Get Out of Town!
Star in your own Bro-mance
March, 2010 - Issue #65
There comes a time when a man needs to get away with his friends. Not a weekend in Vegas that involves missing teeth, forgotten weddings, stolen tigers, or naked Asian mobsters in the trunk of the car. Just a night out. Call it a man-date, if you will.

Hooter's was probably the first to recognize this phenomenon. Thankfully, restaurateurs with more sophisticated tastes have stepped in to meet the need. And because they're outside the Santa Clarita Valley, two newer man-food destinations provide the opportunity to embark on another testosterone-fueled tradition - the road trip.

OK, they're only in L.A., so it's a short road trip. But still, it gives you an excuse to pile in the car and remind the driver about the time in high school he pulled a neutral drop in his dad's Ford LTD and nearly blew the head gasket.

Point the car south on the 101 and head for WurstkA¼che or Umami Burger, where you'll find sausages and burgers, respectively. Bonus: both destinations also feature beer selections as interesting as the food.

Of the seven of us who went, Kenny was the only one who could pronounce the name of the place. That means he must have been the only one who took German in high school. Or at least learned something. He informed us that WurstkA¼che means "sausage kitchen." A fitting name, indeed.

Located in the arts district east of Downtown L.A., WurstkA¼che serves up exotic sausages and about two dozen German and Belgian draft "biers." And when they say exotic sausage, they're not kidding. Think buffalo, duck, rabbit, veal, alligator, and rattlesnake (not all in one sausage).

They come tucked inside a freshly-baked roll and dressed with your choice of caramelized onions, sauerkraut, sweet peppers or spicy peppers. If that's not enough, you can order a side of dark, crispy Belgian fries and choose from 10 different dipping sauces that span the spectrum from tried-and-true BBQ to tzatziki to Thai peanut to sundried tomato mayo.

Seating in the minimalist-inspired dining room is mainly family style at long benches and tables. Conversation ceased when our food arrived. The bites, dips and sips were punctuated by approving grunts, nods and the occasional wipe of a napkin.

Nobody left hungry or disappointed - even with the rattlesnake sausage. I'm not fond of reptiles, living or grilled, so I didn't try it. But those who did gave it an enthusiastic endorsement.

Umami Burger
"What's umami?" That's what I asked when I first heard of this place. It's a Japanese word for what is essentially the fifth taste. There's sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and then... umami. The restaurant's website carries a link to a very long description, and a colorful accompanying chart that is confusing at best.

But all you really need to know is that Umami Burger serves up tasty burgers that are worth driving for, as well as tempura batter onion rings that I can safely say are the best I've ever had. Crispy, not soggy, with a malt liquor-infused batter, they are not to be missed.

As is befitting a Japanese-inspired eatery, the burgers are presented with an artistic flair. They arrive on square white plates that look as if they should be carrying a tuna roll. Instead, they are devoid of garnish and showcase only the burger.

At Umami, size doesn't matter. It's what's on the inside that counts. And oddly enough, it's hard to see what's really on the inside of your burger. It's not piled high. The key ingredients are placed strategically beneath the soft golden bun to create their own unique taste.

Having wimped out on the rattlesnake sausage, I had to take Peter's challenge and order the manly burger. It's a rich concoction of beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings and bacon lardons atop a thick patty first grilled, then finished in the oven to a juicy true medium rare.

I have no idea if I tasted umami, but I do know it was an outstanding burger, perfectly complemented by an Allagash White straight from the tap.

Hungry yet? Gather the guys and get going. And if the wives/significant others want to know where you're going, tell just tell them to watch "The Hangover."
Eric Harnish lives in Newhall and eats way more sausages and burgers than his doctor advises.

Gather the Guys & get Going
Umami Burger

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