Monday, February 22, 2010

Umami Burger Part 3: Umami Burger FAIL!

So if you've read this and this you know that I am a huge Umami Burger fan. I'm such a fan and I think so highly of their product that I was very excited to take a couple chef friends who were in town from Berkeley to try what I considered to be one of the best burgers I've ever had. It would figure that on this one occasion where I really needed Umami Burger to shine it would fall flat on its big, juicy, ground beef face.

To be fair, we were going to the heretofore unvisited original La Brea location--a spot known for its tiny-ness and lack of a liquor license, but it was a fairly inexcusable performance.

First, they only serve their burgers one temperature, medium-rare. That is not inherently a bad thing--it facilitates speed and efficiency to serve all your meat at one temperature since you can just crank the burgers off the grill regardless of particular orders. But here's the thing, it's pretty much the POINT of a hamburger to use meats you wouldn't necessarily serve medium rare to make the ground beef. I don't mean bad meat, I just mean meat from that 90% of the cow that isn't really suitable to be served dripping.

But fine, I'm with you, you do a medium rare burger, cool. I respect that. I don't recall the other Umami Burger locations being so temperature-specific, but I could be wrong--I will say that my burgers had been right around medium. But at the end of the day if you're going to serve a requisite medium rare burger, make sure it's medium rare. At our table, all of the beef burgers were dripping red rare. They were so rare that none of the patties even held together, this was in contrast to the previous burgers I've had which retained shape and firmness admirably while still being plenty juicy. The rare burgers soaked the bottom bun to the point of destruction, basically they were impossible to eat without a fork. And Umami Burger La Brea doesn't provide forks. This was again in contrast to the previous burgers I'd had which all toed that crucial line--always on the verge of juicy destruction, always succeeding in not going all the way over the top into sloppy burger wreckage.

Another oddity were the thrice-fried French fries, which were not very good. Thick, potato-y, and bland, they had the flavor and texture of undercooked elementary school lunch oven fries. The onion rings were a hit, however, as was my perfectly prepared turkey burger.

So what happened at Umami La Brea? I think they were busy and had very little oversight in the kitchen. When you're throwing up burgers all day you want to keep things simple and quick. Simple is fine, hence the uniform temperature burgers, but quick rapidly becomes too quick and you end up serving barely cooked burgers for the sake of, well, nothing really. Our burgers came out in a matter of minutes despite the dining room being packed. That's entirely unnecessary. I'm happy to wait another ten minutes for an appropriately cooked burger.

I'm going to chalk this up to an off day and I'll give the Umami Burger La Brea location another go-round. Everything else has been too damn good for me to assume this last experience to be anything but an outlier.

Umami Burger
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90036

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