Adam Fleischman, it is safe to say, is in touch with his inner food geek, from his founding of the nerd-friendly wine bar Bottlerock to the endless selection of Hungarian reds on the list at Vinoteque. The original Umami Burger felt like the ultimate otaku hamburger joint, a restaurant so devoted to its concept that half of his customers are as absorbed in their iPhones as they are in their food, struggling to quantify the carboxylate anion of glutamic acid before they dare to take so much as a bite of their turkey miso burger or malt-liquor tempura onion rings. Mmmmm — the taste of ribonucleotides.
But if the tiny first restaurant on La Brea was an introductory course in the intricacies of the legendary Fifth Taste, Umami 101 as it were, the new place, poured into the sprawling former home of Cobras & Matadors, is like a graduate seminar on the topic. Culinary maxims are lettered on the walls and beams in careful Japanese script, and Fleischman offers a completist’s roster of Japanese craft beers and even a rather good soju-based “umami’’ cocktail, flavored with cucumber and yuzu, whose effect is lessened only slightly by the tangle of hardened seaweed gel rising out of the frosty glass. (How wed is Fleischman to his conceit? The gender of the restrooms is written in the same Japanese script, a fact that as a nonreader I discovered in the most embarrassing way possible.)
The burgers are compact beasts: fat, dripping, loosely compacted patties nestled into hand-size, gently toasted buns. (“These are the worst hamburgers in the world,’’ griped my 6-year-old. “They taste just like the ones that you make.’’) A Manly Burger is glazed with beer cheese and peppered with chewy cubes of smoked bacon; a Hatch Burger is paved with roasted green chiles; a Triple Pork Burger tastes like smoky -style chorizo lightened with ground pork and ground bacon. There are crisp thin fries now as well as the triple-fried potato girders that harden into concrete after 30 seconds, and a selection of — kill me now — kombu meals, combination deals whose name refers to the umami-rich seaweed nowhere included on the plate. (These are not Happy Meals, unless you don’t mind Junior quaffing a pale ale with his meat.) And for dessert, Fleischman has imported burger-shaped ice cream sandwiches all the way from Milk on Beverly, intensely flavored concoctions stuffed between the halves of a giant Paris-style macaron.
Umami Burger: 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz. (323) 669-3232, umamiburger.com. Open daily 11 a.m.-mid. AE, D, MC, V. Beer and wine. Street parking.