Sunday, May 13, 2012

Umamicatessen: Willie Wonka's Meat Factory

If instead of setting his eyes on chocolate, Willie Wonka had gone into the meat business, you might imagine a world of high end pork rinds, pig ear garnished cocktails and foie gras doughnuts, and sure enough, all of those things are on the menu at Umamicatessen, the new restaurant from the Umami Burger group.

Located downtown, the cavernous, high ceilinged restaurant's menu is broken into three concepts, each with its own name and style. There is a regular Umami Burger; a Jewish style deli called Cure, and a pork/cured meat/charcuterie section known as Pigg. The Umami Burger menu will be familiar to anyone who has been to one of those outposts. The New York deli has the deli staples you might expect such as knishes, matzoh ball soup and corn beef sandwiches. Each concept was designed by a different chef.

Being a pork fan, I was immediately drawn to the Pigg section of the menu, and was pretty pleased with its offerings. Designed by San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino, Pigg features a wide variety of pork products. The Cone o' Cracklins is a cone of pork rinds seasoned with sherry vinegar and sage and advertised as "100% lard fried." These rinds were light and fluffy with just a slight pork inflection. Far from the grease bombs that are packaged rinds or chicharron, they had the texture of those puffed shrimp chips and were surprisingly free of grease.

My favorite offering though, was the pork liver pate sandwich. Served on a ciabatta roll, the liver was rich and juicy, shimmering with fat, more like a lobe of porky foie gras than a typical liver pate. The arugula and caramelized onions offered just enough sweet and acid to cut the fat. This is really a superior sandwich which I will definitely return to.

For dessert, well, I do love the doughnuts, and in these last days of legal foie gras, how can I not order a foie gras doughnut. The FJ&J is a doughnut stuffed with foie gras and berry jam and topped with peanuts (pictured at right bottom). When you cut it open, the foie, in liquid form, explodes out of the pastry like the liquid center of a molten chocolate cake. The first bite of this is a heavenly mix of sweet jam, fatty foie, pastry and peanuts, but it doesn't hold up as well beyond that first bite. It's one of those high concept dishes that isn't quite as good as amazing as it sounds, though still worth trying.

The tres leches, cajeta doughnut (pictured at right top) was excellent, topped with cinnamon studded whip cream and filled with a milky sauce that references a tres leches cake.

Excessive, silly, strange, delicious, Umamicatessen has everything except the Oompa Loompas.

852 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 413-8626

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