This post took place over a month ago, but is only being published now due to editorial oversight. Our bad. But hey, the food still exists! Here's Damon's review of Umami Burger's entrant into the food truck scene.
The other day I noticed a fun Tweet from my favorite wine shop here in Los Angeles, domaineLA. It seemed owner Jill Bernheimer had convinced Umami Burger's new truck, the Umami Truck, to make a lunch stop by her store and put together a fun coupon for a free burger. It doesn't take much encouragement to get me to eat burgers, so when I found out I'd score a free one if I purchased some vino, well, it was time for lunch.
My first stop was to domaineLA on Melrose, which must be the coolest looking wine shop I've ever visited. Jill had her brother, architect Andrew Bernheimer, help design the space and found a master wine cellar carpenter (yeah, who knew that was a job description?) to build the racks. She isn't a lifelong oenophile, but rather an ordinary enthusiast who found a passion for wine and ran with it. Her business started as a purely online venture and then recently went brick and mortar. I love her take on choosing wine, exemplified by her catch phrase: "More wine. Less Attitude."
Jill happily answers my dumb questions about wine and will eagerly help with a pairing for pizza, or a burger. I chose a tasty Spanish wine off the sub-$15 rack (because I'm a cheapskate) for later and then took my burger coupon over to the Umami Truck parked around the corner.
As it turned out, owner Adam Fleischman was manning the truck, so not only did I get a burger made by the maestro himself, but also a bit of inside information on the his rapidly expanding burger empire. Adam has already expanded from the original Umami location (which I reviewed soon after it opened about a year ago) to Hollywood and Los Feliz, with another scheduled to open in Santa Monica! It's not surprising he'd also open an Umami Truck. This would be more than your average restaurateur could handle in a decade, let alone a year, but Fleischman's energy and ambition seem unbounded.
He told me that Umami is looking to become a new kind of fast food franchise. He's looking at building a green fast food chain. While the idea of making a sandwich of beef the locus of your fast food eatery is at cross-purposes, there is certainly lots of room for improvement over what we've been offered thus far. Also, don't be surprised if Umami Burgers starts popping up in international locations like Australia and Japan—Fleischman is already looking to expand beyond the U.S.
As for the burgers at the truck, Umami fans will not be disappointed. Fleischman has chosen to serve only his Smashburgers on his mobile eatery, as he found they were more suited to the cooking limitations on the truck. While Umami's version is a far cry from traditional smashed burgers, he has managed to strike a nice balance with his version. Fleischman told me that one reason he didn't fully recreate the smashed burger is that only a very fine grind will result in the lacy crust of the traditional version. The coarse grind of the Umami resists that much crusting, but, to be honest, I think it compares favorably with the originals. I tried the straight Smashburger (grilled onions, cheese, and pickles) and the Sherry Mushroom Smashburger.
The original Smashburger ($8) was a welcome does of tradition brought to bear on the Umami blend. I've often wondered how Fleischman's flavorful and coarse grind would match a more simplified dressing, and now I have the answer: very nicely. I enjoyed the traditional and simple cheese, pickle, and onion combination against the more contemporary take of the patty, which had a peppery kick.
The Sherry Mushroom burger ($8) has, as you'd expect, some sweet notes from the wine and earthiness from the mushroom, which Fleischman explained was an umami booster. I preferred the original, but would venture to say that this pairs more easily with wine. Then again, I'd ask Jill to be sure.
Where to Find the Truck: Right now, the Umami Truck is a "for hire" food truck, so there are no regular hours. You just have to track them (@umamiburger on Twitter) to see when they might pop up.