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Is There Meat In That?

“Everything. I am too distraught to discuss now. I have some words for tomorrow.”

I texted the above response to explain what was wrong with Umami’s burgers to an avid fan who encouraged me to prioritize a visit to the newly opened Union Street outpost. For those unfamiliar, Umami Burger (not to be confused with Umami which is located a few blocks east) is the latest burger phenomenon to hit San Francisco. The chain was born in Los Angeles and opened its first Bay Area location this month.

Frankly, the place has “chain” written all over it. The lighting is unflattering, the interior design unoriginal, and the buns have a tramp stamp “U” on the bun (check out my pic if you don’t believe me). When I was told of a 30 minute wait, I asked if I could get a drink in the bar area and chill; the hostess looked at me like I had two noses (bar seats are reserved like any table seat). I could handle all this if the burger was good. But the burgers are a lesson in how to NOT build a burger.

The bun/patty relationship is much like a bridesmaid/bride relationship. The bun, like a good bridesmaid, is critical to the overall experience, but should never overwhelm the meat/bride – only enhance. The meat is the reason everyone comes to the show. Going to Umami is like going to a wedding without a bride. The 6oz patty is literally lost under the weight of the thick bun. Umami either needs to serve a thicker patty to even out the proportions or find a new bun altogether. The toppings were forgettable. If you’re still with me, we tried the Umami Burger and the Truffle Burger.

The sides (which one pays extra for – another strike – hasn’t Umami heard the phrase “burger & fries”?) don’t do much to redeem the experience. The secret, “off the menu” tater tots that the waiter enthusiastically tells everyone about are mediocre (and really no secret as every table I saw had them). The “special” cheesy interior creates more of a mashed potato interior with a soft, non-crispy exterior. Go to Bullitt if you want real tots. If the chefs were aiming for game-changing sweet potato fries, they missed the mark by adding a cup of brown sugar over the top.

Lastly, the cookie ice cream sandwich confirmed this place is a miss. The salt-n-pepper ice cream was too strange for my taste and the peanut butter cookies were pulled out of a freezer.

The burgers range from $11-15 so they’re neither a bargain nor a rip off. But in a city where there are too many outstanding burgers and not enough time, this place won’t be a return visit of mine anytime soon.

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