Okay, so I was supposed to post once a month about a burger I had in New York. In fact, over a month ago, I said I’d review two burgers in September. Six weeks and no burger reviews later, some of you might be wondering, what happened (others of you might be wondering “wait, does he still have a blog?”, still, others of you might wonder “How can we fix Social Security?” or “How can we ever claim war is justified if Christ makes it clear that violence is unacceptable?”). I probably won’t answer the majority of those questions in this post, but I might be able to answer the first.
I said that I was going to try a new burger a month. In September and October, I actually tried three new burgers, but I failed to review any of them. It’s worth mentioning that I never said I’d post a review each month, just that I’d try a new burger a month…I didn’t lie…I just delayed the realization of the truth (that last line made me feel like I was channeling Bill Clinton, so if I start talking about creating a bridge to the 21st century, that’s why).
I have a history of not following through with plans on my blog, so I apologize, but I am now thoroughly determined to give you my next burger review. After all, there’s nothing so wrong with my blog that can’t be fixed with what’s right with my blog (some of you ‘90s people may have gotten that). Quite fortunately, my College Writing Professor gave me an assignment to review a restaurant. That assignment took me straight to Greenwich Village’s Umami Burger.
Umami Burger is a small restaurant group originally based in Southern California. Quite ironically, I never went to Umami during my 16 years living in California. Umami get’s it’s strange name from the fifth dimension of flavor. For generations, most chefs believed there to be four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. However, in 1908, in a culinary revolution, a fifth taste was discovered, the taste of Umami. I mean, that’s really a big deal. Think: People have been eating for thousands or millions of years! (the number fluctuates depending on what group of people I’m talking to. You know, cause like, if I tell scientists that people have been eating for thousands of years, they’ll put their hands on their hips of their labcoats and say “So what? Cave men persons just starved?” whereas if I’m at church, and I say that people have been eating for millions of years, someone would probably say “And by people you just mean one person, God, eating by himself, in heaven, in his heavenly pre-world bachelor pad, because earth hadn’t been created yet.”)
The point is that people have been eating for a reaaaaaaaaaaaally long time, and for the longest time, we thought there were only four tastes. And then, all of a sudden, just 105 years ago, an entire new taste is discovered! That’s huge! That’s like, discovering another continent-not even, cause Europeans only discovered some continents a few hundred years ago (cause, you know, continents don’t count as existing until it’s spotted, claimed and desecrated by a European dude). This is like, discovering that, all this time we had a third arm that we never noticed or that we never used. That’d be reaaaaaaaally creepy. Still, I bet a few of you looked behind your back to see if you had another arm back there or something.
Umami has just opened up its first location in NYC and has received rave reviews, with some New Yorkers calling it “The Best Burger in the city”. So, will the California based burger become the best Burger in New York?
From the moment I walked into Umami, it became clear to me that Umami intends to provide many unique additions to the world of Burgers (more unique than even their adding of a word to the dictionary that can rhyme with salami, a contribution that no doubt has just made some jingle writer’s day).
Umami has a full service bar (which, if the burger turned out to be a disaster, would have been very much appreciated), is decorated with modern art, and features an extremely limited menu. As I was dining alone, I brought a pen and paper with me (as I often do when going out). This, inevitably, prompted questions from both diners and staff alike: “What do you write for?” “How long have you been a food critic?” “How can you be older than 21?” and “Did anyone ever tell you that looking into your eyes is like looking into a beautiful dream?” (Only 1 of those quotations was made up).
I ordered the ambitiously dubbed “Manly Burger”. The burger just doesn’t sound like something I’d order. I’m not a fan of gender stereotypes (especially on food-food isn’t supposed to divide us, it’s supposed to bring us together!), and I feel like anyone who feels so compelled to call an item on his menu “manly” just isn’t secure in his own gender. Which is fine, you know, I get that, I don’t judge. Just don’t try to mislead us: embrace who you are and call it the “I’m in a loveless marriage and I think the guy working the deep fryer is kinda cute” burger. On that awkward note, let’s get back to the actual burger.
The hamburger itself, made exclusively from premium Wagyu Beef, was freshly ground right after I ordered it. I was so grateful that the kitchen just assumed I wanted my burger cooked medium rare, because when it came out, it was dripping onto the plate. The burger was nestled on a toasted brioche bun that had the letter U emblazoned on the top.
Unlike my typical favorite burger joints, Umami didn’t have a wide repertoire of toppings, and it banned all substitutions. The server explained the restaurant’s philosophy by using one of the most detestable phrases in the English language, the anthem of mediocrity itself: “Less is more”.
However, in the case of Umami Burger, the limited approach kind of worked. Melted Beer Cheddar Cheese cascaded down the sides of the burger, and fried onions and bacon ends provided a salty crunch that kept the flavors balanced. While the flavors complimented each other, the sauce (whatever it was in the first place) was quickly lost in the shuffle.
The French fries were topped with truffle cheese and truffle salt. The flavor was rich, and the cheese was so melty that it almost created a virtual dip for the fries. The fries had four different sauces, all served in ceramic spoons. Some sauces worked better than others: The house made ketchup and jalapeno ranch were too liquidy, but the garlic aioli had a terrific texture and the Diablo sauce (sort of like a really spicy chipotle mayo) provided the memorable heat that I just wasn’t getting from my burger, my fries or from the conversation between the couple next to me that I was listening to. Seriously, the guy was looking at his phone, like, the whole time. And then he stole her French fries without even looking up. Just another typical Casanova that you find in New York…
I think a testament to the greatness of Umami Burger is the fact that there were a lot of reasons I shouldn’t have enjoyed my meal. The burger are sparsely topped, the menu is limited, substitutions are banned (limited resources and no choice! It’s like a Central Asian Soviet Bloc country…), I dined alone (and yes, while it’s cool to pretend you’re a food critic, it gets old after a while, just like all my other fake personas; political speech writer, therapist, playwright, astronaut insurance agent) and, above all, there was no fountain Diet Coke. Despite all of this, I absolutely loved my burger. The quality of the meat alone made it worth the entire trip, and the toppings on the burger, while limited, were chosen exceptionally. Umami probably won’t end up being the greatest burger in New York (technically on my list, it is right now), but it was certainly a great stop on the journey.
Here’s the breakdown:
Meat-9.5/10 The meat was the driving force behind this burger. I’ve only had a handful of burgers (not sure how you could possibly have a handful of burgers, unless they were sliders, but let’s hope not because those are disgusting) that had better quality meat than Umami.
Bun-8.5/10 The bun held together, was toasted and had terrific sweet Briocjhe flavor. Oh, yeah, and having the letter U branded on it was kind of neat. Sort seemed insensitive to the dead cow underneath it, but, you know, whatever.
Toppings-8/10-The lack of variety of toppings was a little disheartening, and the sauce got completely lost in the burger, but the beer cheddar cheese was so good that it helped make up for it.
Specialty Toppings-4/5 I enjoyed the crispy onions and the bacon end pieces, but the toppings are hardly the star of the burger.
Engineering-4.5/5-The flavors all worked together as a perfect team (you know, because flavors are always better when they choose to stand together than when they choose to stand alone…and yeah, I don’t know why I’m quoting some nebulous piece of rhetoric I like to use). The lack of foresight with their sauce is the only thing keeping that ranking down.
Sides-4/5-Great fries, two terrific sauces, and yeah, then two others that missed the mark.
8.5 out of 10.
Throughout my meal, I found myself staring at a photograph of an old man. He was bald, wore wide glasses and looked like a cross between Gandhi and the guy on the cover of monopoly. His name was Kikunae Ikeda, discoverer of the taste of umami. The picture couldn’t be more appropriate (as in fitting for the restaurant, not morally appropriate. I mean, it was completely tame in that regard too, now that I think about it). Just as Ikeda discovered a new flavor, a new approach to making the quintessential American meal has been discovered, in a city full of predictable burgers, at Umami Burger.