Umamicatessen is the latest creation of Adam Fleischman, the man behind Umami Burger (which I reviewed in February 2010), folding a burger joint into a restaurant with a larger menu that also includes salads, starters, Jewish deli sandwiches (mostly featuring pastrami), artisan hams (including prosciuttos and two types of jamon serrano), various cooked pig dishes created by Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino, and doughnuts made to order. It’s over the top by design, and while some of the more decadent items were too rich for more than a few bites, every item we tried – I went with D-backs beat writer Nick Piecoro – was outstanding.
I focused on the Pigg menu, by Cosentino, ordering pork cracklins ($5) with smoked paprika, sage, and cayenne, as well as the Texas Toast, topped with an obscene quantity of barbecued pig’s tail and a small amount of vinegary cole slaw. The cracklins, one of three lard-fried items on the menu along with crispy pig ears and French fries topped with ham and “brainaise,” were highly addictive, with the crunchy, airy texture of puffed rice but the unmistakable tangy-salty flavor of pork skin. If they had a flaw, it’s that it would be too easy to eat the entire cardboard cone full of them without realizing just how much you were eating (including the sheer quantity of fat).
The Texas Toast ($11) is an enormous plate of food, giant chunks of pig tail that looked a lot like an oversized short rib, fattier on the inside than that cut of cow, and with a slightly tough skin that needed knifework where a short rib can be eaten with a fork (teeth optional). The flavor of the sauce itself was the star item on the plate, elevating the smokiness of the tail with red pepper, cumin, brown sugar, and dark flavors that reminded me of coffee or aged whiskey. Every part of the dish worked together, but the pig’s tail itself was a fair amount of work to eat and I’m sure I left some bits of meat in the middle because I was trying to perform liposuction with a steak knife.
The roasted baby carrots ($4) were a huge bargain considering the quality of the carrots – actual baby carrots, not giant factory-farmed carrots cut and tumbled to look like baby carrots – and the care in their preparation, leaving them ready to eat right up to the half-inch of green extending from the carrot-tops, as well as the smoky red harissa sauce beneath them. The beet salad featured yellow beets (I presume roasted and peeled) with truffled ricotta, wild arugula, and smoked almonds rested primarily on the flavor of the cheese, which was thicker than most ricotta, more like a soft goat cheese, with enough tang to balance the earthy truffle flavor and the pepper notes of the arugula – but the beet was a little lost in the mix, even though overall the salad was excellent.
We ordered two donuts, the tres leches cake donut ($4) and the yeast-raised beignets (two small ones for $4), with the tres leches the clear winner for both of us. The donut itself probably stood on its own, but the combination of milks, caramel, and cinnamon-topped whipped cream turned it into the best coffee cake you’ve ever had in your life. The beignets were a little dry throughout, although the burnt sugar-coffee-chicory dipping sauce was a clever nod to New Orleans-style coffee (and, to be honest, had a lot more flavor).
The draft beer selection included about eight or nine options, running the gamut from IPAs to the Deschutes porter I chose. Nick went with the Bourbon Pig, bacon-washed bourbon with sugar and bitters, topped with a few thin slices of crispy pig’s ear. He described it as “smoky but not too strong. Basically it was wildly dangerous and amazing.”
Speaking of LA, I owe a shout-out to Intelligentsia Coffee, where I had an espresso back in September and got a little free coffee as a gift from a reader. I do love coffee but find most espressos are too harsh to drink without either milk or sugar – and sometimes both. Intelligentsia is one of the very few that uses beans fresh enough and high enough quality that I can drink the resulting espresso straight, with their Black Cat producing a beautiful, viscous shot with bright fruity notes (stop laughing) and a little oak, but none of the bitterness from older beans or much darker roasts. They started in Chicago, with four locations there and now three more in greater L.A., along with roasting operations in both places, and an emphasis on a personalized coffee experience in the store, where you get a barista with his/her own station who takes your order (and offers guidance) and makes your drink. It’s expensive relative to the big chain espresso spots, but you are paying for quality of inputs and the expertise of your barista. I’d rather pay more for that than spend 30% less on battery acid in a demi-tasse.