Small downtown report: Umamicatessen, Handsome Coffee, and Mexicali Taco
I haven't had an Umami burger in years since I first tried it at the La Brea location. I'm normally one to take several trips to a restaurant before forming a solid opinion, but that first experience was so bad that I never found the desire to return.
Well, the chance to visit a location that had Micah Wexler and Chris Cosentino as collaborators was enough to warrant a visit.
We ordered the pig ears with brainaise, a country pate sandwich, and a hatch burger. I offer the following critique:
The pig ears were not done well. Typically when cooking gelatinous or cartilaginous cuts, you want to boil either ears or skin for at least 45 minutes to dissolve the gelatin and soften the cartilage. Properly cooked pig ears are boiled, the dried and or pressed, and then fried. These were tough as hell and completely unpleasant to eat. The brainaise tasted mostly like anchovy, which I liked. I like pork brains but didn't detect much porky flavor.
The country pate sandwich was the worst item. It wasn't a country pate, but more of a pate "loaf", very compact and lacking any spreadable or crumbly quality whatsoever. It had been sliced on a meat slicer, and I don't know of any country style pate that has that quality. But even that would have been fine if it hadn't been literally 3 thin slices on a medium sized roll with what must have been a full 1/4 cup of mustard. Just smelling the sandwich was overpowering. We took one bite and put it down. I'd like to see the cook who made it, or Chris Cosentino, or Adam Fleischman sit down with an entire sandwich and see if they can power through that much mustard. And there was a generous amount of pickles on it to boot. $14 for this sandwich, no side. Since when is pate that expensive?
The hatch burger was a major letdown, and my criticism of Umami burger from years ago still holds today. The meat has zero flavor. Close your eyes. Take a bite. Do you taste beef? Is there anything remotely beefy or meaty about this burger? No. I tasted cheese, bun, and that's it, though I do give them a point for crisping up the inside of the burger bun. $10 for this burger, no side. The burgers here are cooked sous vide and then finished on what appears to be a flat top. Let's assume that the burgers are cooked sous vide for flavor purposes, there are HUNDREDS of things you could do to incorporate more beef or Umami flavor; cook it with rendered dry age beef fat, or pancetta, or caramelized onions, or soy. But I don't think that's the case, I think these patties are cooked sous vide in giant batches to facilitate achieving a consistent product across multiple outlets for operational purposes. I'm curious to see how one of these would do in SF or NY.
The pate sandwich was removed, and the total with tax and tip was still over $20. And the place was packed. Service was fine, though it's painful to have to sit through the server's explanation of what Umami is, the 5th taste, and all that nonsense. I laughed thinking about any ramen chef in town sitting down to a burger and listening to the server explain the spiel.
Will not return. I'll go to Baco Mercat any day over this.
Handsome coffee. You walk in and automatically there's a vibe in the room. It's very serious. I'm not much for this sort of thing but I do really like my coffee. I'm doing my best not to stumble over my words or do anything uncool while I order. Despite the serious vibe, the guys behind the counter are friendly. Needless to say, the espresso and cappuccino were very very good. It's just so serious. They wipe the rim of your cup with a wet nap for christ's sake, like a chef would wipe a plate at a michelin starred restaurant. I'm happy enough with Angela's on Sunset which is much more relaxed.
Mexical Taco & co.
I'd never been when these guys just had a cart as I was always working those hours. Was really excited to check out their storefront. As soon as I bit into that first carne asada taco I understand the hype. That one bite immediately took me back to mexico. Beef! Really honest to god beef flavor, with just a slight note of funk and charred fat. Thank god, and a much needed reprieve from Umami. Two tacos, a vampiro (jesus, that garlic sauce gives Zankou a run for their money) and an horchata for $12. We have a winner, will be back for sure.
I too was disappointed in the pig ears at Umamicatessan, they were really tough. Esp in comparison to Animal's version (yum!). OTOH I did like the rillets, they just need some garnish, sea salt mustard, pickle or something to go with the bread. I don't know what coffee they are serving but it is very good, I got a cortado and it was very well done. The foie and jam donut was excellent. I like the atmosphere and the service was good. I like the hatch burger but don't go out of my way for it. Short order and F.O.. are my fav burgers in town.
I'm not in Downtown much but I would go back. I like that they are trying something different and think it's a good concept. Time will tell how they iron out the glitches.
"As soon as I bit into that first carne asada taco I understand the hype."
That brings to mind the Dizzy Dean quote "It ain't bragging if you can back it up" Thanks for the report on Umamicatessen. I have to say that when I go to Umami I get the triple pork with chorizo and it delivers plenty of flavor (or as my wife says "aji" 味 ).