Food writer Alan Richman isn't wowed by L.A.'s burger scene ("The old L.A. order--In-N-Out Burger, Fatburger, Bob's Big Boy, Tommy's--is in retreat"), but the notable exception is Adam Fleischman's three-store chain. Writing in this month's
GQ, Richman calls the burger a "cross-cultural merger of Japanese ingenuity and American know-how."
Fleischman's savory umami master sauce puts to shame other "secret sauces," which tend to be orange goo. His organic housemade version of MSG might well carry the DNA for umami (assuming you believe umami exists). His umami-loaded ketchup tastes like a purer, fresher, tinglier clone of Heinz. He defines his discoveries as fulfilling a craving for "that which cannot be explained." His face belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the burger world.
In case you've missed this one, umami comes from Japan and is being trumpeted as a kind of fifth taste (after sweet, sour, bitter, salty) that relies on glutamate. Richman calls it "voodoo science" and wisely focuses on the overall product:
Fleischman is credible because he has focused on flavor, not chemistry. He studied umami tastes, most of them having to do with aging or fermentation, and made certain they were sprinkled on, poured into, and piled atop his burgers. I tasted his patty the American way, plain, with nothing on it, and it was pure and wonderful. I tasted it the Asian way, served with toppings, rubs, and sauces, and a different sort of brilliance emerged. It was deeper, more sensuous, both head-spinning and mind-expanding.