There’s nothing a New Yorker loves more than feigning disinterest in other cities. We have everything worth having here, and Chicago can take its sparkling blue lake and shove it. But somehow, when it comes to food, New Yorkers have a fascination with everything from everywhere. Maybe it’s just that we want to say we’ve had it. Maybe it’s just that we want to be able to intelligently naysay it. Maybe it’s that we want to put it on a cronut.
In any case, I found myself at the made-famous-in-L.A. Umami Burger on its fourth day in NYC. Partly because I had planned to go to the park and it was raining, and partly because I figured not having to stand in the dinner line was one gift I could give myself as an unemployed lady. It turned out that the rain had dissuaded all of the half-hearted burger-eaters and left my friends Kim and Jack and me with a mere ten-minute wait for a table during what should have been the lunch rush.
The menu has salads on it. Isn’t that adorable?
We were seated in a not-quite-as-cramped-as-you-would-think booth in the corner and greeted by a super-friendly server who told us our burgers would be half-off because the buns that day weren’t as “pretty” as the Umami Burger standards would dictate. The unemployment gods were smiling upon me. Sadly, they weren’t serving the special five-spice duck burger only available at the NYC location that day, but they made up for it with a pastrami burger with an inch of spicy, smoky, herby lunchmeat on top of the hand-ground steak burger:
Not an unusually attractive bun but not offensively ugly, right?
You can tell these things aren’t coming off some truck frozen because of the way they fall apart when you cut into them; they’re not the homogeneous rounds of your traditional fast food burger joints. The patty was seared to a crust that was only dwarfed by the dried exterior of the pastrami. A sour relish countered the deep, rich flavors of the burger but the cheese added to them, so there was no escaping the umami. I’d heard complaints about the $12 price tag on these burgers, but I wasn’t so offended; with fries, they’re just a dollar-ish more expensive than, say, 5 Napkin Burger, and a whole lot less expensive than the burgers at The Spotted Pig and Minetta Tavern. And this was just plain delicious with that pastrami so thick and spicy it became the whole point of the burger.
Kim is a lady and ordered the tuna burger with sprouts, avocado, ginger-flavored carrots, and a little wasabi kick. It was basically the exact opposite of my burger with its light sear and its freshness.
Jack took one for the team and ordered The Original, which was topped with shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and a big round of crisp Parmesan. The Parmesan was the thing I was most excited about, but he acted like it was mainly there for texture.
For starters and sides, we got the complex House Pickle Plate with sesame ginger wax beans (who would think to care about beans at a burger joint?, but these were super lemony and tart), spicy green beans, smoked okra, bread and butter pickles, and beets,
the Truffled Beet Salad with arugula, smoked almonds, and truffled ricotta spread,
tater tots filled with cheese,
and shoestring fries served “manly” style with beer-cheddar, thick chunks of bacon, and onion strings. Aside from being supremely offended that cheese, pork, and onions are apparently for men, I loved these fries. Even more than Kim’s fries dripping with truffle cream.
My Mexican Coke tasted like American Coke but with less flavor,
but my ice cream cookie sandwich with its gigantic gingerbread rounds, vanilla ice cream, and gloopy lemon curd was the perfect spicy-bright note to end a mega rich meal.
Owner Adam Fleischman says this isn’t a Shake Shack ripoff, and he’s right (even if there was a smashed burger a la Shake Shack’s on the daily specials menu the day I visited). Shake Shack is a fast food burger you eat in the park or squeezed in between tourists at whatever table space you can manage, and this is a leisure burger you enjoy with a beer and your friends with the biggest stomachs. Shake Shack is perfect in its simplicity, while this is the whole kitchen piled on a bun. There’s definitely room for both types in NYC and in my mouth, but which I’ll choose on a given day comes down to whether I’m in the mood for the best-tasting patty possible or a really great sit-down meal with appetizers that are just as strong as the main event.
432 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10011 (map)