poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie


Umami Burger = Japanese for Best Burger EVER?!

Picture it:
It’s a few days after Christmas in Los Angeles. Despite the date on the calendar, it’s a beautiful 70 degrees with the sun beaming through cloudless skies. TC and I are sitting at the end of the Santa Monica Pier, after gridlock traffic prevented us from accomplishing Plan A: The Getty Museum. This was turning out to be a nice consolation prize though, and a game of Skee-ball and air hockey definitely helped to cheer us up.

As the street musician armed with a keyboard and an amp belts out old, cheesy love songs, I turn to my Yelp app to research lunch possibilities. A familiar name comes up: Umami Burger. One of us remembers, “Hey, isn’t that the place that ZF recommended?” A few days earlier, ZF, who had graciously agreed to let us stay at his apartment during our L.A. trip, gave us a list of recommended restaurants and bars. Indeed, Yelp backed up his recommendation: this Umami Burger place was quite popular, with an average of 4+ stars and over 970 votes.

To avoid the lunch rush, we take a long walk around Santa Monica and finally head to Umami Burger around 2:30pm. Even with the large picnic tables outside, the place is packed. The wait isn’t horrible though, maybe 20-30 minutes. About 5 minutes into our wait, TC gets up to ask the host about getting our orders to go. Miraculously, two seats open up for us outside. Score!

we have arrived.

We are starving, but our hunger is reigned in by the prices. Starting at $10, these burgers aren’t cheap, and they don’t come with fries either. But whatevs. We’re on vacation, let’s splurge a little. I order the truffle burger, which features house-made truffle cheese and truffle glaze. TC gets the Kombu #1 meal, which includes a Umami burger (hamburger patty with shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, umami ketchup), thin fries, and a bottle of Singha.

Maybe it’s because we’re starving, or maybe because we had no idea what to expect, but this experience is easily one of the most pleasurable meals I’ve ever had. I’m two bites into my luxurious, truffle oil-soaked burger when I hear TC look lovingly at his burger and say, “I never want it to end.”

Amen, TC, amen.

Because sharing is caring, we each eat half of our burgers and then trade. While we like the Umami, we agree that the truffle is superior. Every bite is just so unbelievably awesome… it’s hard to put it into words.

The Umami burger

The truffle burger: pure deliciousness.

After we finish our burgers, TC considers ordering one more but we decide to save some room for dinner, which is only a few hours away. We seriously think about coming back for another meal before we leave L.A., but then we find out that they just opened a Umami Burger in San Francisco. Hooray!

So, less than a week later, we’re visiting with EF at her mom’s place in SF, which just happens to be a 5-minute walk from Umami Burger. What a happy coincidence! We convince EF that it’s a great idea to go there for dinner (it wasn’t that hard really).  The three of us shared the truffle burger, the green bird (turkey burger), and the oxtail, which was the special that day. I have to admit — the truffle burger wasn’t as good the second time around. It might be because TC and I had hyped it up too much in our minds, or perhaps it’s because the Santa Monica location is superior to the SF location. Regardless, it was still pretty darn spectacular and way better than any burger I’ve ever eaten. The turkey burger was surprisingly flavorful in a meaty way (a good thing). I don’t remember much about the oxtail. I think it was kinda salty? Maybe TC and EF have a better recollection of it.

My advice: go, but keep your expectations in check. Oh yeah — the fries and the umami ketchup are great too!

(About the title: I know that umami means the 5th taste in Japanese, but that just didn’t sound as good, OK?)


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Mendocino Eats (aka “Yummy in my tummy”)

Oh yes, hi there. Remember when I wrote about our little jaunt to Mendocino? Well, not only was the scenery gorgeous, but the food was quite divine as well!

We arrived in Mendocino just in time for a late lunch. Pub food and beer sounded perfect, so we headed to Patterson’s Pub. Sorry there aren’t any photos — we were both too famished to document our lunch. TC had their famous fish & chips (awesome!!) and a pint of oatmeal stout (just ok, but then again, I’m not an oatmeal stout kind of girl). I opted for the Philly cheese steak with a side salad and a Racer 5 IPA. The cheese steak was nothing like the one I had in Philly but it was still quite good — juicy, well-marinated, and black peppery. The salad, however, sucked. Not only were the vegetables sort of tasteless, but the dressing was downright bland. (Sidenote: How is it even possible to make bland dressing?? Can’t you add enough vinegar/salt/fat to make it taste like something?!) Anyway, despite the lame salad, we were very happy with our meal.

We weren’t quite ready to eat dinner when the hour came around, but we heard that restaurants closed on the early side. So we skidaddled over to the Mendocino Cafe. Their award-winning clam chowder lived up to the hype. Really tasty stuff. Since we weren’t very hungry, we decided to share a salad and an entrée. Again, we were disappointed by the salad of warm spinach with cucumbers and onions. Something about it was really off/weird tasting. Luckily, the Thai fire pot was awesome: green curry based broth with veggie, shrimp, and brown rice.


A good cuppa clam chowda

Lackluster spinach salad (looks promising though, doesn't it?)

Thai fire pot. There's lots of deliciousness hiding in that coconut green curry...


Since TC was treating me to this fabulous weekend, I offered to take us out to a fancy-schmancy meal. After doing some research, I decided on Cafe Beaujolais. We were seated in a quiet corner of the heated deck, which seemed a little odd at first. However, our hostess explained that there was a rambunctious party with lots of small children in the main dining area, so it appeared that we lucked out. Due to the low lighting, though, the pictures are less than stellar, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that the food tasted way better than it looks in these photos.

First up: black bean soup with feta, cilantro, and sausage. Anyone who knows me knows that I loathe cheese made from goat or sheep milk, even something relatively mild like feta. However, this soup was so delicious that I didn’t even mind. I would have inhaled a gallon of it were it not for the fact that we still had more food to eat. (sorry no photo)

We ordered two appetizers (yes, we were going ALL out; plus we didn’t eat lunch that day!). The butter braised beets with polenta cake, creamy cheese, and greens was certainly interesting and good, but the crab cakes stole the show. They were served with Asian slaw, a magnificent sauce, and crispy noodles. Afterwards, TC confessed that he doesn’t usually like crab cakes but this was, in his opinion, the standout dish of the whole meal.

Polenta, beets, and greens. The polenta cakes were cooked perfectly.

Crab cakes in that amazing sauce. Yummmm

On to the main courses! TC ordered spanikopita with a side of kale, potatoes, and onion. Sadly, to me it tasted like a standard Quiche and was nothing to write home about. I expected at the very least for the filo dough to be amazing, but nope. TC concurred, and ended up liking the sides better than spanikopita.

You say spanikopita, I say "meh"

I debated all day (ok maybe not all day, but at least a good 30 minutes) whether or not I should order their most famous dish: sturgeon with tagliatelle mushroom sauce, served with golden beets. The reason for my indecision? I was afraid that my expectations might be unreasonable and that I would end up disappointed. Also, sometimes restaurants (even the good ones) overcook fish and it comes out all dry and yucky. Luckily, none of these fears came true! The fish was perfectly cooked and the sauce was OMG AMAZING. One of the best sauces I’ve ever tasted — so rich and flavorful. I can still imagine it now, and it is still making my mouth water. I do have to say that I found the beets a little odd and out-of-place, but the sturgeon, sauce, and pasta more than made up for it.

nom nom nom sturgeon, mushrooms, and sauce (oh yeah, and beets too)


We washed it all down with a half bottle of (local) Navarro Pinot Noir, which not only was the best value, but also paired well with the sturgeon. Score! We were too full to get dessert but in our imaginary, bottomless stomach worlds, we would’ve shared the champagne apple tarte tatin and the flourless chocolate lava cake. Both a la mode, of course.

My "OMG this is amazing but I'm gonna keep cool and not bring the plate up to my mouth and just inhale the whole dish" face

We liked the Mendocino Cafe so much that we went back for lunch! This time, TC got the hot pastrami sandwich with a side of potato salad and I got the veggie bowl, which consisted of ginger broth with bean thread vermicelli. Both were awesome; a perfect ending to our mini-vacation!

That's a good lookin' pastrami sandwich!


My veggie bowl: light, healthy, and satisfying.






Gourmet Homecookin’

Ahoy mateys! I’m blogging from 35,000 feet! A different kind of mile-high club if you ask me. haha.

Last month, JA cooked an absolutely amazing four course gourmet meal for me. Here was the menu and my notes on each course:

– Frisée salad with toasted almonds, green apple slices, and fried parsnips in a citrus vinaigrette. The dressing went really well with the frisee, especially since I find frisee to be too bitter sometimes. I suggested Gruyere cheese next time and JA agreed that it would be a good addition, perhaps in lieu of the parsnips.
– Basil and pine nut risotto with bacon-wrapped shrimp and slices of Parmesan-Regianno. As y’all know from JKL’s rehearsal dinner, bacon-wrapped shrimp are quickly becoming one of my favorite foods.
– Grilled pork tenderloin with mashed sweet potato (w/ honey and brandy), topped with fried leeks. SO good. The meat came out perfectly, and together with the sweet potatoes and leeks, it was just heaven. I’m drooling as I type this, it was so good.
– Blood oranges with chocolate “ganache” and sugar-coated cashews. The ganache was formed into chocolate balls and coated with salt. Traditionally, ganache is made with butter and milk, which JA kindly omitted due to my butter and lactose issues. The chocolate and blood oranges were divine together.
– Two different wines: a malbec to start, and a cabernet sauvignon for the main dish.

Enough talking, let me show you the photos!

Frisée salad with almonds, apples, parsnips, & dried cranberries in a citrus vinaigrette

OMG. Bacon-wrapped shrimp. drool.

Pine nut and basil risotto with bacon-wrapped shrimp, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.

Action shot! Pork tenderloin being sliced.

Pork tenderloin with mashed sweet potatoes and fried leeks, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. This photo does not do the dish justice.

Blood oranges, chocolate ganache, and sugar-coated cashews.

Like I said, it was an amazing meal both in taste and presentation, and was definitely on par with the outstanding food I’ve had at Chez Panisse and Rivoli.

Not a man to let anything go to waste, JA took the leftover sweet potatoes and put it to good use. He and his friend KP stuffed homemade ravioli with the sweet potatoes and fried them up for a party. I’ve never had fried ravioli before but these were so good. I managed to get my hands on a couple before they were all devoured within minutes.

Fried sweet potato ravioli. Awesomeness.