I thought nothing could bring me back to Umami Burger after my review last year. I was completely fine with that. But burger duty calls and Robyn promised she'd join me in experiencing the limited-time Monte Cristo Burger ($15; $1 from each burger is donated to the Los Angeles Mission). Designed in collaboration with Ink chef and former Top Chef champion Michael Voltaggio, this burger is topped with Busseto prosciutto and Gruyère fondue and served on a French toast-ified bun dusted with powdered sugar. A first glance it seemingly appeals solely to gluttonous masochists and lovers of a good culinary mashup. Sadly, I am both.
The burger begins with Umami's brioche bun given the French toast treatment: dipped in a vanilla custard, deep fried, and finished with a dusting of powdered sugar. As the brioche is already slightly sweet, this works pretty well, but you almost wish they'd go full doughnut burger. The patty was the typical loose, underseasoned product from Umami, but this was actually the best patty I'd tried in my handful of visits—deeply charred with a beefy burst of flavor. Unfortunately, the prosciutto hardly registered against the other, more powerful flavors and was seemingly included only as the token ham component in a Monte Cristo.
The main problem was the Gruyère fondue, which, while flavorful, congealed almost instantly and made me wish for a simple slice of cheese. On the side was a spoonful of maple syrup, which appeared superfluous at first but actually helped balance the burger and bun. Surprisingly, this could be the best burger I've eaten at Umami, but, like most everything at Umami, it could have benefited from more simplicity.
We also split a Hatch Burger ($11), which had the same problem—the housemade American cheese sauce congeals immediately (even before we waited for pictures), and the promised Hatch green chiles were disappointingly mild.
Sweet potato fries ($4) with "signature sweet salt" were cloyingly sweet. Stick with their thin fries, instead.
My opinion of Umami Burger has similarly congealed, and I probably won't return, except on official business. But, if you're in the area and feeling masochistic (and think a true doughnut burger is beneath you) you could do far worse than a Monte Cristo Burger.
About the author: Noah Arenstein is a practicing lawyer, freelance writer, and co-founder and managing editor of Real Cheap Eats, a site dedicated to finding the best dishes under $10 throughout NYC. He can also be found making "Global Jewish Sandwiches" for Scharf & Zoyer and running Crow Hill Supper Club. Follow him on Twitter @ChiefHDB.