Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Umami Burger Redux

So I went to Umami Burger again recently. That burger is still really damn good. It's so good, that I don't even object to it winning "Burger of the Year" accolades from GQ--even if such an assertion is dubious on premise.

I also think Umami Burger is unfairly maligned. Typically there are two inevitable responses by a gourmet burger-hater. Either: 1. it's just a burger or; 2. In-N-Out is better.

First, to the "It's just a burger" assertion--you're right. It is just a burger. It's ground meat on a bun with toppings. And lobster's just a bug on the bottom of the sea and caviar is just cured sturgeon eggs. To assign the burger any higher or lower state in the culinary world because of its nature is absurd. You can make a bad burger, you can make a good burger. Is it perhaps a bit easier to make a serviceable-to-good burger than it is a steak? Probably. But it's just as hard to make a great burger as a great steak, and the burger as to be less expensive and made at higher volume (typically).

Second: No, In-N-Out is not better. Not even for the price. In-N-Out makes a good burger, for the price it's a great burger. But Umami Burger is better. It's 3-4 times better. It's 10x better. The meat is better quality. Every patty is handmade on site, the meat is hand ground and hand seasoned. The flavor combinations are thoughtful and interesting. It is, in my estimation, a step better than all other premium ($8+) burgers on the market that I've had.

Why is the burger lesser privileged? There's no inherent reason why we happily pay $20+ for an 8oz steak but balk at paying more than $6 for a burger other than that we are used to burgers being cheap. And a frozen, grey patty that's made from random cuts of meat and is 20% oatmeal should be cheap. But good meat is good meat and should, theoretically, command the same price.

I like Umami Burger a lot. It's one of my go-to's if I need a good, filling lunch for less than $20. And by always coming up with new combinations and patty variations, they give customers a reason to come back. Get Umami Burger and leave your presumptions aside, at least until you take a bite.


Zack said...

Making a great steak at home is piss easy. Making a great burger is a big fucking to-do. You can fuck up the fat ratio, the grind, the bun, the seasoning, the kind of pickle, the quality of the tomato, etc etc etc. There are like eight ways to fuck up just the bun. Making a great steak is like
Step 1. Buy good meat of the right cut.
Step 2. Follow basic instructions that fit on a single index card even if written with crayon.
Step 3. Congratulations on your great steak.

Cabfrancophile said...

It seems like the fine dining and wine world is filled with these sorts of inconsistencies. When in doubt, they fall back on scarcity and tradition. A burger can be vastly more complex than a steak by virtue of flexibility in its use of ingredients. Beer can be more complex than wine (at least at a modest price) because there are so many more things to add. Yet they are common foods. Same for complexly spiced Indian and Thai dishes.

Ultimately I think it comes down to an elitist attitude by the gatekeepers and tastemakers. That which is rare is best, they say. Filet mignon is rare, thus it is best, though it's mainly riding on its texture. Napa Cab is rare, thus it is best, though it's mainly riding on its texture and density. They are right about truffles and traditional balsamic, though--I wish those were less rare and expensive! An anosmic pig still finds a truffle once in a while, I suppose.

David J.D. said...

Good points. @Zack, it used to be that it was hard to get the same quality of meat that a good steakhouse could get, but now with high-end butchers available in places like the SF Area and LA that monopoly no longer exists.

@Cabfrancophile I agree completely. & these things change over time too.... In the US for much of the late 19th century, an adorned steak was poor people food, the wealthy preferring more elaborate fare. And until relatively recently, you could barely give lamb away.

What's great is that there aren't gatekeepers and taste-makers any more. I mean, there are people who THINK they are and those old guard that still influence trends but that's for a diminishing, though for the time being financially lucrative, demographic.