A Burger Worth A Wait

Pitch perfect and chill, Umami delivers.
April 01, 2016

The Hamburger. It used to be just the stuff of backyard barbecues or a quick dinner for mom to make that the little ones would actually eat. The fanciest thing you could do with it was call it Salisbury Steak in a family restaurant. Fifty years ago, along came McDonald's and it was now ubiquitous, if not very interesting; that brand bringing the all- beef patty (not to mention the special sauce et al) to the world. Ten years ago or so at a new celebrity haunt, the Waverly Inn, introduced a Very Expensive burger at $13. It was justified by touting the special blend of beef that heretofore unknown butcher Pat LaFrieda supplied. The cognoscenti made it a Must Eat and so the price basically doubled quickly to $25 (and turned the meat guy into a Name.)

As far as I can tell, thus begat our romance with the Fancy Burger. Or at least the expensive, allegedly pedigreed burger. Much has been written about them and many have been consumed (though not surpassing the Golden Arches of course.) One such place around the corner from me opened less than a year ago and I must confess that several times I forked over a bit less than $20 including tax and tip when I was craving a delicious burger despite the fact that is was a casual counter-only place. The last time I was there I even sprung for a chocolate shake which I found to be good although not spectacular. I will not be going again, however -- that visit was just before their fancy shakes exploded on Twitter and the Today show. Now there are lines literally around the corner whenever it's open, populated by people silly enough to wait for two or three hours in freezing temperatures to dine and slurp. I wonder how many of them wasted an equal amount of time earlier that morning one street north to sample a Dominique Ansel Cronut. Surely at least some trend chasers have done so.

But the joke is on them! While certainly an excellent burger can be had at Black Tap, theirs are by no means the best ones in town. Those are found a dozen or so blocks up Sixth Avenue at Umami Burger. It's a small chain that originated in southern California by a man obsessed with taste and texture. No detail of the experience was too small for him not to tinker with, luckily for us. There are non-beef options of course, and I did try the off-the-menu duck burger once, but seriously -- do you go to Le Bernardin and order chicken? There are roughly eight beef burgers at the moment (they are always tinkering so it's hard to be accurate) of which I have had the Truffle, the Cali, the Manly (the day I didn't shave,) the Hatch and the original Umami. All were terrific in their own way and which one is best is a matter of personal choice. Mine is the original. They are all priced between $13 and $16 so that doesn't need to be a decision making factor (but you can figure out which is the $16 one.) There is one critical mistake you must not make though. Do not add to (or subtract from) the way it comes out of the kitchen. No extra ketchup, and if there's an item you don't like on one particular version, choose another. The balance of umami has been carefully researched and they are perfect As Is. The sides are uniformly good and the service is very Cali-chill. And no lines -- most of the time.