Sunday, September 1, 2013

Lunch | Umami Burger (NYC)

To kick off Labor Day Weekend right, Marcus and I hopped on over to Umami Burger, the California-born franchise which opened a month ago in the Greenwich Village, for lunch after we wrapped up our half-days at work around 1:30 PM. I was pretty concerned about the wait times (I've heard they can be brutal, many times up to three hours!), so I called an hour before to get an estimate -- at 12:30, it was about a 5-10 minute wait. That we can do, I thought.

Marcus arrived a few minutes before I did, when the host told him that the entire party needed to be present in order to be seated. Thankfully, I had arrived merely seconds later, when he told us it'd be about a 15-20 minute wait. Lo' and behold -- we only waited a couple minutes to be seated. We got so lucky, because the crowd got a little bigger shortly after.

I like how Umami Burger organized the seating area -- very loose and comfortable, so it feels less like a fast food joint and more like a sit-down restaurant. Umami Burger focuses on "the art of creating the perfect mouthful." Its hamburger patties are house-ground, hand-formed, and infused with the Umami master sauce and enhanced by "the vibe of the room and the energy of the community" as well as "explodes" with the lightly toasted yet sweet bun, homemade sauces, and unique sides.

Along with the burgers you'd expect on the menu, there were a few salads available to start. Clearly, we were starving and just wanted our burgers, so we just bypassed all that. Next time, though!

To drink, I had a ginger beer bottled by Ithaca Soda Co., while Marcus had the tropical green iced tea. The ginger beer was nice, though not as biting as I would've expected -- it tasted essentially like ginger ale and sprite blended together. Marcus wasn't crazy about the tropical green iced tea (it was on the sweeter side), but it came with a free refill anyhow.

Marcus had one of the specials offer that day -- the pastrami burger with Umami's special beef blend patty, thick slab of pastrami, American cheese, mustard spread, and green relish. For you meat lovers out there (or hell, burger lovers), this is one burger you should not pass up, especially if it's offered as a special that day. As with all the burger patties at Umami, the special blend produces this juicy yet unified glory to it that just makes you say, "Damn, this is one hell of a burger!" This burger undoubtedly marries two classic diner favorites -- a pastrami and mustard sandwich with a classic cheeseburger -- and creates a whole culinary synecdoche that no words can describe but rather taste can only describe alone. With each bite, the bun just melds into burger as one, where bun-to-patty-to-condiment ratio isn't disturbed or knocked off balance.

I couldn't resist ordering the truffle burger with a special blend of beef, roasted garlic aioli, house truffle cheese, and truffle glaze. In a place called Umami Burger, you would expect nothing less from a burger that boasts the tease of truffle, which not only lives in the chosen sauce (or in this case, glaze) but in the cheese as well. Some people have reported that this burger is quite overwhelming, I didn't find it as fragrant or intense as I would've expected it to be -- after all, it's a burger priced at $12.50 as essence of truffle is the idea. Though I don't believe anything will beat the white truffle burger at Burger & Barrel in intensity, the one at Umami Burger surely lives up to that silky, sleek sensation you get from experiencing umami flavors like truffles. It was one sexy burger, and just like with the pastrami burger, it kept the ratio intact, as I had no need to reshuffle the patty on the bun in order to get even bites of both as I nommed away. The medium rare center made for a juicy, utterly enjoyable texture and taste, making these one of the best burgers I've ever sunk my teeth in (up there with Good Stuff Eatery)!

We shared a side of thin fries made "manly" (i.e., with beer cheddar, bacon, and onion strings). While the thick bits of bacon were on the saltier side, the cheese was fantastic, the onions were nice and crispy, and the thickness of the fries made them even more delicious (i.e., the perfect amount of friedness and potato).

Each side of fries comes with four house condiments -- housemade Umami ketchup, roasted garlic aioli, jalapeño ranch, and spicy diablo sauce. If we had known about the condiments, we probably wouldn't've gone the extra mile with the manly fries because the fries are already great with these four delicious condiments. If we had known that there would be this many varieties of condiments, we would've just thought to order the thin fries plain to thoroughly enjoy each of these! My favorites were the housemade ketchup and the roasted garlic aioli, while Marcus enjoyed the spicy diablo sauce (though he wished that and the jalapeño ranch would've been spicier). Truffle fries are also an option, so keep that in mind!

Findings: Perhaps I am biased about this review of Umami Burger as I didn't have to consider an appalling wait of an hour, let alone three! While I can't speak to dinner hours and what the wait can get like, I know that lunch time on a week day around 1:30 PM is undoubtedly more accessible with lower wait times and a smaller crowd waiting outside. So yes, I think the hype is worth it (though not sure I would wait more than an hour for a burger...), as you will certainly get what's due -- the juiciest and tastiest burger that you'll fall in love with at first bite. There's a burger for everyone, especially those who swear by the flavor of umami and its treasure cove of culinary delights. The blend of beef in its patties are key -- the secret to the restaurant's success. Plus, the waitstaff is super friendly and helpful, ready to guide you through your conversion to the Umami way. So order your own burger with fries to share with your partner in crime, and I promise you will leave pleasantly full, dreaming of the next time you step foot into this fantastic joint.

Price point: $12.50-15 for each burger, $6.50 for each side. $3-4 for each beverage.

--August 30, 2013

Umami Burger
432 Sixth Avenue
New York, 10011

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