By Jessica Gelt
Umami Burger’s Adam Fleischman seems intent on dominating the world of meat patties. With 14 Umami Burger locations currently open and several planned for New York and beyond, Fleischman is unveiling his newest concept: U Mini in Westwood.
Open since Wednesday at noon, U Mini is Fleischman’s answer to fast food (his people are referring to it as “fast-casual”). Despite its diminutive name, U Mini dreams big. If all goes as planned, the idea is to roll out dozens across the country.
U Mini’s secret sauce (so to speak) is its use of proprietary technology that allows customers to order via tablets and smartphone apps. This enables the diner to customize his or her order and track the progress of the food from the grill to the counter. The idea is that a person could arrive at the restaurant at the exact moment the order is ready to be picked up.
“Why wait in line?” asks Jason Berkowitz, vice president of restaurant operations for Umami Restaurant Group. “We’re mixing technology with hospitality — there’s still a human touch with people clearing your table, refilling your soda, checking on you.”
U Mini burgers feature Umami flavor but they aren’t the same burgers available at Umami. Corporate chef John Herndon has created four signature 5-ounce burgers for the new would-be chain, as well as two types of fries.
All the meat is ground in house and the fries are cut fresh, daily. The burgers are mashed before they’re cooked — a process meant to trap the fatty juices and flavor — and topped with housemade cheese (if you wish). Bread-and-butter pickles add a sweet touch, and the Portuguese-style buns are toasted.
The Umami fries are dusted with parmesan and herbs, and the result is weirdly addictive. (They even come with little packets of Umami ketchup.)
“Adam wanted 1/4-inch thin fries, but done in a thicker-cut style,” says Herndon of the fries, which are cooked three times. “So there’s a crunchy outside shell and a creamy inside, like tomato soup.”
There are also two shakes on the menu, both made with L.A. Creamery ice cream. The salted caramel is of particular note (and just as addictive as the fries), but you would do well not to inquire into the calorie count of a cup of it.
The price point is on the affordable side: You can get out of the restaurant with a burger, soda and fries for under $10.
Eventually the restaurant hopes to keep late-night hours so you can order a burger from your phone after last call at a bar and be there to pick it up hot and fresh just after 2 a.m.