The food: artisanal burgers in L.A.
In 2010, GQ’s Alan Richman declared the Umami Burger (looking rather unimpressive above) – found at the California mini-chain of the same name – to be the Burger of the Year, so while in Los Angeles I had to try it.
Before I did though, I checked out another highly touted – by Esquire magazine – artisanal burger from another California bar/gastropub with a few select branches, Father’s Office.
The Santa Monica location of Father’s Office, on Montana Avenue, is a narrow, dimly lit room that has no wait staff, a very short blackboard menu, is open only in the evenings on weekdays, can get busy, and has been known to have celebrities make an appearance (ScarJo herself showed up there the week after I visited).
Fearing jostling and attitude, I was relieved when we arrived early-ish, passed easily by an ultra-casual doorman whose function appeared to be to check ID of younger customers (of whom there were many) when not reading a novel (!), and saw that the lineup at the bar to order was not long, and tables were available.
Being fans of brussel sprouts, my husband E and I started with a plate of organic ones listed on the chalkboard – they were pan-roasted, came with pine nuts, crispy Serrano ham and sherry vinegar and tasted pretty damn good.
We then made the mistake of ordering one each of the Father’s Office burgers:
This was a mistake because the burgers were big, and they come with strongly flavoured additions for which no substitutions are allowed: arugula, a caramelized onion/bacon compote and Gruyere and Maytag Blue Cheese. I was in favour of the arugula and the cheeses (not sure I needed two though), but I ended up strongly opposed to the onion/bacon compote. I thought it overwhelmed the meat, and made it taste BBQ sauce-ish, not my favourite flavour. We both finished our burgers but I wished I hadn’t. The shoestring fries, made of real, fresh potatoes, were good, though. If you like shoestring fries.
A few days later, we went to the Santa Monica location of Umami Burger, which is hidden inside a Fred Segal store and shares its Broadway address but is at the other end of the store, and is better accessed from 5th Street, where there is a pleasant patio.
We walked into the many-windowed, welcoming and casual but upscale space, which was crowded mid-afternoon. This time we ordered one Umami burger – house-ground beef served with caramelized onions (again), oven-roasted tomatoes, a Parmesan frico (melted, crisped Parmesan), sauteed shiitake mushrooms and house made ketchup – to share, and an excess of sides.
We started with a salad that was good conceptually but could have been executed better – check out the tiredness of the lettuce leaf in the pic, and the croutons seemed like they came from a package:
I couldn’t face any more thin fries so we went next with a side of crunchy, golden smashed potatoes that E particularly liked:
followed by sweet potatoes sprinkled with brown sugar and possibly something else:
and ending with huge onion rings for the person in our party who isn’t me and loves onions:
Umami Burger is all about the fifth taste that’s beyond sweet, salt, sour and bitter (for more about this, see their website). I couldn’t readily identify it in the burger, but once I’d scraped off the caramelized onions, I liked the bouquet of flavour that imbued this burger and its carefully selected and combined toppings, and wished I’d ordered my own.