Sunday, November 30, 2014

Umami Burger

We all learned in elementary school that there were four tastes:  sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  It has been acknowledged in recent years, however, that there is a fifth taste, umami, which was discovered in Japan about 100 years ago.  Umami is a savory flavor that provides depth of flavor in things like meat, mushrooms, tomatoes, or sharp cheese.  Recently, a small California-based burger chain called Umami Burger opened in Wicker Park.  There spin, as it might be guessed, is to create especially umami burgers.  In addition to the burger, ingredients such as truffles, parmesan cheese, bacon, tomatoes, and onions.  Everything is served a la carte, so while you can get fries with your burger, you have to order them separately.  While I did say that everything is a la carte, they do have a combo called the Trust Us Combo.  It comes with a burger, fries, and a drink (beer or soda, depending on the combo you order), but you don't get to choose which burgers, fries, or drink you're getting.  There were many things that looked good on the menu so I didn't think it was a big stretch to order it.  The Fries were not quite thin enough to be called Shoestring Potatoes, but they were Thin Fries.  Ordering them a la carte, you could get them as is or Umamified for an extra charge.  The choices for Umamification were to be Truffled with Truffle Cheese and Truffle Salt, Smothered (Poutine Style) with Short Rib and Brown Gravy, Make 'Em Manly with Beer Cheese, Bacon, and Onion Strings, or Sloppy with Lentils, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Crema, Cheddar, Jalapeno, and Onion Strings.  With the Combo (or at least with my combo), I got plain fries.  I was a little disappointed at first because, while I like fries, the Umamified Fries looked much better to me.  With the fries though, came a bucket with dipping sauces and spoons to try them in.  Featured in the sauces were their House Ketchup which had Soy and Jalapeno flavors in addition to the standard sweet tomatoes, a Hot and Spicy Sauce which was exactly that, a Garlic Ranch, and a Truffle Aioli.  It was fun to try the separate flavors, but my favorites were the Ketchup and the Truffle Aioli.
For my burger, I actually got the burger I was looking at most closely.  It was called the Manly Burger and it had Beer Cheddar, Bacon Lardons, Smoked Salt, Onion Strings, House Ketchup and Mustard Spread.  The bun, like on all Umami Burgers was "tattooed" with a U.  The burger was very good.  It was savory obviously, but it was also juicy, salty,  and the bacon and onion strings add some crunch.
After the combo, I decided to try one of the Ice Cream Sandwiches that they carried.  They carry Coolhaus Architecturally Inspired Sandwich Cookies.  I got a Cara-Mia Lehrer, Salted Caramel Ice Cream between two Snickerdoodle Cookies.  This was really good.  The cookies are soft, chewy, and sweet, with a nice cinnamon flavor, and the salted caramel ice cream was creamy and the perfect combination of salty and sweet.  It was a good finish to the meal.

While the burgers at Umami burger are good, they are kind of one note, focusing on umami to the neglect of everything else.  As far as how they compare to the other burger bars in Chicago, they are not the best, but they are very definitely not the worst.  I would return, but it isn't a place that I would make a special trip for.  

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