Umami Burger

by Lynne on July 15, 2010

Post image for Umami Burger

My friend, Michele, and I had been talking about going to Umami Burger for months, as it was one of the restaurants with good reviews and positive word-of-mouth from one of her friends. There was even a little review of it in Bon Appetit Magazine. Since umami is the new (recently re-discovered) flavor we can taste, along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour, I was looking forward to seeing what it was all about.

The umami taste is caused by the detection, by taste receptors in the mouth, of a couple of forms of glutamic acid that are found in meat, cheese, stock and other protein-heavy foods. It is naturally occurring in soy sauce, fish sauce, parmesan cheese, anchovies, mushrooms and ripe tomatoes. Also in seafood, such as lobster, crab and shrimp. Since I love all of those foods, I figured Umami Burger would fast forward me to Taste Heaven.

Michele and I had been to the Tasteful Pictures Exhibit at the Getty Museum, which had photographs taken by the first food photographers back in the 1880’s. We had walked around the Getty for hours and were tired and hungry, so we decided Umami Burger was where we would eat.

After valeting the car, we walked into this small restaurant, with west-facing floor to ceiling windows and a row of about 10 small, close together tables in front of the windows. A host/server greeted us and led us along the row of tables and back and to the left into a small room about the size of a big walk-in closet. It was empty, with dim overhead lighting and an 18-inch shelf around three walls, with chairs pushed underneath. The walls were bare, nary a painting, photo, mirror or window to be seen. The host said we could sit where we liked. Well, the idea of sitting in a dim closet facing a bare wall didn’t appeal to me much, so I told him we wanted to sit out in the other room. He seemed surprised that we refused to sit where he wanted us to sit. Do you suppose when his grandma comes to visit that he makes her sit in a dim closet facing a blank wall to eat? Maybe for him, that’s normal.

So, awkwardly, he led us to the end table nearest the kitchen. It was late afternoon and the sun was screaming in through the west facing window. All of the windows, except the one behind this table, had sunscreens, so the person sitting facing the window would have had their retinas burned out. There was one empty table in the middle of the row, so I said we wanted to sit there. By this time, the host was more flustered than ever, so he seated us at the middle table.

So we sat…and sat…finally he brought us a menu. We ordered our water. We sat…and sat. He brought the water and took our order. We sat…and sat…and sat. We saw that people who were already seated when we arrived were just getting their orders. I remind you, I was starving. I began to think that the host/server was also the chef, prep cook and line cook.

We had ordered a Umami Burger ($10), a Manly Burger ($10), Hand Cut Fries, Triple-Cooked ($3.50), Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings ($3), and a Truffle Beet Salad ($6). Ten dollars for a burger, when I could go to Burger King and get a fantastic Double Cheeseburger for $1.59. It better be the best burger I have ever eaten.

Our Truffle Beet Salad came first and was very pretty, surrounded by a tangle of arugula with a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds. The beets were a white variety and really confused my palate by tasting like pale cooked pear. There was lots of arugula (which I love), but, if you look at the photograph, those minute drips and little rivulet of white stuff on the almost tasteless beets was all the dressing on the plate. That arugula felt mighty dry after a while.

Truffle Beet Salad

Finally, we were served the burgers, onion rings and 8 fries. Yes, just 8, because they were about 1-inch square and 5 inches long, and stacked up Lincoln Log style on the plate. I grabbed one of the fries first and as I dipped it in the ketchup, squeezing it slightly, oil gushed out onto the plate, like water out of a sponge. The fry was pale white, not browned at all, spongy and totally saturated with greasy oil. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how they got it like that. I guess if they put the raw fry in a plastic bag with some oil and cooked it sous vide for 24 hours at 140 degrees F, this would be the result. It was probably the most disgusting food item I have ever encountered. You can see a photo of the fries on the Umami website.

Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings

The Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings were also pale white; the coating was also oil soaked. So gross.

Umami Burger

The photo at the top of this post is my Manly Burger, with Beer-Cheddar Cheese, Smoked Salt Onion Rings and Bacon Lardons. It had such a beautiful presentation, and phenomenal lack of taste. Can you see that the top of the bun is about an inch wider than the bun bottom? That is so weird. I even put ketchup and mustard on it, to no avail. Michele had the original Umami Burger (above, cut in half), with Cheese, Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms. She said it was ok. In retrospect, I think maybe my taste buds were so coated with grease, that they couldn’t taste anything. Or, in concert with the rest of our dishes, it had little taste and a lot of grease. Think about it…grease from the meat, the melted cheese, and grease from the deep-fried breaded onion rings on the burger.

I feel bad telling you all these unsavory things that occurred at Umami Burger. I mean, I’ve been a restaurant manager, so I know that on the chef’s night off, when the line cook calls in sick, the dishwasher is the only guy you’ve got to man the stove. It happens. So to be fair, here are other reviews, scathing to loving. You decide.

About a week later, I was on the road and stopped at Islands Restaurant in the Manhattan Mall for dinner. I had the biggest, juiciest, most delicious burger and the most perfect browned, crisp fries (all you can eat) that I have ever had. Those fries were crisp until the last moment and left no oil signature on the plate whatsoever. My server virtually hovered over me, making sure I had everything I wanted. Need I say more?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne July 15, 2010 at 4:27 am

I’m so glad you reviewed this! Negative reviews are a godsend when trying to find a place to eat among the gazillions that are out there. Although I am quite sorry you wasted your time on a bad food experience. Maybe instead of Umami Burger they should call it Greasy Burger. Seems more fitting.

Monet July 15, 2010 at 9:23 am

Yuck! I’m so sorry you had a bad experience, but I’m glad you posted this review. Your descriptions were so vivid that I literally felt my stomach turn. I hate when fries are overly greasy, and it sounds like this restaurant wasn’t able to get much of anything right.

My Man's Belly July 15, 2010 at 11:14 am

Sorry to hear your experience was so bad. Greg and I ate at the Hollywood outpost and I’m still dreaming about the burger I had. But paying that kind of $$ for a bad dining experience is so aggravating…beyond aggravating actually.

Michael / South Bay Foodies July 15, 2010 at 11:59 am

I’ve heard the lip service about Umami Burger. Now I am thinking “Hmmmmmmmm”.

As for Islands: YES! You can’t go wrong with their burgers and beer.

Ani July 15, 2010 at 8:52 pm

ugh! what an awful experience. i had similar at a local place that everyone raves about. $12 for burger and it was the worst I’d every had.

Polwig July 15, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Yikes… Maybe that idea is to soak people in grease so when they taste the burger they will feel a non greasy sensation on their palate, hence Umami :) Maybe not. I hear Burger King is really good right now.

Magic of Spice July 16, 2010 at 2:24 am

Great review…but so sorry for your disappointment when you were so hungry:(
I have managed restaurants as well and you are correct that so many things can be happening behind those kitchen doors…but this is a bit much? Just an opinion…

Lentil Breakdown July 16, 2010 at 11:10 am

Hmmm, I have heard good things about Umami, but I rarely eat burgers anymore (although I dream of the Father’s Office burger and sweet potato fries quite often!). I have to agree with you about Islands. They make perfect fries and their burgers are great. Haven’t been there in a long time, but they never disappoint.

Marcy July 16, 2010 at 11:18 am

I couldn’t disagree with you more. Every single time I have been to Umami (15+ times) it has been an amazing “Umami” experience. I just learned not to load up on everything else before the burger to actually experience the Umaminess of the burger (it is called Umami BURGER, not umami fries or rings). It’s only about the burger there. I think your taste buds might have been tainted from the not so great apps/sides. I would give it a second try and get the Truffle Burger and maybe try the Hollywood/Cahuenga location.

Tamara Young July 16, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Lynnnnnnnnne you totally had me at hello initially. My hubby and I were ready to fly to LA for the burger and fries based on the malt Liquor onion ring description…. and then bang, boom, tim~berrrrrrrrrrr! Oh well. I guess I’ll head to MGM Grand’s Bourbon Steakhouse. The best juiciest burger in the universe, with no cheese, but an amazing balsamic glaze and portobellos. To-die-for. We’ll rave more at http://www.deliciouslyuncommon.com.

Lynne July 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Marcy ~ I was hoping a die-hard Umami fan would visit. Thanks for speaking up.

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks July 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Great review. Although I’m not to eager to try a umami burger the next time I’m in Cali. Perhaps I’ll take Marcy’s advice and stick to the burger only.

sophia July 17, 2010 at 10:04 am

Oh no, Lynne! That’s so disappointing that you had a bad experience there, from the service to the seating to the food. Urgh! That’s horrible, esp because Umami is not cheap, either. I’ve been there once, and I actually loved it…but then I have higher tolerance for grease, being a poor college student and all…lol.

beth aka confusedhomemaker July 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm

It’s never enjoyable to have food that lets you down, especially food that looks beautiful. It’s like false advertising. You hope it will taste as good as it looks.

Grapefruit July 18, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Sorry about your bad experience – those onion rings do look nastily greasy! Great review, and beautiful photos as always!

sippitysup July 20, 2010 at 8:23 am

Lynn

I am amazed that you did not like this place. There is one just down the hill from my house in Hollywood and I LOVE it with a passion. I wonder if they had a bad day? Maybe the Hollywood location has their act together better. There has to be an answer and I am determined to find out. I think I’ll walk down there for lunch and do a little “research”! GREG

Lynne July 20, 2010 at 9:53 pm

GREG ~ In the interest of science, order the fries, squeeze them and see if a bunch of oil runs out. Let me know the result.

Jungho April 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Well… You wrote this review in 2010, there is still no change…at all!!!
I should have read your review before I try it.
It was greasy, pricy, tasteless burger I have ever tried.

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