You probably wouldn’t believe it, but there is a connection between the words Umami and Chutspah. Umami – borrowed from Japanese – has to do with the perceived fifth “savory” taste after salt, sweet, sour and bitter, and Chutspah is Yiddish for gall, guts, courage, fortitude, determination and a touch of arrogance. But Adam Fleishman (coincidentally Yiddish for “meat man”, hmm…) is the very personification of both. After going for broke, the California native created Umami Burger, a formidably successful franchise from the umpteen-thousandth re-re-re-invention of the hamburger. But when that wasn’t enough, he did the unthinkable – he brought it to New York City. As you can imagine, New Yorkers of all walks of life were unspeakably apoplectic with indignation that Fleishman would have the chutspah to enter their holy burger grail, tell them that he could do it better, and that he was an Angelino no less!
The predictably feverish hype and hoopla blitz ensued, and instead of standing in line for 3+ hours outside their Greenwich Village location (although I’ve read that the wait has shrunk to below 30 minutes for a table nowadays), I decided to sample Fleishman’s creation in its natural habitat. I sat at one of the raw wooden benches with a view of the parking-lot outside the tip of Fred Segal’s ivy-covered clothing empire in Santa Monica, as my server wearing the iconic logo of a cross between a burger and a pair of Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-ketchup-stained lips on his T-shirt, brought me the Original burger with a side of Smushed Potatoes dredged in a roasted garlic aioli.
The soft, yet dense Portuguese roll has a cute cattle-brand of a “U” on its lid. The meat is roughly chopped Wagyu steak, which is loosely packed and cooked to a juicy medium-rare with Fleishman’s secret seasonings that are supposed to unleash that unbridled Umami flavor. The toppings are on the unconventional side, with sautéed shitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and a Parmesan crisp wafer that adds an interesting crunch as you bite down.
The overall flavors are definitely restaurant quality. There’s char-grilled depth, salty moisture and a heartiness you wont find in a fast-food factory burger (which always remind me of gray wood-shavings and Purina puppy chow.)
But is it the best burger in the land? Probably not. Is that such a bad thing? Probably not. And will this be the last ever re-invention of the burger as we know it? Most definitely not.
Next time someone wants to reinvent something, why not try Escargot? They’ve been prepared the same way for over 350 years. I think it’s time.