Hello. My name is Erica Wayne, and I’m a carnivore. I confess I’ve eaten meat (red, white, pink and any other color the flesh of the beast comes in) ever since I was weaned. I’m so addicted that the mere waft of smoke from sizzling meat will cause me to pause, sniff the air hungrily, make a detour to locate the seductive aroma’s origin and, if I can rationalize the decision, stop to sample whatever’s being grilled. Even the word char causes me to salivate.
I’ve tried to kick the habit. I’ve gone cold turkey, not giving it all up, just trying to exist on cold turkey — a failure. Then I did the reverse Catholic thing — meat ONLY on Fridays. I’ve substituted tofu, pasta and ancient grains. Nothing works. No matter what else I’m eating, I’m thinking about meat. As a kid, I never gave our eating habits a thought. We grilled ribs, steak, marinated lamb and chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers over charcoal almost every night.
But then I began to put faces to my feast. Cows, pigs, sheep, chickens – so cute, but so tasty! Aye, there’s the rub! And even the word rub brings to mind those lovely dry meat spice blends. I know all about added hormones and antibiotics, mad-cow, e-coli, ground up animal parts added to what should be vegetarian feed and inhumane treatment on factory farms. But none of those has been enough to change my ways. I’m still not sure I’ll ever be clean and sober.
So far, I assuage my pangs of conscience by paying (shall I call it reverse “blood” money?) vast sums to organizations that seek to end animal cruelty and promote, if not total veganism, at least vegetarianism. The charities receiving our checks range from moderate (ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary, Humane Farming) to militant (PETA, for example). But, even though I derive temporary solace from these donations, the craving to devour innocent animals hasn’t abated.
However, there may be new hope. On May 18, as I was grazing on shredded wheat and thinking happily about the grass-fed ground beef thawing for dinner, I was transfixed by a headline in the LA Times business section: “Serving up a veggie burger so meatlike that it bleeds.” The article, by David Pierson, went on to describe cutting-edge eponymous “Impossible Burger” made by Impossible Foods, “a Silicon Valley start-up that has raised $182 million in venture funding and counts Bill Gates as one of its earliest investors.”
The burger “is made entirely from plants and is supposed to pack the sizzle and mouth feel of real meat, thanks to a special ingredient that makes the veggie burger seemingly bleed … an iron-rice molecule found abundantly in meat, but also in plants.”
Produced from soybeans and yeast, then added to wheat and potato proteins with coconut oil, it results in “a crumbly, red protein that sears on a crust and can be cooked from rare to well-done.”
I always order beef “black and blue” — burnt outside, cool in the middle. So the description of a juicy rare burger with a crusty exterior and no self-reproach (well, maybe a little due to the coconut oil and what’s happening to habitat and the species therein as rainforests are being cut down to make way for palm orchards) was riveting.
Even better, the Umami Burger chain was about to start serving this amazing new meat substitute in Los Angeles — the first to do so. According to the article, Umami’s Impossible Burger would consist of “two patties and two slices of American cheese on a Portuguese bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles, caramelized onions and the chain’s proprietary ‘umami dust’ and ‘master sauce.’”
I’d never been to an Umami Burger. (So many restaurants, so little time.) But my mate and I high-tailed it over to Old Pasadena in record time to try the new burger and something from their regular menu for comparison. We arrived around noon, just before the smallish restaurant got busy (and noisy). The interior is minimalist and mostly white, with hard surfaces and furniture, a tall ceiling and a partly open kitchen to the rear.
The simple décor contrasts with the relative complexity of the menu, its 14 burgers (including ahi, chicken, turkey and falafel) dolled up with lots of tempting garnishes. To make the most of our visit, my husband ordered the slider trio ($12), with three mini burgers: “Hatch” (roasted hatch chilies, house Cali cheese and roasted garlic aioli), “Truffle” (truffled aioli, house truffle cheese and truffle glaze), and “Manly” (house beer-cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, smoked-salt onion strings, Umami ketchup and mustard spread). I, of course, chose the Impossible, with tasty sides of thin fries ($4) and fat tempura onion rings ($6) to divvy.
I was disappointed when I requested my burger rare. Our server told us they could only prepare the patties well-done. Dang! I guess I should have known that a two-patty format would guarantee each would be grilled to the max. Frankly, when the sandwich arrived, dressing, cheese, pickles, onions etc. made “the mouth feel of real meat” difficult to discern. On the other hand, it was relatively indistinguishable from other two-patty beef burgers and was perfectly edible.
Of my husband’s sliders, the Manly was our favorite — its smoky finish, rich cheddar and yummy bacon chunks made it just the kind of burger I could devour again and again. Damn! It’s obvious that a single introduction to Impossible Burger’s product in Umami’s configuration didn’t miraculously cure my addiction. If we return, it’ll likely be for the Manly. There’s one made with chicken ($12) subbing for beef ($14) which may lessen my guilt. And we’ll probably have some adult beverages: hubby noticed The Dudes’ Brewing Company CalifornIPA ($7), and I fixated on a Maple Bacon Old Fashioned ($11).
Although Umami’s Impossible Burger didn’t turn me from the dark side, I’m keeping fingers crossed that others of my favorite local burger joints will begin to order from Impossible Foods. Slater’s 50/50, The Counter, Grill ‘em All – take note. Your half-pound and larger patties could easily be made from Impossible Burger and would be able to demonstrate the formula’s versatility. Self-flagellating hypocrites like me would flock to your eateries (not that I don’t now) if you could fashion a guilt-free black and blue burger and save us from ourselves.
49 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 799-8626 |umamiburger.com | Full Bar/Major Cards