Sunday, August 12, 2012

Umami Burger

Another Sunday night, another try at eating casual food, since Sunday nights are certainly not good nights for fine dining (most places are not open, ones that are often don't have their executive chefs working, and no where has fresh seafood).

Continuing my theme of the past week, I decided to use GoPago as my inspiration, and choose a place that would accept it.  My options were fairly limited, as many GoPago locations are not open Sundays at dinner time, leaving me with the choice of indian, thai, burgers, or a few casual places that didn't sound very good.  Since my dining companion didn't want spice, this pretty quickly led us to burgers.

I don't have them often these days, but I can love a good burger.  Back a few years ago, I ran a group that went to get burgers every Thursday night.  We had our regular spots, like Big Mouth in the Mission, but also tried out pretty much every burger on every "best of" list we could find.  We had fancy burgers, casual burgers, fast food burgers.  Eventually we got sick of burgers, and expanded the night to be "B-night", where the B could still be burgers, but also often turned into burritos.  Eventually it turned into restaurants whose names started with B too.  And then like all good things, it came to an end at some point.  But burgers still have a soft place in my heart!

I debated between a few places listed on GoPago that I'd never been to before, but decided to give the famous Umami Burger another try.  I'd visited once before, over a year ago, back when they were fairly new, and had a pretty horrible experience.  I had to send the burger back because it arrived stone cold.  It was also well done, when ordered medium-rare.  And it was awful even when I got the replacement.  The sides were also not very good.  But everyone loves them.  Deemed "the best burger in America".  I was willing to believe that I somehow just had a horrible experience there, and that they deserved another try.

We arrived soon after 6pm, before the dinner rush.  No wait required, and immediately we were lead to a table.  Everything was going fine, until I went to place the GoPago order.  To-go was the only option listed.  Many places have dine-in or to-go as options, but I'd encountered the single listing before, but everyone else said it was no problem, and just allowed us to order using GoPago and dine in.  I asked the server, and he said that it wasn't an option.  GoPago was to-go only.  I asked if we could eat at the bar with our GoPago order.  Again, no.  I'm really not sure why, as the prices were the same.  Why do these care how the order is placed?

Anyway, fine, we left the table and ordered it togo.  Since it was early, there was still sunlight, and there was a bench next door to eat on.  Not ideal, but not bad.  It was a little ridiculous given that all of their outdoor tables were vacant, but whatever.  Our meal ended up being a ton faster, as the food was ready in about 5 minutes, and we didn't need to deal with any transactions.  Nor did we have to pay tip.  I guess there was some silver lining, but I was kinda grumpy about this.  I'm sure they have their reasons for not wanting people to use GoPago to dine in, but I wish they'd change that.  They also included the healthy sf fee!  I'm used to seeing tax on GoPago orders, but not healthy SF.  I guess this makes sense since the workers are still working, I just haven't ever seen it on a take out order before.

Anyway.  GoPago snafus aside, I basically felt the same was as the first time.  It wasn't nearly as bad this time, but it wasn't that good, and I certainly have no plans to return.  I've read a lot of great things about the scallop burger, can someone go try that at let me know if its worth my trying?
Cali Burger : butter lettuce, slow-roasted tomato, house spread, house-made American cheese, carmelized onions.  $10.
I got the same burger on both visits, a 6 ounce Cali Burger.  The first time, neither of us liked the burger.  We thought it was horribly greasy.  When I looked at photos online after, others didn't look as greasy, and no one else seemed to mention it in their reviews, so I figured it must have been a fluke the first time, and went for it again.

The second time, it was less greasy than the first time, but I still think it was one of the greasier burgers I've ever had, and I'm really surprised no one else comments on this fact!  The whole thing was a bit of a moist, oily, mess.  It required consuming in a few seconds, as it was breaking down into a pile of sogginess before our eyes.

The bottom bun was completely saturated in oil/moisture.  My dining companion removed his and I thought he was being silly, until I took a few bites of mine and realized how off putting a completely soggy bun was.  It wasn't just a little soggy, it was really turning into liquid.  Quite nasty.  It is possible this was due to having take-out, but we dug into the burger within moments of exiting the restaurant, so it really hadn't sat much at all.  The error here seems to be two-fold: the bun just wasn't strong enough to stand up to the burger and the burger was far too greasy.  The top bun wasn't as greasy, but also wasn't anything special.

The patty itself was cooked medium.  Ordered medium-rare, but at least it wasn't well done.  It was incredibly juicy, but not in a good way, it wasn't that it was nicely moist.  I'm not really sure what made it so juicy, I don't think it really was the meat itself.  Was it basted in tons of oil or something?  I don't really know.  I just know there was liquid oozing out of this thing all over the place.  It had a decent char on it, and some real flavor.  Not anything awesome, but better than a generic burger.

The butter lettuce was crisp and fresh, and a very large piece.  It added a nice crunch.

The slow roasted tomato was really quite flavorful and delicious.  My favorite component of the burger bar far.  Why don't more places serve these on burgers?  So much better than just a slice of raw tomato!

The house spread was lost in the rest of the toppings, I didn't taste it at all.

The cheese was well melted, but also fairly greasy, contributing to the messy dripping everywhere issues.  It didn't have any particular flavor.

The caramelized onions didn't taste all that caramelized.  There were cooked and soft, plentiful, but not all that flavorful.  They were also dripping in liquid, again, adding to the mess of the whole thing.

My tasting notes from the first visit: "Grease bomb.  So much grease.  So gross.  The slow roasted tomatoes were flavorful but you couldn't taste them amongst the grease.  The meat was super greasy and fatty.  The caramelized onoins were super greasy.  The house spread was lacking in flavor.  The cheese was greasy.  The bun was overwhelming and greasy."  Geeze.  I think I needed to expand my vocabulary :)

I'm really not sure why I ordered this again after such a negative review the first time.  I liked it more this time, but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way for it.  $10 is a little pricy for a burger, but I think this was made with quality ingredients, so it wasn't too bad.
Thin fries.  $3.50.  Cheesy tater tots.
Ordered on my first visit.

Tasting notes from then: "The fries were lackluster at best.  Do not order again."

The cheesy tater tots are not on the menu, but not exactly a secret.  My tasting notes from that visit: "These got great reviews on Yelp, people say they are not too cheesy, and people love love love them.  We thought they were not good.  They were incredibly deep fried.  And yes, not too cheesy, as the cheese was not even there in most bites.  Not good at all, do not order again."
Tempura Onion Rings.  $4.50.
Since my notes from last time told me not to order the fries or tater tots, we had to choose a new side.  I debated between the sweet potato fries and the onion rings, but its been ages since I've had onion rings, so decided to go for those.  Plus, Yelpers called them "the best ever"!  Note to self, again: do not trust the Yelpers!

These were just not very good.  The onion inside was slimy and flavorless, and larger than I like.  The batter also had no real flavor.  They were insanely oily.  I don't even know why we finished these, as neither of us liked them, and they made us feel kinda sick and gross afterwards.

I'd certainly never get them again.  And $4.50 for 6 onion rings?  Really?

They, like the other sides, were mostly just vessels to try out the different sauces ...



The Condiments: House sauce, roasted garlic aioli, jalapeño ranch, umami ketchup, dijon mustard, diablo chili sauce. 
These are not brought to you, unless you specifically request them, but are complimentary.  We requested them on both visits.  The first time, we were brought all 6 of them, in cute little spoons.  The second time, we ordered togo, and only 4 were included, although we also received the ketchup with the onion rings, so we had 5 of them.  I'm not sure why they didn't include all 6, and I still can't figure out exactly which ones we had.
  • Umami Ketchup:  This is their signature sauce.   "Umami Ketchup is slightly sweet with the perfect balance of tomato, vinegar, salt and just a hint of truffle."  The first time my notes said: "ketchup was decent but kinda just sweet".  My second visit I thought it was basically just ketchup, with a little something extra going on.  Not worth raving about, but my favorite of the sauces.
  • Dijon Mustard: We did not receive this on the second visit.  The first time I said: "the mustard was sorta interesting but not for dipping fries, which is what we had it for".
  • House Spread: I think we did not receive this on the second visit, although we did have 2 containers of white stuff, but I really thought they were both the aoili.  If they weren't then I think one was this.  The first time, I said: "house dressing was just like thousand island but not good".
  • Roasted Garlic Aioli: I'm guessing this is what the white sauce was.  It was indistinguishable from generic mayo.  I didn't taste a hint of garlic.  I seemed to have felt the same way the first time, with my notes simply reading: "aioli was just mayo".
  • Jalapeño Ranch: I really didn't like this.  It tasted like ranch, but a very bad version of it.  Something in the flavor was very off for me.  The first time however, I said: "ranch not even recognizable as ranch, no flavor".  Something must have changed?
  • Diablo Sauce: This was indeed spicy.  But not in a good way.  The first time, I also didn't like it, but commented, "at least the hot one was hot".
So yeah, I wasn't exactly impressed by any of the sauces.  On my first visit, my overall note was "dipping sauces were all pedestrian at best."  I pretty much agree this time around.
Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream Sandwich: Oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon brittle ice cream.  $5.
The dessert options were a root beer float or ice cream sandwich.  I wasn't really in the mood for either, and I haven't ever been a huge fan of Humphrey Slocombe in the past, even though I've tried a ton of their flavors, but it was my birthday, and I wanted my dessert!

They make the ice cream sando on the spot.  I was given the choices of vanilla, chocolate, or cinnamon brittle ice cream.  I went for the cinnamon brittle, as it sounded far and way the most interesting.  For cookie, they had chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia, or oatmeal raisin.  I was leaning towards white chocolate macadamia, but the server recommended the oatmeal raisin with the cinnamon brittle ice cream, so I went for it.

The flavor in the cookie was decent, buttery, and they were loaded up with raisins.  The cookies were fairly soft.  Not very oatmealy however, and definitely too sweet, particularly when paired with the ice cream.

The ice cream was very sweet.  It was decently creamy, and the cinnamon flavor did pair well with the oatmeal raisin cookie, but it was fairly subtle.  I only found one tiny chunk of brittle.

My biggest issue here was the ratio of cookie to ice cream. There was far too much cookie for the ice cream, I ran out of ice cream long before cookie.  And the cookies just weren't anything special on their own.  It was kinda like the classic problem with eating a burger and running out of bun, but in reverse.

This wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good.  Pretty generic cookie, decent ice cream, but meh.  I think partially it just isn't really what I wanted, but they didn't have any options.  $5 was a good price, as this thing was actually really large, which could also have contributed to my feeling meh about it, as it was just too much, and I was sick of it after a few bites, but somehow finished the whole thing.  I'd recommend somehow sharing it with someone, although that would be really hard to cut.  I wouldn't order again.
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