to returning!


          1. re: Dommy

            I really like 25 degrees. Sure, the service is a bit brusque at times but the burgers, at least the times I've been there (close to 10 times), have been consistently cooked and the meat delicious and BEEFY! The fries are awesome and you get a generous artery-clogging portion, not this "precious" stack of Lincoln logs with a laughable "modern" Chinese spoon ketchup service. Not that I have anything against modern presentations but seriously, this is fries and ketchup! I want to eat fries until I feel a grease coma. I also forgot to mention in my original post that I wasn't entirely full when I was done and was even tempted to stop at In-n-out for a burger with grilled onions. I didn't, only because it was out of the way. And I'm a petite girl (though admittedly with a healthy appetite). And I still have a burger craving because Umami just didn't fulfill it for me.

            Re The Counter: to be fair, I've only been to the original Ocean Park location and before the franchises started popping up everywhere. I like the build your burger concept and found the meat delicious.

            1. re: soniabegonia

              The Ketchup Chinese Spoon wierdness is annoying. But I found the burger, bun and fries absolutely delish. I had pork but the way Soniabegoina and Dommy! describe the beef patty is exactly how I like it. I mean how YMMY is this -- "The meat was oddly cooked: well done on the outer 3rd’s and bloody the inner 3rd. I could have almost drawn 2 lines separating the layers. "

              Size worked for me too. Not a nausea-inducing giant burger-and-gargantuan-fry-stack but a sensible portion of goodness.

              1. re: soniabegonia

                I too like 25 degrees' burger, They're high on my list of good ones.

              2. re: Dommy

                Yes, people, the fries are very good here. I really got to try their chili burger now. what's the socal burger, lettuce, tomato, processed cheese, onions, and homemade spread???

                have you tried their eponymous Umami burger or the Italian truffle variety?

                1. re: kevin

                  I've tried the chili, umami, pork, and truffle burger. The chili is my favorite of the bunch with the truffle burger second. If you like a good just plain beefy burger, with a hint of truffle, go for the truffle burger. It was good, but I probably wouldn't get it again when the chili is available and cheaper. Unimpressed by the umami and pork.

            2. My burger was outstanding too, although I could have sworn it was $8 when they first opened. I don't know that it was particularly beefy, it just tasted great. Maybe we just have different tastebuds.
              Agree about the fries, though.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Chowpatty

                it's still 8 dollars, i believe. while the italian truffle burger is a 3 dollar upgrade, it's probably due to those pricey white truffles straight from Alba (NOt!0

                  1. re: soniabegonia

                    Burgers now range from $10 - $15. Sides from $3 - $7.

              2. I had the umami burger for lunch there yesterday. I thought it was very good. Although I didn't specify how I wanted it cooked, it came very rare. I also had the onion rings which were very nice and light but I thought just slightly undercooked. I have the same problem with the fries that most CH'ers here have already complained about. I know what they're trying to achieve (a very tender, light interior with a nicely crisp exterior) unfortunately, they're just not getting there yet.

                As for price, now all of them seem to be the same ($9). Last time I was there I recall the lamb burger was $11. They continue to tinker, which is not a bad thing.

                1. Try 26 Beach Restaurant for the best burgers around, homemade bun and it comes with either a salad or fries! Since the owner is Japanese, this is the true UMAMI! You can keep The Counter.

                  5 Replies
                  1. I been going for 25 years when they first opened. It was family owned, dad did sushi at night, mom waited on tables and one son cooked and the other ran food and did whatever needed. I love the burgers and it is still family, even though mom passed and dad's health is not good. The son Francis is the executive chef and in this day and age of celebrity chefs with groups of investors putting up big money to open up restaurants, take a look at The COunters website and see what kind of financial committment they want. This little mom and pop is pumping out the best burgers and they have been doing it since '82 or '83. Chalk on up for quality and no blog hype, do you see 26 Beach being talked about on GPS or Eater LA or Eating LA or LA Eating? No! They are not the hippest latest thing, they keep pumping out great salads, burgers and amazing french toasts. I am actually going there this weekend for brunch with friends. Ok my ramble is over, sorry about that. Remember, "Enjoy life, eat out more often". Mafia, money laundering....ummmmmmmm I take the fifth!

                    1. re: Burger Boy

                      Thanks! I was really curious as to your constant loyalty there (and also, just teasing). You've sold me though. I actually just moved around the corner, so I do want to try it, and I'll be sure to check out the burger on one of my first go-rounds. I'm looking forward to it!

                    2. re: Burger Boy

                      You can keep the counter? I've heard of places that let you keep your glass, but never the whole counter! ;-)

                      I like your enthusiasm, Burger Boy, and will try those 26 Beach burgers sometime soon.

                      1. re: sbritchky

                        The Breakfast burger with chili is so BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDD, oh my! The Chimichurri is my second fave these days.

                        1. re: Burger Boy

                          Loved the chimichurri, thanks to you, B-Boy! They should put you on retainer, man!!