By Charles Lam
Umami Burger, a chain of boutique burger restaurants, has been pretty big up north for a while now and, last week, they finally opened their first Orange County location in the “Hipster Triangle,” the area fenced off by the 405, 55 and 73 highways.
They serve haute couture burgers full of culinary buzzwords like “Umami,” “truffle glaze,” “parmesan crisp” and, my personal least-favorite, “garlic aioli.”
How do they do?
In short, they might be one of the most overrated restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. What you get from Umami is not a complete dining experience. You get a few really great things put together in not so great ways.
First off, the actual burger.
Umami burger grinds their meat in house, which is great. They cook the patties medium rare, which is fine. But they form their patties extra thick and that is horrible.
The extra thick patty combined with the medium-rare burger means a really moist burger. Normally, this would be a good thing, but the sheer amount of cow juice gets everywhere. Soaking the bun, filling the plate, dirtying your hands. I’ve never eaten a burger that has disintegrated faster than the one at Umami.
The bun, a dense and firm Portuguese-style bread that seems full of eggs, butter and sugar, is cut awkwardly — 70 percent top bun to 30 percent bottom bun. Besides this, the mess the burgers turn into is not due to the bread. It toasts well and if served with any other burger would be amazing, sort of like a cross between brioche and Hawaiian rolls.
Finally, the toppings of the burger fall flat. The cheese is Parmesan, fried up to a crisp. It adds good texture and a fair amount of the savory Umami flavor but what it fails to do is be cheese. Gone is any nice velvet texture or creaminess.
The roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions actually subtract from the burger, introducing a slight sweetness that is amplified by the bread. What you end up with is a savory burger that is awkwardly sweet, Not exactly something you would call bad, but not something you would crave either.
There are some bright spots at Umami. For example, the fries are above average. Crisp and dense, they have a perfect potato flavor and go perfect with the umami ketchup. Take note, the crisp and flavor are aided by the fact that they’re fried in beef fat and are therefore not vegetarian friendly. The fry-ketchup combo is almost enough to unseat Haven’s combination as my favorite, but not quite.
Umami also has a great selection of sodas. Mexican coke makes an appearance, as well as a few additional craft sodas. Their liquor license and a few great micro brews should arrive in three weeks.
If you want to try Umami once, do it.
It’s a pretty restaurant. It’s brightly lit, the wooden tables are beautiful and the walls are decorated wonderfully. Everyone is excited. In addition, it’s smack dab in the midde of the “SoBeCa” area, so there’s plenty to do afterwards.
If you’re just at the Camp or the LAB and feel like a burger for lunch though? Walk directly across the street. Get a TK burger. You’ll save some money and you’ll be eating the better burger.