Umami Burger – A mini-chain that’s been much hyped on the food-geek interthingy, and as a fan of the en-sandwiched ground meat arts, I feel it’s my duty to assess the hype/quality ratio. At this Santa Monica outpost (stealthily camouflaged by a nondescript Fred Segal), and somewhat surprisingly quiet at Saturday lunch, the quasi-ironic Manly Burger – whether it’s named after the attitude or the Australian beach, I don’t ask and thus don’t know – and the signature Umami Burger are both entirely delicious. The former carries crisp onion strings, cheese, and hearty lumps of excellent bacon; the latter presents a more complex array of accompaniments. I have to say that, while the Manly is a classic experience, the Umami is something special. Both are quite superior to In-n-Out (I’m not factoring price into this assessment), and while I’ll have to recontextualize them on the chain burger lusciousness scale by returning to, say, Fatburger, they’re certainly “better” than that chain’s offerings by less hedonic measures, and maybe even by organoleptic ones as well. And while I realize this is highly subjective, I think they’re flawlessly-sized.
The accompanying cheesy tots are delicious as tater tots but could be cheesier. As for the tempura onion rings, their taste is almost magical, but their crispness fails very quickly, and so their primary quality is disappointingly ephemeral. An aside: the latter absolutely must be accompanied by the jalapeño ranch condiment, which is very nearly a perfect marriage between unhealthy fried stuff and unhealthy saucy stuff. Prices are upscale-burger but entirely fair, service is friendly in a casual California way, and the only negative is that almost everyone else is eating their burgers with knife and fork. Man up, people of Los Angeles and tourists alike. Use your damned hands. It’s a burger, not a Wagyu torchon.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company “Boont” Amber Ale (Anderson Valley) – Somewhat fulsome, but also somewhat thin in the middle where it counts, and the only thing that’s never in question is that it’s bitter in a raw hazelnut sort of way. A good, not great, beer with character but without commensurate appeal, at least for me. The intrinsically embittered might find more here.(11/10)
A post-facto coda: the role that the owner played in the outing of an LA Times restaurant critic? Dickish. As a result, my current interest in returning, despite my above-expressed culinary approval, is nil.