Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Umami Burger, Where the Burgers Come Before the Cocktails

Umami Burger -- Umami Burger
Umami Burger

As if New York needed yet another cult-favorite burger joint, Umami Burger has flown in from LA to take over a lengthy strip of sidewalk on 6th Avenue.  We say "sidewalk" specifically, because the "line" (more like "mob") of people waiting to dine in the precious new premises is always lengthy enough to completely disrupt pedestrian traffic flow.

Let's just say we're glad we don't live in the Village.
If We Wanted to Stand in Line All Day, We'd Move to San Francisco
We are willing to brave the Umami Burger crowd because Giada Di Laurentiis specified that we must try their signature burger on the HOMETOWN FAVORITES episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, and we have no intention of setting sail for LA any time soon.  
Primarily Because We Just Barely Know How to Drive
We arrive at the premises at the exact same time, and Ginger, assuming that we are going to walk inside to find a Shake Shack-like ordering line, barges through the front door.

"Hi, welcome to Umami Burger," the hostess greets us, grasping a clipboard in her hands.

"Yeah, hi," Ginger continues through the second door, stopping dead in her tracks when she finds only tables and servers rather than her expected line.  It is only at this point that it dawns on her that the hostess was not merely serving as a Walmart-type greeter -- she was trying to take our name for the wait list.

Clearly, should we ever actually make it to LA, we will not do well there.
Patience and Friendliness Are Not Really Areas in Which We Excel
Our plan for this place is that if they tell us the wait is longer than 30 minutes, we are hightailing it down the street to Empellon Taqueria to drown ourselves in margaritas and tacos.  In Murphy's Law news, when we ask the hostess how long it will be, she replies, "30 minutes."

Just under the wire, Umami.  Just under the wire.
Could Someone Bring Us a Drink While We Wait?
We languish outside for just over a half hour before being escorted into the loudest, ear-ring-inducing restaurant ever.  It is impossible to describe just how loud this place is, other than to point out that as our waitress blathered on for a solid minute about the menu, we had NO IDEA what she was saying.  NONE.  It was full-on a scene out of Charlie Brown's classroom, to the point that we almost began inappropriately laughing at the absurdity of it all.
We Assume She Just Asked Us If We're Vegans
Granted, there was one particularly disruptive table at the front of the restaurant, whose members had clearly never learned to use their indoor voices in elementary school, but they were not the only flaw in Umami Burger's acoustical design.  The place is an assault on one's hearing.
BYOE: Bring Your Own Earplugs
Thankfully for everyone involved, Umami does indeed serve liquor, an attribute we had feared they would be without.  Ginger does some domineering ordering, shouting at our waitress that we would have one sangria (when she asks if the stuff is overly sweet, said waitress responds, "No, you can still taste the wine."  As opposed to WHAT?!), and one Upstarter (something with tequila and cucumber). 
Ginger Also Shouted, "And STAT," but This Message Was Lost in the Cacophony of Sound
At the same time, while her voice is still strong enough to be heard above the din, she orders us one Umami Burger, one Truffle Burger, truffle fries, and fried pickles (clearly, we are not one for the low-cal lunch).
How to Lower Your Cholesterol, Vodka- and Ginger-Style
Fifteen minutes later, all of our food gets placed on our table in one fell-swoop, along with an assortment of Umami's four main condiments.  This is all great.  What is not great is that our cocktails are NO WHERE TO BE FOUND.  
Is There Gin in the Ketchup?! Otherwise, We're At a Loss
Now, call us crazy, but we like to have some booze inside of us before we dive into our actual meals -- really, this is better for all involved, as liquoring us up makes us decidedly less hostile.  
Unless, Umami Burger, You'd Like Us to Start COMPLAINING
When we inquire as to the location of our drinks, a server says that the bartenders (yes -- plural -- there are TWO people not making our cocktails) are probably working on them.  Without exaggeration, our drinks do not hit our table for a full ten minutes after our food does (and they are both LACKLUSTER at best), and we are more than a little annoyed.
You Can Mess With Many Things, but Never Our Booze
Indeed, before we even get down to enjoying (or not) the food, we notice that Umami Burger's NYC location reeks of not having the kinks worked out.  Our water glasses remain empty for 7/8 of our meal (and are only refilled once we manage to scream loudly enough to ask).  The kitchen is obviously working at a rate about fourteen-times faster than the bar.  There is a never-ending stream of workers wandering the restaurant, but nothing much seems to get accomplished.  And most egregiously, based on the perpetual line outside, the table turnover rate in this place is downright atrocious.  For a good portion of the time when we are inside, the dining room is quite literally HALF empty.  Tables sit, clean and waiting for new patrons to fill them, and somehow, everyone remains outside.  How?!  Is this all to build your own hype, Umami Burger?  Or are you merely incompetent?
The Dining Room Remained This Way for 10+ Minutes. THIS ISN'T LA, PEOPLE
Moving onto the area where the restaurant is slightly more proficient, the burgers, admittedly, are pretty good.  
Except the Branding Often Looks More Like an Equals Sign...
...Than a U
As promised, the Umami Burger, which comes with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, a paramesan crisp, and umami ketchup, manages to hit a great combination of salty and sweet notes (plus whatever this "umami" flavor is).  
Burger Brains
The bun is undoubtedly one of the best parts of these creations, as it is both soft and moldable yet hearty enough to never come apart under the weight and juice of the components.  
We Do Love a Carb
Speaking of juice, we are at a standoff over how "juicy" this burger really is -- Ginger, it seems, likes when her burgers physically squirt juice out of the meat so that it runs down her fingers, which Umami's burgers do not do.  Vodka, in contrast, hates this sensation, but she does not judge juiciness based on messiness, so she still thinks this meat is quite moist.  
Ginger Presumably Wants This Plate Splattered in Grease
We also come to an impasse concerning how the burger is cooked, as Ginger is calling it "raw" and Vodka is calling it "just right" (Umami recommends their burgers be cooked to a medium-rare temperature, or "blood red," if you're Ginger).
"This Is RAW MEAT"
Despite her issues with the meat, Ginger prefers the Truffle Burger, which comes with housemade truffle cheese and truffle glaze.  
As a Rule, We Like Most Things With the Word "Truffle" in the Title
Rich and hearty, Vodka likes it, but finds it to be a bit "much," particularly when eaten with a side of truffle fries.  These fries are like an upscale version of the disco fries one would find in a New Jersey diner, meaning that the cheese sauce is so thick that it congeals into a giant mound at the bottom of the bowl (appetizing at 2am, not so much at 2pm).  
Velveeta Cheese Sauce
Umami French Fries: Going from Hot to Cold in Five Minutes or Less
But the truffle fries are downright works of art compared to the fried pickle plate, which is a true travesty.  Unlike the slices of lightly battered pickles that we had been expecting, we find four giant wedges, fried within an inch of their lives with chicken finger-like coating.  
Oh, How We Would Prefer That These Actually Be Chicken Fingers
The combination of flavors produces something that is not only odd but rather revolting, and Ginger takes the taste of this side dish quite personally.
It Should Be Right, But It's So, So Wrong
"I am disproportionately upset about the fried pickles.  If you have this basic of a menu, everything on it should be perfect," she complains, sweeping her hand over her plate of red meat for further evidence (clearly, we have a new "defeatist plate").
"You Don't Know How to Eat Burger"
By the time we're ready to leave, Ginger has moved onto grumbling about the fact that an unadorned (read: no French fries) burger here costs $12.  Are the burgers fairly good?  Yes, of course.  Are they worth twelve bucks, a half hour wait, dehydration, and a subsequent appointment with a hearing specialist?  Absolutely not.
If We Wanted All That, We'd Take Ourselves to McDonald's and Buy FOUR Burgers
Umami Burger may think that they have invented their own flavor, but unless they get their act together, they may very well be run out of town faster than we can down one of their nonexistent cocktails.

Umami Burger's Umami Burger: 4 stars

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