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LEONARD ORTIZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The signature burger at Umami Burger in Costa Mesa is the Umami burger which includes ground beef, shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp and Umami ketchup for $11.
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Taking burgers beyond what's expected

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

In case you haven't caught on yet, the hamburger has jumped a few notches in the food hierarchy in the past couple years.

Not the fast-food burger or even the casual fast burger, but that new animal: the gourmet burger. Umami Burger falls into that category.

The small California chain opened a spot in April at The Camp, the outdoor hipster shopping center in Costa Mesa, with six gourmet hamburgers on the menu. All of them cost $11 or $12. But if I'm going to pay $20 and up for a steak, I don't mind paying half that for a creative and delicious burger.

The vibe at Umami is young and hip and energetic. There's cool art on the walls.

The place is bustling and noisy, so you might want to think twice if you have a hearing aid. The last time I went was a Sunday night and I got a table for five in about a half-hour.

The tab came to $110. Besides our burgers we had a root-beer float ($6) on the check, two ice cream sandwiches, two orders of thin fries and an order of Smushed Potatoes ($4.50), which were fabulous little creamer potatoes fried in beef fat and heavily sprinkled with finely crushed black pepper and salt and served with a roasted garlic aioli for dipping.

Umami has six burger offerings plus a turkey burger with crushed avocado called the Greenbird ($12), a hand-chopped ahi tuna burger ($15) with ginger and wasabi tartar spread, a chicken Tandoori burger ($13) with a black lentil spread, and a mushroom edamame Earth Burger ($12) with truffle ricotta.

My favorite is the Manly Burger ($11), which is topped with beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt-onion strings, bacon lardons, Umami ketchup and a mustard spread. The burgers are cooked on a high-heat stove top called a plancha, which caramelizes the outside, locking in the juices. My first bite drew juices that scalded my tongue, so I can vouch for that.

The patty is small and thick and tastes like you made it yourself on your backyard grill.

Umami uses high-end Wagyu beef, ground in-house and "infused with Umami Master Sauce" and then topped with "Umami dust," a blend of spices.

Menu offerings include the Umami Burger ($11), topped with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, Parmesan crisps and Umami ketchup; the truffle burger ($12), with house-made truffle cheese and truffle glaze; and the port and Stilton burger ($11), with blue cheese and port-caramelized onions.

You can save a few bucks if you pair your burger with a drink and a side. A Umami Burger, thin fries and a lager, for instance, costs $17. The wine and beer selection here is pretty solid, with a variety of craft brews.

The sodas ($3) are all in bottles, including old-fashioned flavors like Grape Crush and Bubble Up. They also have the trendy Coke bottled in Mexico with cane sugar.

Umami makes a beautiful fry, but it's the selection of condiments made from scratch that separate it from every other skinny fry out there.

My thin fries ($3.50) arrived with six small, square dishes containing a sweet Umami ketchup with hints of truffle, honey and soy; a tangy Dijon mustard; a jalapeno ranch; a spicy Diablo sauce; a house spread akin to Thousand Island dressing but made with sea kelp relish; and a roasted garlic aioli, which I found a little too thick. You can ask for all or none.

If you're not interested in eating something that involves a bun, you won't be happy at Umami. Their only other offerings are a Market Salad ($4) and a truffle beet salad ($7).

But if you like beet salads, it's worth the trip. Umami makes it with truffled ricotta, smoked almonds, wild baby arugula and truffle dressing.

Just be sure to save room for an ice cream sandwich from L.A. Creamery ($5). The salted crème brûlée ice cream sandwiched between sugar cookies tastes like Christmastime.

Contact the writer: 714-932-1705 or lbasheda@ocregister.com


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