This March, Umami Burger, a burger joint named after one of the five basic senses, opened a new branch on 452 University Ave. The Palo Alto branch is one of the chain’s many restaurants dotting California and Florida. Verde investigates what makes Umami Burger special.
The surroundings of Umami Burger are too bland to suit a burger joint. Umami Burger chose to make their main decoration rows of classic books, from Shakespeare folios to the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. However, the books are all glued together. Why are they here? Who associates burgers with classic literature? Only T.J. Eckleburg knows.
The scrawled over posters which hang on the pale gray walls have misguided aspirations of grandeur. On one, Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech overlays generic redwood pictures. Another involves fragments of cliched poetry.
At 7ish, the restaurant was full, with large groups occupying the tables. Some individual diners ate while working. While people were talking, the atmosphere was far from noisy, as if a mousy librarian was around the corner hushing any rambunctious diners. Service was friendly and obliging, distinctly un-librarian esque, which was a plus.
It seems the normal rambunctious, homey style of a burger joint is lost in an attempt for sophistication, leaving a restaurant parading as a library.
TRUFFLE ROYALE, 15.00
You would think a burger joint whose name basically means “meaty flavor” would be able to pull off a simple burger, but the crown jewel “Truffle burger supreme” of Umami Burger couldn’t have been less pleasing. The copious amounts of truffle drowned out any tidbits of meaty tastiness that might once have been there, leaving a homogeneous mass of truffle-imbued mush. Let’s be clear though: each ingredient is perfectly delectable, and could even be the cherry on top of any other burger. But like doesn’t compliment like, and the truffle taste doesn’t reach its full potential unless paired with contrasting tastes. Umami Burger needs to chill out with the truffle, and let the burger step into the limelight.
ALL NIGHTER, 15.00
Taken individually, the components of the All Nighter, Umami Burger’s Palo Alto special, ranged from decent to delicious. However, due to Umami Burger’s tendency to add sweetness to everything, it ended up tasting overwhelmingly the same. The gravy was undetectable, being the same brand of sweet as the rest of the burger. The addition of hash browns were an intriguing attempt to add variety, but their sogginess and lack of salty flavor failed to counterbalance the juicy burger and soft brisket.
EARTH BURGER, 12.00
Umami Burger offers non-meat option, the Earth Burger. The burger’s mushroom and edamame patty is topped with a ricotta spread that replaces the conventional American cheddar. The venture was admirable, and the flavorful patty dodged the dryness that plagues most veggie burgers. However, with the ricotta and the mushroom and the onions that garnished the burger, there were just too many sour flavors.
FRIED PICKLES, 6.00
THIN FRIES TRUFFLE’em, 5.50
Umami Burger’s starters are mostly variations on the typical sides found at any burger joint. The fries were undercooked and underwhelming, and sorely needed crisp. Adding melted truffle cheese just made them soggier: while the idea of truffle flavor was promising, the whole thing needed salt to really zing. The sweet potato fries had a grainy texture and, oddly, too much cinnamon, making the whole thing sweet instead of salty. Essentially, all the fries needed salt, which the special “Umami Ketchup” failed to provide. It was just another heaping of sweet flavor in appetizers that hardly needed it. The fried pickles were just pickles coated with a thin, tasteless batter.