Archive | September, 2013

Umami Burger: Welcome to NYC

19 Sep

All of my California friends have been singing the praises of Umami Burger for quite some time.  When we were in San Francisco at the end of our honeymoon in June, we stopped by and really enjoyed our meal.  It was just weeks from opening in NYC, and this summer, we got our first Umami Burger in Greenwich Village.

We stopped by just a few weeks after opening (and after the 3 hour waits were supposed to be less and they had reportedly fixed their reservation system).  We checked in and they took our name and number down on an iPad, saying it would be about 45 minutes.  They said they would text me when the table was coming ready, so we went out to find a happy hour drink.  I was immediately texted with a link to see my place online (digitally) and saw we were about #15 in the list.  About 35 minutes later, I got a text that our table was coming up.  We wrapped up our drinks and walked back over, sliding into our high stools on the top floor almost exactly 45 minutes after first arriving.

A lot of reviews are panning the decoration, but I saw nothing wrong with it.  (Though I can’t say it was very memorable)



The Umami Burger menu is similar in all locations, however, there are (“secret”) specials for each location.  The specials in New York are a 5 spice duck burger (which they were sadly out of when we were there), a French dip burger (which I didn’t hear anything about and forgot to ask about when we were there), and cheese tots.


We were greeted by a (very enthusiastic) waitress who proceeded to tell us what “umami” means in a speech she must have rehearsed in the mirror a few times.  I was sitting at a table with fellow food fiends, one of which went to culinary school.  So it felt a little like being a tourist in my own food city, but we went with it.

They immediately came out with 3 umami sauces.  I don’t remember anything notable about them.



We decided to split a whole lot of sides so we could try as many as possible.  First up were the fried pickles. (They came with a jalapeno dipping sauce that I couldn’t eat).  I enjoyed them but nothing too special.



Truffle cheese fries.  I wanted these to be crispier.  The taste was good but the texture couldn’t stand up to the cheese sauce.


Tempura onion rings.  Yummy and not too greasy.



And then the secret tots.  I was somehow expecting tater tots with a cheese sauce, but instead these actually had the potatoes mixed with the aged parm and cheddar in the tot itself.  Quite delicious.



And then onto the burgers (stamped with the trademark “U” on the bun).  I went with the Original (parmesan crisp, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and house ketchup).


This burger was awesome.  Everything I want a burger to be.  A good, substantially fluffy bun that is toasted and has good flavor with a burger that tastes meaty.  Then the toppings all blended together for a great texture and flavor that was, yes, umami.  It just fills your mouth with greatness.


Mike and the other man at the table went with the Manly burger. Beer cheddar-cheese, bacon lardons, smoked-salt onion strings, ketchup and mustard spread.

He says it was delicious and that it’s better than shake shack.


A manly burger that lived up to its name.


And if you think we would leave after all that indulgence without trying the special desserts, you have another thing coming.

The ice cream sandwiches are made with Brooklyn’s The Good Batch cookies and artisan ice cream from Blue Marble (also from Brooklyn).

We split 2 flavors.

The first was a double chocolate peanut butter cookie.  Chocolate waffle cookie with chocolate peanut butter ice cream (very good in flavor but could have used some chocolate sauce or added texture).


And a peach vanilla brown butter.  Yes!  I loved this.  The brown butter sugar cookie was fluffy with a crispy edge and a nicely balanced sweetness.  The ice cream inside reminded me of being a kid and going to the local homemade ice cream store.  The chunks of peaches were delicious.


I can’t imagine not liking this place. What could possibly be bad about a well cooked burger with delicious ingredients, merged together with the express purpose of bringing out the savory flavors?  Sure, there is the novelty of “umami” that people like to hate on. But hell, if it tastes that good, be as cheesy as you want to be.  I’ll eat it up.  (And those ice cream cookie sandwiches are a great finale to the meal).

I’m a big fan. I’ll be back and looking forward to trying that duck burger.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

nomscale- 08.0


Restaurant Week Summer 2013: The National

17 Sep

I somehow forgot to post this during Restaurant Week.  Whoops!

We visited The National as one of our last New York Restaurant Week stops during Summer 2013.

They had a nice looking Restaurant Week menu…


…but Mike got lured in by The “Ugly” Burger…


…and the Summer Squash Fritters (black garlic!) So I went Restaurant Week and he went burger and squash fritters.  We’re a good pair like that.


I really like the space. It feels like my Grandparent’s kitchen nook if they had to expand it to a restaurant.


We started with some very well prepared cocktails.

I got the Venetian Royal with Villa Sandi Prosecco, Thatcher’s Blueberry Liqueur, and Tarragon Blueberry Syrup.

Mike got the NTL. Mule with Russian Standard Vodka, Stirring’s Ginger, Luxardo Maraschino, Barritt’s Ginger Beer, Angostura Orange Bitters, Fresh Ginger and Lime.


I liked that Mike’s was in a copper mug.


I began the Restaurant Week menu with the pea gazpacho.  This was made with sugar snap peas, pistachio, and lemon.  The pea flavor was pronounced and smooth and the pistachio was a great compliment.


The fried squash itself was tasty, but the black garlic sauce is the stuff that dreams are made of.  I think black garlic may be one of my favorite flavors in the universe.  This was absolutely fantastic and I want to pour it on everything I ever eat for the rest of time.  We lopped up every drop with the bread on the table.


Mike’s burger was, indeed, ugly.  He says it was juicy and bacony.  Delicious.


And his fries were very well crisped.


We also threw in a side of brussels sprouts, because we cannot ever resist them. Especially when they are labeled as “crispy.” (These were also labeled with cider and mustard).  These were some awesome brussels.  They were, yes, very crispy.  The cider and whole grain mustard was also a great compliment to the sprouts without being too mustardy.


Back to the restaurant week menu, I got the mahi mahi on coconut basmati rice with asparagus and sweet and sour sauce.  I couldn’t have the sweet and sour sauce, but it wasn’t at all missed. This fish was cooked perfectly, had great flavor, and the fluffy coconut basmati rice was great.  The best way I can describe this is that all the flavors were just shiny.  Each one broke through and went so well together.  A great fish dish.


For dessert, we split my Restaurant Week selection of Whiskey Chocolate Mousse with hazelnut feuilletine and passion fruit sorbet.  I just looked up “feuilletine” and it is defined as a delicate cookie crunch. Sure enough, inside the chocolate square you see here was a layered delicate cookie crunch with mousse and a nice whiskey flavor.  The passion fruit sorbet was a bit strong for the whiskey flavor, but I still really enjoyed this dish. The chocolate sauce was rich and very, very nice.


I loved this meal.  I am not surprised after watching Chef Geoffrey Zakarian cook on TV many times.  Everything he makes just looks so good and with the flavors I enjoy, so it was great to be able to taste it.  I have been to The National for brunch in the past, and it was very good, but this was an even more impressive meal, especially since it was (mostly) off the Restaurant Week menu.

Highly recommended.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

nomscale- 08.5


il Buco

5 Sep

One problem with having a destination wedding at the end of a school year is that sometimes some of your favorite people just can’t make it. Such was the case of my cousins (technically, my dad’s cousins, but we’re all just one big… really big… happy family).  So upon arriving back in NYC, they offered to take us out to a meal.  And that is how we found ourselves at il Buco.


I know I had heard many people speak highly of il Buco, but it just somehow never made it on the list of places to go.  I was very glad that my cousins changed that.

The decoration inside is like an eclectic French country farm house that got taken over by a whimsical decorator who enjoyed making lamps  look like octopus with tea pots on the end.




(Apologies in advance for the dark photos.  Turns out, octopus tea kettle lamps do not bring in as much light as my camera would prefer.)


We split a whole bunch of apps.

We started with the special bread and olive oil and the dish of olives.  Both were really way above average.  The olive oil had an amazing grassy/woody flavor and the bread was a great combination of crispy crust with fluffy interior. And the olives were probably the best I’ve ever had. Really flavorful.

For plated apps, we tried the Ricotta, which was house made ricotta with Battenkill Farm milk, stonefruit, fennel, hazelnuts, and Catskill honey. I loved the way the honey balanced the stonefruit which balanced the cheese.  And the fennel really worked with this dish to further balance out the flavors.


We also split the Insalata di Zucchini with shaved Bodhitree Farm’s summer squash, purslane, toasted almonds, pecorino Sarde, and mint.  Fresh and delicious.  Loved the mint and toasted almonds complimenting the squash. (This made me want to add mint to all my salads)


FourSquare tips mentioned enjoying the Cavolonero which was Tuscan black kale, garlic-anchovy-lemon vinaigrette, filone croutons, and parmigiano reggiano.  Awesome.  I am usually only a fan of kale when it’s roasted, but this was in its raw form and it was just brought to life with the vinaigrette and the cheese.


We each got our own entrees, but we certainly passed them around for sampling.

One person got the fish.  This was perfectly cooked.


Someone else got the macaroni. I couldn’t try it due to peppers, but she really enjoyed her dish (as did everyone else that tried it).


Mike got the Porchetta with Flying Pigs Farms heritage pork, Umbrian lentils, swiss chard, and grain mustard. I think it also had some chicharones.  The pork itself was packed with flavor and had great pieces of fatty meat with a good sear.  The potatoes were also crispy and well seasoned.


I got the Papparadelle which was house made egg pasta ribbons and green and yellow summer squash. I loved loved loved this dish.  It tasted like summer. Fresh and light but totally satisfying. It seemed too simple: Pasta, squash, cheese.  But it all came together in a really nice, full flavor.


One highlight of the night was letting my cousin order the wines.  Boy was this a treat!  We tried a few superstars including this gem from 1986.


Pretty sure this is the oldest bottle of wine I’ve ever had. And it was sooooo good.


For dessert we tried a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of caramel gelato. These had such intense, wonderful flavors.  That chocolate was packed with flavor.  Wow.



We also got the Torta di Cioccolato which was flourless chocolate cake, espresso caramel mousse, and candied walnuts. This was so rich and so chocolatey. Reminded me of the desserts my great grandmother made from Europe.


I orered the Panna Cotta all’ Aceto Balsamico which was described as “cooked cream” drizzled with 10-year balsamic vinegar.  The panna cotta itself was really flavorful, but the balsamic really put it over the top. It was rich and sweet and had just enough tang to balance the cream.


This was a fantastic meal, start to finish.  All the food tasted incredibly special, unique, and really above the norm.  I was not expecting to enjoy this meal as much as I did, but now I see why people absolutely love this place.

There was, however, one issue…

The service.

Our waitress made it feel like we were inconveniencing her by simply being there.  As if her job was slave labor and we were there to enforce her brutality. She actually rolled her eyes, on multiple occasions when we asked questions or asked for refills like water or bread.  At one point we asked for the sommelier to come over so we could have wine… with our dinner… novel concept I know. She rolled her eyes, again, and then proceeded to not send him over and finally sent a busser (I think) to take the order instead. This was after we were almost all the way through our dinner. She came over to tell us that the sommelier had been busy, as if we had asked if she could please bring over the President of the United States.  I thought maybe she was coming to say “Sorry he is busy and we didn’t get you wine for your dinners.” Not even close.

It was one of the most ridiculous services I’ve ever seen.

It certainly shouldn’t have happened. It really sours an excellent meal when the person whose job it is to be your waitress makes you feel like you are torturing her.

It’s a shame, because despite the service, this restaurant was damn near flawless.

Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10 (One full point deduction for the awful service)

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10