Sunday, April 8, 2012

Umamicatessen: A Tale of Two Sandwiches

Umamicatessen is the latest and largest property in Adam Fleischman's rapidly expanding restaurant empire. The DTLA spot is on Broadway just off of 9th Street and is several restaurants in one: the Umami Burger concept, The Cure, a Kosher-style Jewish deli offering which Mezze Chef Micah Wexler collaborated on the bagels, smoked fish and matzoh ball soup, Pigg, a love letter to all things pork done in collaboration with noted San Francisco nose-to-tail chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto, and donuts from & a [donut], along with a cocktail program designed by Aidrian Biggs of La Descarga and Pour Vous.

You can order from all the concepts wherever you sit in the restaurant.  On this visit I explored the Cure section of the menu.  The Matzoh Ball Soup ($7)  is rich, the broth is darker than typical and contains chicken cracklings, pieces of chicken as well as celery.  The matzoh ball itself was light and fluffy.  This may be the meatiest matzoh ball soup in town and is recommended for Passover and beyond.

The pastrami sandwich ($12) is referred to as Pastrami, Rye, Mustard on the menu and it is a simple sandwich that just contains those three ingredients.  The meat is thickly sliced and while not piled high Carnegie Deli style, is more than ample for a meal if you have some soup.  The thick slices of the meat, the spicy kick of the mustard overwhelm the thinly sliced rye bread.  Wexler and team have cured an excellent pastrami, and when Langer's isn't open (which is dinner any night, plus all day on Sunday) this may be the best spot in town to get a pastrami sandwich.

Alas the corned beef, listed on the menu as Corned Beef, Rye, Mustard ($12) was not nearly as good.  In fact it was not delicious at all: the corned beef was chewy and had an unpleasant texture.  It also lacked the flavor of a great corned beef sandwich from Langer's, Brent's or even Nate and Al's.  The pickle was nicely sharp though.  What may be the best deal on the menu is the pickle plate (unpictured), which though on the Umami Burger section of the menu dovetails nicely with the Cure section and at $5 is a generous portion.

After the highs and lows of the sandwiches, the & a [donut] menu beckoned.  The Tres Leches donut ($4) was irresistible, especially as Nguyen Tran of Starry Kitchen had recommended it.  The donuts are fried to order and the menu states that customers need to wait five minutes for the sauces to soak into the donut.  The Tres Leches, Cajeta, Ceylon Cinnamon (cake) was delicious and is sized for two people to share, although one hungry person could certainly inhale it, as I did.  It was unclear to me if the menu was stating that the diner needed to wait five minutes once the donut was presented at the table to eat it, but the waitress clarified that the sauce had soaked in for five minutes in the kitchen and that once it arrived at the table it was ready to eat.

A mild annoyance was that though I arrived during weekend brunch hours and the restaurant was mostly empty, the hostess was very reluctant to seat me at a table as I was alone.  She listed every possible counter seating locale but finally relented and seated me at a table as I had asked.  Not a fun way to begin any meal.

I will not be trying the Pigg menu but look forward to trying more of the other items, especially the Foie donuts and Adrian Bigg's cocktails, on future visits.  In short, get the matzoh ball soup, the pastrami sandwich and the tres leches donut, skip the corned beef.

Umamicatessen: 852 S. Broadway, DTLA. | 213.413.8626 |

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