Umami Burger's Bold Flavors Are Too Greasy for Comfort
The Cubano Burger at Umami Burger tastes like gravy-topped chicharrón. The grease-ridden concoction pairs a pork patty with a lightly toasted bun. Shaved ham, pineapple mustard, and molten cheese crown the fatty swine, summoning images of Havana, Hawaiian pizza, and heartburn. Each nibble makes your lips gleam and your fingers look gross. And then, once you're all done, your stomach feels even worse.
billwisserphoto.com Umami Burger's Cubano Burger
So is the patty deep-fried? Did a cook sneak lard into the sauce? "Well, those are preparatory secrets," says a manager at Umami, the California-based chain that opened in South Beach this past May. "You're going to have to call our PR firm for that."
Though its burgers are far from ordinary, Umami Burger operates like a standard franchise -- with a strongbox of classified recipes and procedures. Founder Adam Fleischman is a former food and wine writer credited with launching Los Angeles' first wine bars. He opened his original Umami in 2009 and built a booming brand around bold flavors. Each recipe stars umami, a category of taste that extends beyond sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami exists in tomatoes, mushrooms, fish sauce, bouillon cubes, and anything rife with MSG or glutamates. Each of Fleischman's creations stems from his unique food-as-science approach. His burgers manipulate palates and proffer a combination of things that should taste good.
billwisserphoto.com Truffle fries at Umami Burger
So far, the formula has succeeded. In 2010, GQ declared Umami Burger "Burger of the Year." Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Blake Lively are constantly photographed at West Coast locations. The restaurants have garnered a reputation for their crowded dining rooms, full bars, and determined branding.
In his official portrait, Fleischman holds a magic wand over a compact hamburger, a tubby creation that fits comfortably in the average palm. On the Umami website, he peddles Umami Ketchup, Umami Master Sauce, Umami Dust, and Umami Spray. In writing, the brand unabashedly employs the verb "umamify." On the restaurant's menu, burgers are labeled as boasting "serious Umami Burger flavor." They are packed with ingredients such as bacon, truffle cheese, and roasted garlic aioli.