Umami Burger, Santa Monica
Umami is the fifth taste I didn’t even know about until I encountered the word at this restaurant. A Japanese term, umami refers to a pleasant savoury flavour that is the fifth primary taste after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Although MSG is often associated with the umami taste, there’s no hint of MSG at Umami Burger. And I can usually smell MSG from a mile away. Umami has 6 locations in LA and one in San Francisco. The one I frequent is in Santa Monica, located in Fred Segal, an upscale boho clothing store that’s a cross between a department store and a boutique. What’s it like inside the actual burger shop? It’s part urban (subway tile clad bar), part nautical preppy (tongue and groove wood plank walls), and many parts hipster (stuffed deer head on wall). It’s a burger joint that caters more towards their female clientele both in atmosphere and in food presentation. It’s gastropub lite.
I tried the Truffle Burger on my first visit. It comes on an airy brioche bun with the Umami Burger logo baked on. I’d say the toppings were on the spare side. There’s a crisp truffle cheese chip and a slice of roasted tomato. When I took a bite, I got a big whiff of truffle aroma as the juices started pouring out of the meat. From the texture of the meat I’m guessing that they grind their own steak fresh. The burger definitely gave me a sense of what umami means. Fried potatoes can be ordered in a variety of forms and types. Smushed, thin cut, sweet potato, or cheesy tots (discussions online indicate that the tots are part of their secret menu). The ketchup they serve with their fries has sugar in it, which for some reason reminded me of Japan. They charge extra for additional ketchup – there’s always a weird fussy element at gastropubs, and at Umami Burger they fuss about giving away ketchup. They don’t have the usual encyclopedic beer list that gastropubs have, but rather a curated selection of nice craft beers from around the world. Tucked into Fred Segal, the Santa Monica location is somewhat hidden so that you can get a good respite from the Third Street promenade shopping and tourist extravaganza.
Marvin Kim has spent the past several years living in Santa Monica, California. When he’s not working away on the latest designs at the office of Frank Gehry, he’s exploring the sights and surf up and down the Southern California coast.