After months of anticipation from burger hounds, the wait for California chain Umami Burger's first New York City location finally comes to an end when the ridiculously popular chain opens its doors on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village next Monday. It's the first of three outposts set to open here in the near future, with another location coming to Williamsburg sometime early next year and a third to Brookfield Place soon after. As with other locations, the newest Umami was designed to reflect the area, including a giant vintage photograph of the arch in Washington Square Park. The rustic, borderline industrial decor belies the more nuanced flavors of the food, which we tried at a press preview this afternoon.
First, a little primer about the burgers, since that's what we're all in this for. Umami Burger aims to capture, of course, umami, the "fifth taste," which some translate to "savory." Each of their burgers begins with a 6 ounce patty, ground fresh daily from all natural beef that's delivered to the restaurants each morning. It's a coarsely ground patty, loosely packed, that threatens—in a good way—to fall apart with each bite. Depending on the burger, umami-rich toppings, spices and condiments are added, each getting a slathering of Master Sauce before being placed between two griddled slices of slightly-sweet bun. This isn't a custom burger bar; you aren't allowed any substitutions—though items can be removed, if so desired—and burgers come cooked to medium rare unless otherwise specified.
It all begins with The Original ($12), topped with a Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and house ketchup. It's a good burger, no doubt, with a hint of sweetness and a strong, mushroomy flavor. Next, the Greenwich Village-specific Five Spice Burger, with a patty made from whole fresh duck, layered onto the bun with sauteed parsnip, Chinese Five Spice, Madagascar Pepper, Peach/Apple Chutney and Garlic Aioli. It's got a peppery kick, a nice fruity essence and great duck flavor. But it's the Truffle Burger ($12.50) that really blows the lid off this burger joint. A flavor bomb of roasted garlic aioli, house truffle cheese and a truffle glaze that, even after eating burger upon burger, we found ourselves sneaking just one more bite.
The restaurant offers one substitution in the form of a portobello mushroom cap in lieu of a meat patty. They also offer an Ahi Tuna Burger ($15), Earth Burger ($12) and The Greenbird ($12.50), made with Shelton Farms turkey. Can't have a burger without fries, which you can order unadorned ($3.5) or you can Truffle 'em (+$2) with truffle cheese and truffle salt—you want this—or Make 'em manly (+$3) with beer-cheddar, bacon and onion strings. You also want their Cheesy Tots (a special item off the "secret menu"): enormous "tots" made with tender mashed potato and cheese, fried 'til crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
Two full bars occupy the bi-level space, pouring out eight tap beers (Allagash White, Sixpoint Sweet Action), 17 bottled brews and a decent selection of red and white wines by the glass or bottle. Bartenders also mix up 17 cocktails—more than any other Umami to date—like the coconut-y "Village Mojito," their nod to the famed restaurant that brought us the Bloody Mary with "21-U Club," and the ridiculously potent—though wrongly named for the NYU Mascot—The Royals.
So does Umami Burger live up to the hype? Should you wait on the inevitable around-the-block lines that will form up on Monday? Will the umami powerhouse eclipse the cronut? Yes. Maybe wait a month. And good lord we hope so.
432 6th Avenue at West 10th Street (212) 677-8626, umami.com