4655 Hollywood Blvd
Los Feliz, CA 90027
Wednesday early evening we hopped on the 4 heading west toward Los Feliz and the thus far elusive Umami burger experience. This is the first fall evening in 2009 that I can recollect needing to wear a long sleeved sweater and scarf. It feels like a cool October this year, has the fall chill come early?
Umami is cool fo' sho, and that's all there is to that. We were shown to a table next to owner Adam Fleishmen wining and dining a couple gentlemen. He was telling them in depth several times about the sous-vide cooking process of Umami Burger's meat when Steve Arroyo, hanging out with some family members, strolled over to say hello. We overheard Adam congratulating Steve on the design of the interior. Some research leading me to LA Times blogs informs that Steve and Adam are in partnership in the post Cobras & Matadors space. A lot more eavesdropping on the table next door, more or less involuntarily, informs that Adam plans to open several more Umamis all over LA. An Umami empire, if you will. Drive-thru?
The interior is beyond beguiling. The giant Chow Fun neon light leads one directly into Salaryman, the ante-bar to the northwest of the restaurant. Tempted to eat at the bar, but instead choosing the main dining room gave me a good feel of the dark moodiness coupled with a not-overly kitsch Japanese atmosphere.
A giant chalkboard reveals all the burgers Umami offers in Los Feliz, as well as a special off-the-menu salad.
- Turkey Miso Burger: this tempted me hugely, but they were sold out.
- Triple Pork Burger: Triple how? Chorizo, bacon and ground pork. That's how.
- Eponymous Umami Burger: Parmesan, roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, onion.
- Hatch Burger: Spicy, with four types of green chile.
- Socal Burger: Butter lettuce, oven dried tomato spread, housemade processed cheese (WTF?), caramelized onions.
- Manly Burger: Flexing its muscles and burping while watching ESPN with beer cheddar, smoked salt onion strings, bacon lardons. (I missed an opportunity here.)
- Truffle Burger: Italian truffle cheese and truffle glaze.
- Casablanca Burger: Lamb, pickled apricots, and pomegranate aioli. (WHY do they not have a more descriptive menu? WHY? WHY? It's descriptive, but barely.
The drinks menu is brief almost to the point of abbreviatedly non-existent. With only a beer & wine license, Umami offers a few wines by the glass. The above Pinot Blanc was very well chosen to be perfect with the bold and unctuous flavors of the burgers. Also on the drinks menu is a nice list of beers, featuring several from the adorable Hitachino label (2% owl) including the White Ale and Red Rice Ale. I want a full bar in there, Salaryman is begging for it. With it I think will come a busy and enduring bar business. Steve Arroyo is bar-centric enough to have exactly that in his line of vision.
Apparently there are a lot of plans afoot for the menu. Eating LA reports Lobster Rolls are coming soon, and Eater LA chimes in that this new space on Hollywood will be offering oysters, steak and "green" fried chicken. We are still waiting on those developments. What we did eat off the pretty basic burger joint menu with sophisticated twists and turns....
Picked veg. Pickled zucchini, carrots, crimini mushrooms, pearl onions, okra and cucumbers. Delish. Every bite. Pickled okra is one of my favorite things on the planet, and this was done perfectly. I can tell the okra are house pickled, because they are not so pickled that the freshness of the veg is not retained. They were fantastic, seasonal and crunchy with no slime. The zucchini was also wonderful. When they get a full liquor license, I hope they offer the house pickled onions for my vodka Gibson.
I personally caved on the truffle burger, quel surprise. It was a delicious burger, refreshingly not oversized nor undersized. Bigger than a McDonald's standard burger, but smaller than an In n' Out double-double. Just right for my size appetite, as long as I don't inhale fries as well.
Not overtly truffley. Italian truffle cheese was subtle, as was the truffle glaze. I definitely tasted truffle but the flavor of the beef was not beaten into submission by truffle. I didn't specify cooking instructions, and mine arrived cooked medium. It was durn tasty, and I really like their choice of bun. Not too sweet, not overpowered by the juiciness of the meat, and yet not too dry or stiff. Succeed.
The meat was good, but I was left with a curiousness from overhearing Adam expound upon the sous-vide approach to burger making at the next table. He said it is a very fast process, while from what I understand about sous-vide from my own research, Top Chef and Chef Meehan at Cafe Pinot DTLA, is that sous-vide is a slow cooking process wherein ingredients are vacuum packed and sealed into plastic bags, then cooked slowly in a relatively low temperature water bath. Sooooo...do they sous-vide par-cook the meat, then grill it real quick? That might make some sense. A second visit to Umami is warranted by my dining companion's excitement over his So-Cal Burger (which was fantastic) and then I will explore more. Honestly, my waitress was sweet as summertime honey, but I am kind of surprised she found her way to work. I didn't want to confuse her with a barrage of questions lest she fade into the ether. Next time I come in, I am going to eat at the bar and grill the bartender for more details on the mysterious cooking of the many tempting Umami burgers.
We also nommed on both the Skinny Fries and the Sweet Potato Fries. Sweet Potato Fries were better, Skinny Fries needed salt. Umami Ketchup, a feature on the menu, was nothing special.
But, um, yeah...the ice cream sandwiches? ZOMG.
The young lady sitting on the banquette next to me, admittedly addicted to the Manly Burger & an Umami regular, insisted we order the Chocolate Mint ice cream sandwedge. Yes, sandwedge.
It may be hard to tell from the pic above, but let me describe its wonderfulness. CY, listen up. Mint chocolate chip ice cream in between two giant green macarons (remember, macarons are gluten free CY, made from almond flour), dipped deeply and thickly in chocolate. CY, this has your name all over it. Get down here while you are still with fetus and feed it one of these. It.was.fanfuckingtastic.
My other good friend, The Count, would love both the light fixtures and the nod to American patriotic practices. Could it really be a trendy Japanese themed spot without some wink at Americana? No, it could not.
By the time we left at about 9:30, the restaurant was packed with trendoids & hipsters stuffing their faces with sous-vide cooked burgers topped with various kinds of deliciousness. On both sides, the tables were full. The east and the west.