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Umami Burger, Oakland CA

Mondays present multiple challenges across many arenas, and one of them is to find a quality restaurant that is open for dinner. On a national holiday observed on a Monday, the initial assumption would be that any restaurant open for dinner would be slammed with patrons not wanting to deal with meal preparation on top of unpacking and decompressing after a long getaway weekend. We expected many more people on the freeways along our way towards Umami Burger but were surprised by relatively mild traffic. That the parking meters weren’t being enforced was another bonus. When we walked in there was no line. All omens were good for this visit.

a portion of the massive mural

a portion of the massive mural

Now it’s time for a history lesson. Umami is the fifth taste, after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. For over two thousand years there were believed to be just the four tastes, even though the sensation of umami is natural and attributed to the glutamic acids in foods themselves and developed through cooking processes. Mushrooms, tomatoes, seaweed, meat, and aged Parmesan cheese are some of the more commonly recognized examples of umami. Clearly these food items have been around for long before the last century, but we can thank Professor Kikunae Ikeda for uncovering the rationale behind this fifth flavor in 1908. Glutamate is the chemical compound these foods have in common. Professor Ikeda later went on to patent concentrated glutamic acids in the form of monosodium glutamate, or MSG. While we know that large quantities of MSG are unhealthy, one cannot deny how tasty a meal can be when it is added. Thus we call this fifth flavor “umami,” coined by Professor Ikeda, meaning “pleasant savory taste” or simply “yummy.”

tempura onion rings, truffle fries, three dips

tempura onion rings, truffle fries, three dips

Umami Burger is definitely “umami” in the yummiest sense of the word. There were many starters to choose from including fried items and fresh salads, but we began our evening simply with two sides, the tempura onion rings and truffle fries. Thick cut, hand dipped, and malt battered, the onion rings were noticeably fresh and never once near a freezer during prep. The onions were sweet and not cooked to sliminess, leaving just a bit of a sinking bite amidst the crisp, light batter. Without a sprinkling of salt, these rings were yearning to be dipped in the trio of sauces, but be prepared for the range of spiciness. The garlic aioli was very thick and creamy with a pleasantly mild garlic flavor. The jalapeño ranch, despite the fear sent into the hearts of some tastebuds upon hearing that J word, had zero heat and pure flavor. August, typically the one to avoid spicy foods, particularly enjoyed the opportunity to taste the jalapeño without any burn. The diablo sauce, on the other hand, was all for Zach, being that it was made with habanero peppers. If you like heat, you will be happy. With no need for extra dippers were the thin cut truffle fries, generously tossed in a creamy truffle cheese sauce. They weren’t overly truffly nor cheesy, but almost all fries had at least a smidgen of goodness on them. Some fries were particularly coated, so the crispiness resulting from the thin cut helped to keep the textural integrity intact.



With such variety, we had to sample and share three burgers between the two of us. To be fair to the restaurant, of course, clearly not because there were too many good things to choose from. We evenly split the Throwback, featuring two seared beef patties, white cheddar cheese, miso mustard, Umami house ketchup, soy pickles, and sliced onions. It was like the classic as described in that infectious song marketed by the chain with golden arches, but immeasurably better. Never mind the tasty char on the burger and lightly grilled bun, as some time on the flame adds a lot of flavor to already quality beef and bread. The variety of condiments created a combination of flavors that explored the broad depths of umami flavor, including savory, tangy, and slightly sweet. But the fresh pickles and sweet onion, you mustn’t request them to be omitted. Their sweet crispiness brought some much needed texture to what otherwise would be a very meaty cheeseburger.

cali burger

cali burger

August the California girl tends to gravitate towards menu items with some variation of California in the name. Typically that means a combination of bacon, sprouts, avocado, and/or Swiss cheese, but Umami’s Cali burger had none of these. Instead, the single patty was adorned with butter lettuce, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house spread, and “Cali cheese” – a high quality white American cheese that gooed like brie over the patty. The nicely treated tomato and onions added slightly acidic, slightly sweet layers to provide contrast to the handsome savor of the grilled beef and bun.

sunny side

sunny side

The Sunny Side burger, aka Truffle Especiale, caught Zach’s eye for the few albeit quality ingredients stacked together in a novel way. Not just cheese, special sauce, and lettuce sat beneath that beautifully fried egg, oh no. Parmesan frico (a cheese crisp), truffle butter, and truffled arugula gelled with the burst yolk. The Parmesan provided a bite while the arugula brought freshness, and all together the flavors balanced so that overall it was not an overwhelmingly truffled burger.

We did not have any alcoholic beverages this evening, although we might on the next visit because the menu was inventive, diverse, and tempting. We did not have any dessert either, since we learned that they are not made in house; no offense at all towards the dessert maker, but we went to Umami to blog about Umami. We had a very enjoyable dinner but must leave you with a warning: cut your burger in half. This is for two reasons. First, the burgers are large, so they’re just a hair easier to handle when halved. Second, the restaurant’s recommended temperature for your beef burgers is medium rare, but no matter how you order it, check to see it was cooked to your liking. If you are picky about meat temperature, communicate your preferences clearly to best enjoy your yummy meal.

Oxtail Stew

Succulent beef that fell of the bone, earthy vegetables, a decadent sauce… You’d think we were describing a restaurant, but that’s how Chef Zach’s oxtail stew came out tonight!  There is some planning and prep work, but there’s also lots of time to spend waiting around.  Fill the wait time with catching up on a good book, clearing out the DVR, or knocking out a few chores.

oxtail stew

oxtail stew

Makes 3

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. of oxtail, whatever it is for 6 bones

3 cups of beef broth

2 cups of red wine

3 carrots

About 15 tri-colored mini potatoes

1 small white onion

2 celery stalks

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

4 strips of bacon

3 garlic cloves

2 tbs. of tomato paste

2 tsp. of dried thyme

1 tsp. of cracked black pepper

2 tsp. of Lawry’s seasoning salt

Salt to taste

Peel and slice the carrots in 1/4″ coins.  Dice the onions and celery also to 1/4″ pieces.  Peel and finely mince the garlic.  Season the flour with the Lawry’s seasoning salt.  Cut the potatoes into halves, then each half into quarters, then transfer to a bowl of water for the time being.

Heat a dutch oven on the stove over medium heat.  Cut the bacon into 1/4″ pieces and cook in the dutch oven until rendered of fat and crispy.  While the bacon is cooking, put the seasoned flour in a sealable storage bag along with the oxtail.  Toss the oxtail so that each piece is coated in flour.


Remove the bacon from the dutch oven, leaving the fat; set aside the bacon for now.  Add the oxtail to the dutch oven, still over medium heat.  Brown all sides of each piece.  Remove the oxtail and set on a plate for the moment.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic.  Cook until all the vegetables are starting to turn roughly caramelized and soft, roughly 12 minutes and stirring frequently.

before the 3-hour simmer

before the 3-hour simmer

Add the tomato paste, thyme, and black pepper and cook for 1 minute more.  Add the beef broth and red wine, and bring back to a simmer.  Put the oxtail back into the mix, including any juices that accumulated on the plate.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally flipping the oxtail pieces half-way through.

After 3 hours, drain the potatoes from the water, and add them to the dutch oven.  Cook for an additional 20-30 minutes uncovered so that the sauce thickens a little.  Taste for desired saltiness during this final cooking stage.

Serve 2 bones per person with lots of veggies, plus grits or fry bread.

German Potato Salad

Kartoffelsalat, also known as German potato salad, is notably different depending on region.  Northern Germany makes potato salad with mayonnaise, similar to American potato salad; in the south, however, the dressing is made with oil and vinegar.  With apple cider vinegar, there is a bit of tanginess to this salad that livens up the side dish.  Caramelized onions balance the vinegar with a touch of sweetness, and just about anything can be improved with bacon.

german potato salad

german potato salad

Makes 8

2 1/2 lbs. of baby tri-colored potatoes

10 oz. of bacon

1 large white onion

1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup of chicken broth

1/4 cup of chopped Italian parsley (aka flat leaf parsley)

1 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the potatoes in half and put in a large pot of water that has been salted with 2-3 tbs. of kosher salt.  Boil over medium-low heat for 45 minutes.  By cooking low and slow, the potatoes won’t break apart.

While the potatoes are boiling, cut the bacon into 1/4″ pieces.  Cut the onions, also to 1/4″ pieces.  Cook the bacon over medium heat in a frying pan until crisp.  Add the onions and oil to the bacon in the frying pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for an additional 12-15 minutes until the onions are caramelized; the onions add a natural sweetness to the salad, whereas many recipes call for adding actual sugar.  Once the onions are caramelized, add the vinegar and chicken broth.

Once the potatoes are done, drain the water and, while still hot, mix the potatoes with the bacon sauce and parsley.  Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve warm.