“New York has some okay burgers,” says Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman to New York restaurant critic Adam Platt in a 2,641 word profile of the Los Angeles burger chain that is poised to disrupt NYC’s Shake Shack–dominated grilled patty ecosystem.
Having taste-tested Umami burgers on several occasions, including at the last two Googamooga festivals in New York and at Umami’s Death Star — a sprawling restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called Umamicatessen — we’d say the burger is pretty much okay too. Some would disagree. As Platt notes, the chain has won a crazy following, including celebrities (hi Blake Lively and Leo DiCaprio lunch date) and celebrity chefs like Michael Voltaggio alike.
Fleischman, born in Queens, moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s to pursue a career in film. When that failed, he naturally pivoted to the hamburger business — focusing on engineering a product based around the then-obscure concept of umami (sometimes called the “fifth taste”). Umami is found in several iconic Asian foodstuffs like seaweed, soy sauce, bonita flakes and fermented products like Korean kimchi. So when that sudden, unrelenting, craving for ordering sushi for lunch strikes you, it's likely umami talking.
It’s questionable how much “umami” is actually packed into these burgers. As noted, we found that they were pretty much OK. And, regardless, we're burger classicists. So, firmly cheering for Team Danny Meyer.
But buried within Platt’s story is a cool line about how Fleischman delivers this so-called umami to his legion of umami-starved fanboys. It’s not mixed into the patty blend, which is widely assumed, but added as a seasoning or sauce. As reported in the story:
Fleischman spent two months in his home kitchen obsessively mixing and remixing seaweeds, cheeses, and stinky dried fish. He discovered that umami-rich ingredients don’t work when you blend them into the beef, so he developed natural flavorings (Umami Master Sauce and Umami Dust), which he used to umamify the patty after it was gently precooked in a CVap oven.
Umami Burger locations are planned to open in Williamsburg (North 4th Street), Sixth Avenue in the West Village and, by next year, at the World Financial Center in Battery Park City. We've heard that people are starting to queue up.
Umami Burger Comes to New York, Armed With One Addictive Ingredient [New York Magazine]