Umami Burger's Bold Flavors Are Too Greasy for Comfort

Umami Burger's Bold Flavors Are Too Greasy for Comfort
The Original Umami Burger ($11) and truffle fries ($5.50).

The Cubano Burger at Umami Burger tastes like gravy-topped chicharrón. The grease-ridden concoction pairs a pork patty with a lightly toasted bun. Shaved ham, pineapple mustard, and molten cheese crown the fatty swine, summoning images of Havana, Hawaiian pizza, and heartburn. Each nibble makes your lips gleam and your fingers look gross.

And then, once you're all done, your stomach feels even worse.

So is the patty deep-fried? Did a cook sneak lard into the sauce? "Well, those are preparatory secrets," says a manager at Umami, the California-based chain that opened in South Beach this past May. "You're going to have to call our PR firm for that."

The Cubano Burger: Heartburn on a bun.
The Cubano Burger: Heartburn on a bun.

Location Info

Map

Umami Burger

1080 Alton Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: South Beach

Details

Umami Burger

305-672-4334; umami.com

Lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight.

Truffle fries $5.50
Umami Caesar $8
The Original $11
Miami Earth Burger $12
Cubano Burger $15

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Though its burgers are far from ordinary, Umami Burger operates like a standard franchise — with a strongbox of classified recipes and procedures. Founder Adam Fleischman is a former food and wine writer credited with launching Los Angeles' first wine bars. He opened his original Umami in 2009 and built a booming brand around bold flavors. Each recipe stars umami, a category of taste that extends beyond sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami exists in tomatoes, mushrooms, fish sauce, bouillon cubes, and anything rife with MSG or glutamates. Each of Fleischman's creations stems from his unique food-as-science approach. His burgers manipulate palates and proffer a combination of things that should taste good.

So far, the formula has succeeded. In 2010, GQ declared Umami Burger "Burger of the Year." Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Blake Lively are constantly photographed at West Coast locations. The restaurants have garnered a reputation for their crowded dining rooms, full bars, and determined branding.

In his official portrait, Fleischman holds a magic wand over a compact hamburger, a tubby creation that fits comfortably in the average palm. On the Umami website, he peddles Umami Ketchup, Umami Master Sauce, Umami Dust, and Umami Spray. In writing, the brand unabashedly employs the verb "umamify." On the restaurant's menu, burgers are labeled as boasting "serious Umami Burger flavor." They are packed with ingredients such as bacon, truffle cheese, and roasted garlic aioli.

Health is of no concern to Umami, and neither are rivaling restaurants. "There are a lot of people in [Miami's] 'better burger' market, but we don't look at any of them as competition," Fleischman says. Indeed, in the past few years, the area has seen an influx of specialty burger joints: Burger­Fi, Elevation Burger, Burger & Beer Joint, Fort Lauderdale-based ROK:BRGR, and Danny Meyer's Shake Shack. Those restaurants propelled our then-nascent burger craze.

But recently, the tendency has slowed. In 2012, Lincoln Road's Five Napkin Burger switched to Five Napkin Grill. Joshua Woodward — the man formerly behind 8 Oz. Burger Bar in Los Angeles and Miami — was arraigned on attempting to induce a miscarriage in his then-girlfriend in 2009. His local partner, Eric Fried, closed their Alton Road location, reopened it as American Burger, and, shortly thereafter, shuttered that venture. Umami Burger South Beach, which is Fleischman's first restaurant outside California, took over that very same space.

So why does Fleischman think he can succeed where others have failed? "Most of them are either very vintage and backward-looking or about personal customization without any culinary guidance," he explains.

It's true — culinary guidance abounds on Umami Burger's menu. For instance, male patrons are encouraged to indulge in the Manly Burger, a beef patty topped with beer-cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, and smoked-salt onion strings. The manliest of men can also test the resilience of their gut with an extra side of Manly Fries, a dish finished with similar ingredients. Best of all, both servings of sexism are offered without egg whites, edible flowers, or kale — lest females get the wrong idea.

Vegetarians might want to sample the Miami Earth Burger, a meat-free invention that layers crushed avocado with goat cheese spread and roasted tomato. But on a recent Saturday night, its loosely formed patty — a hodgepodge of forbidden rice, turtle beans, and shiitake mushrooms — spilled from the bun like a cascade of black grains. Perhaps a better bet would've been the ahi tuna burger, which our goofy waiter recommended. "I don't know what 'gingered carrots' means, but it tastes really good," he said.

We wound up ordering the Umami Caesar instead. The salad features shards of kale and butter lettuce sprinkled with lemon zest and Parmesan. But its greens arrived coated in excess dressing, a condiment heavy enough to drown any food lacking floaties.

Chain restaurants succeed because they are consistent. And in that respect, Umami Burger thrives. Every salad we ordered was overdressed. Every burger we requested medium-rare was cooked well-done. Every meal — a farrago of fat, sloppiness, and cheese — culminated with regret and a greater risk of developing gout.

Still, Umami's founder stands by his brand. The restaurateur launched his first New York City location last week to eager crowds. He also hopes to open additional spots in the Miami area. But does the city need more specialty burger restaurants? "Umami South Beach is killing it," he says.

Actually, it's more like Umami South Beach is killing us.

 
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5 comments
Monaro-Dude
Monaro-Dude

This was a horribly written article with too much bias for vegetarian/extremely healthy diet. This is a great burger spot (Although they just shut down due to Alton's lovely road work). It's not something you eat every day, come on now use some common sense. Which you article seems to be lacking. You being a food critic in this article didn't know what a gingered carrot is, and you review restaurants? Maybe you should enroll in a semester at a community college for a cooking and writing class. That being said I never noticed it male oriented like you noted. I was first taken here by my wife and all her female friends. Not all females are so distorted with their body image that the cannot go out and enjoy a burger once in a while. You must have some serious body and self esteem issues. Please get help.

Umami is a great burger place, and the best on the Beach.

josheche
josheche

This article has an obvious health bias. Burgers are made with fat. It's in the damn recipe. This should be filed under Health & Lifestyle instead of Restaurants.

icculus17
icculus17 topcommenter

sounds disgusting, how stupid are people these days? this is why you're fat

missmelmob
missmelmob

I found this review to be horribly written and inaccurate of the experience I had at Umami.  The writer obviously goes into the review with a bias because nothing is healthy on the menu. It just goes to show how unsophisticated Miami is in that a restaurant that is both critically and popularly loved in LA and NYC goes unappreciated here.

Tigerlover
Tigerlover

My experience was completely different.  I loved the restaurant.  I have been a burger aficionado for over 38 years, always hunting down the best burgers throughout the country.  The Umami Burger I had is one of the best I have had in the past few years.  I think that your review was flawed and absolutely inaccurate based on my experience there and with Burgers in general.  Of course I do not go to a Burger joint for salad so maybe you are right about that but their Burger is excellent.


 
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