Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Umami Burger - Fifth Taste Finds Foothold in Fifth Location

By now, anyone who is at all into food in Los Angeles knows about Umami Burger, brainchild of Adam Fleischman.  Named for the almost onomatopoeic Japanese word that describes the savory taste imparted by an amino acid, and ribonucleotides that occur naturally in foods, Umami as a taste is "subtle" but blends with other tastes to "expand your (dining) experience" - Umami as a restaurant / bar on a high traffic stretch of Ventura Blvd in the Valley is anything but.

With its sharp black, white and red themed decor, Umami Valli makes no attempt to blend in.  It may be a relatively small space with a narrow door front, but with its starkly chic design, full bar, and street front open patio barstool seating, unlike its more laid back siblings (love the Space15 Twenty location), Umami Valli is quite deliberately a place to see and be seen.

Not one to go for the 'scene', I had driven past on several occasions hoping to catch a late afternoon meal these past two weekends - but the lines were always so long they spilled out all over the curb in front of the restaurant. I would take one look, decided I didn't want to spend 2 hours on a sunny Saturday / Sunday afternoon waiting for a burger, and kept driving.

But with an unusually large block of happy 'nothing' on my calendar on either side of lunch today, I decided to give Umami a try, leaving a bit early and dragging along my coworker "Sawyer" (yes, named after my fav character from Lost) in hopes that there would be less of a (hipster) crowd on a weekday. 

We arrived just a few minutes after noon, and found a spot at the meter mere feet from the restaurant, immediately.  With that great start, we walked up to the place with fingers crossed - though there were barstool seats available outside, it was too hot at lunch, so we opted for indoor seating and were promptly given the last open two top inside (score!). 
I ended up loving the cozy interior with white marble tables, sleek black walls and fixtures, glittery chandeliers and red plush barstools lining the counter at the bar.  And yes, the much written about random stuffed swan is there to preside over the front bar area.

We started out with Arnold Palmers (though there were beer floats on the menu - unfortunately we realized we had to go back to work at some point!) - which turned out to taste like all lemonade, from a fountain, so not impressed on the non-alcoholic beverage / service front ($2.50). 

But on to the main reason we were there - burgers.   Sawyer had intended to order 'something healthy' (i.e. veggie burger), but after hearing the special, decided on the Spicy Bird burger with pepper (?) aioli and onion fries ($11).  Cooked medium rare, this was tender, juicy but just ever so slightly too spicy.
I of course had to have the Truffle Burger ($11) with house-made truffle cheese and truffle glaze.  This was also super juicy and had just the right bun to patty to cheese ratio.  It wasn't the most mind-blowing burger I've ever had (not that I've had many /any burger that has really blown my mind...), but good "fine dining fast food", and infused with enough truffle flavor to cause most of our meal to be conducted in silence (silent except for sounds of shameless, double-handed face-stuffing).  I haven't tried The Counter, a few doors down from Umami Valli yet - so will have to wait to report on that for comparisan.
To round out the meal, we tried the off-menu Cheese Tots ($4.50?) - Umami's version of tater tots but bigger than bite-sized, with cheese baked in.  Not a fan of these as all we could taste was salt - the potatoes were otherwise bland, and even the umami ketchup, infused with truffle, did not help. 

Will I crave Umami day and night like I do with Aroma Cafe and the truffle pizza from 8/12 Taverna, both just down the street?  Probably not.  But this Umami location is one of the few decent restaurants open daily until 2am in the area - and with yuzu and jalapeno on the cocktails menu, I would be interested in coming back both for dinner / drinks after work, as well as to check out other items on the menu for weekday lunch (when we have time to have a leisurely lunch) or late night dining.

As we left, there was a crowd lining up outside the restaurant again - judging by the amount of traffic it's been maintaining over its first weeks, Umami Burger's 5th location seems to have found a solid foohold in the depths of the San Fernando Valley.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 90%

Umami Valli

12159 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604
Ph: 818.286.9004      

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

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