#233: Umai Savory Hot Dogs

I’ve been excited to write up this post since the day I first heard about Umai via Reddit over a month ago.  They weren’t even open yet but the menu looked insane.  So what is Umai?  Obviously it is a hot dog place, but it’s very different than a typical diner like Parkers, or even the now-closed Knucklehead’s.  Umai is Japanese Fusion, so you’ll se a lot of flavors/ingredients that you wouldn’t normally associate with hot dogs such as furikake, roasted nori, panko, bonito flakes, and sauces that include unagi, wasabi and teriyaki, among many, many others.

Umai opened 3 weeks ago and I couldn’t resist going on the opening day to check it out.  I returned again today to do a proper review now that they’ve had some time to settle in.  Umai is located across from the Galleria, in-between Stanton Optical and Blast 825º.  When I arrived on the first day it was close to 2PM and they had recovered from the first lunch rush.  There was one other customer at the time.  They had a row of tables running down the long wall, where they have a nice looking menu set up describing all the different signature dogs (21 of them).  I thought this was a little awkward because you’d basically be staring right above someones head to see it.  Since then, they have received more tables and rearranged the seating a bit.  You’re still looking past people to see the menu, but at least they are now turned 90º from you and it should’t be quite as weird feeling.

At the register, like many places, they have a tip jar but they have fun with it and make it a vote that they change often.  Today was Rick Ross vs Bob Ross.  The menu is large and overwhelming, but both times the staff were helpful in explaining options, describing flavors and offering recommendations while also being very patient.  For my first visit I had already picked out my dog well in advance.  The Umai X Truffle Dog called my name from the moment I saw it online.  It consists of a 100% all Angus beef dog, caramelized onions, white truffle sautéed shiitake mushrooms, minced black truffle, truffled aioli, Umai teriyaki sauce and furikake [$12].  I didn’t notice it until after I ordered it, but this is basically the craziest dog on the menu and has a note that says it is made to order and is a 10 minute wait.  I made it a combo with fries and a drink and upgraded the fries to the Umai House Fries (French fries tossed with our seasoning mix, signature Umai Teriyaki glaze, Nori seaweed and topped with our Dynamite sauce).  All together this came to $16.13 after tax.  Pricy, but that Truffle Dog is what did it.  Most of the dogs aren’t anywhere near that price.

While I waited, a random rush formed and the place filled up quick.  While my dog came within the 10 minutes, others were definitely seeing longer than usual wait times and there was a bit of confusion.  Understandable for day 1.  The truffle was immediately noticeable when the basket arrived at my table.  It’s aroma is unmistakeable.  People at the next table over mentioned that they could smell it.  This thing was nuts.  I don’t think I’ve ever had actual truffles in something, probably just sauces infused with the oil.  This had the rich flavor in so many different ways at once that it was almost too much.  Almost.  You need to put a small amount of effort into eating this, basically making sure you balance the amount of truffle-soaked toppings with each bite of the dog itself, or else it can be overwhelming.  I had one bite of basically nothing but mushrooms, aioli, and truffles.  That made my stomach turn slightly and had me being much more conscious of the ratio of dog to toppings I had from then on. With that mentality I was able to very much enjoy it greatly.

The Umai House Fries were pretty damn good.  The teriyaki & dynamite sauces made it pretty messy, so I used a fork for most of it.  The fries stayed crisp for quite a while, even with the sauce.  Flavor-wise it was a mix of savory and sweet, with a bit of a lean towards sweet.  I’d definitely like to try some of the other fry variations available.  For soda on the first day something tasted off.  I’m not sure what it might have been but today it was fixed and the Dr Pepper was on point.

Today I tried one of the more “normal” signature dogs.  This was the Kyoto Fire (Hot Link, Batter Fried Onions, Yum Yum Sauce, Creamy Habanero, Unagi Sauce, Jalapeno Pepper Slices, Furikake)[$5] and went with an order of the Inu Rangoons (Smoked sausages, cream cheese and pepperjack cheese wrapped in won ton wraps and deep fried. Served with your choice of dips. Choose between our Yokohama, Tokyo or Sapporo Rangoons)[$3].  They didn’t have the Sapporo version of these, which I think I recall the cashier describing as being the spicier of the three, as they hadn’t made them yet (I arrived right at opening).  He hadn’t tried the Yokohama himself and wasn’t sure how to describe it, so I figured I’d see what it was all about.

I was the only customer at the time so my food came pretty quickly.  The Kyoto Fire arrived in just a few minutes and the rangoon followed a couple minutes later.  I tried some of the rangoon first and they were extremely mild, basically tasting like cream cheese with hot dog.  That probably sounds little boring  but I did enjoy them. There was an option of ranch or sweet chili dipping sauce. I picked ranch, but really used very little of it because they were perfectly good on their own.

The Kyoto Fire was delicious.  The hot link itself had a really nice snap to it.  The three sauces quickly started to saturate the bun, which was barely holding onto everything as it was, so this got messy quick.  The heat in this was intense.  For a good half hour or so after leaving Umai my lips were still burning a little bit.  The creamy Yum Yum sauce might be intended to temper the heat a bit, but it’s still very spicy.  The onions were nice, crisp and flakey.  Overall I really enjoyed this hot dog.  The Umai X Truffle Dog was a fun experience, almost a novelty.  The price and richness will probably keep me from going back to it with any regularity though.  I would definitely have the Kyoto Fire again, but I have 19 more to try out first!

Safe to say I love this place and it somewhat fills a gap that was left when Knucklehead closed.  I always enjoyed trying their wild creations.  This place is very different, but has a lot of that experimental feel to it, just with a Japanese twist.

#161: LJ Cafe

Today I thought I’d do a bit of a mini post considering where I went.  LJ Cafe is the little semi-permanent shop set up in front of the Home Depot on N. Sunrise.  I’ve had this place rattling around in my brain for a few weeks deciding whether or not to include it.  Today I figured “why not?” since I happened to be pretty hungry right after work and I didn’t have the time to set aside for a full on post somewhere else.

I don’t know much about LJ Cafe.  I know this has been a little stand for quite a long time.  The sign says “est. 2012” so LJ’s itself is fairly recent (they’re younger than this blog, which says something, although I’m not sure what).  Aside from the fact that it’s basically a parked trailer it’s set up pretty nicely.  The menu is bright, clean and easy to read (click the photo of it below for a bigger version).  The structure itself looks well maintained and the presentation by the order/pickup window had little pumpkins for the season (and a sign saying they had pumpkin pie).  Seating consists of a few metal tables with umbrellas.  I suspect most people coming here are taking their orders to go though.

I arrived at 4PM sharp and looked over the menu.  It reads a lot like a coffee shop combined with a little league snack shack.  The main items are mostly variants of hot dogs, and they also have a hamburger & cheeseburger.  Some other items are nachos and pretzels.  They also serve breakfast including churizo burritos, breakfast sandwiches, bagels and muffins.  I went with their basic hot dog, “The Rusty Dog” (Couldn’t stop thinking about the Simpsons episode where George H. Bush didn’t think a Krusty Burger sounded too appetizing).  I got it in a combo which included a soda and a bag of chips [$5.75].  They had Cheetos, Doritos or Lays to choose from.

I paid up and a little less than 10 minutes later my name was called out from the little window.  I grabbed my dog, drink, chips and napkins and had a seat at one of the tables.  The Rusty Dog regularly comes with ketchup, mustard, onions and relish.  I skipped the relish.  There was quite a bit of ketchup and mustard on it, but at least it was applied in a visually interesting way.  It was much more than I would put on a hot dog myself.  The onions were crisp and there was just the right amount.  The hot dog itself was tasty enough for a basic dog.  The one thing I wasn’t crazy about was the bun, which I found to be a little overly chewy.  The chips and soda were exactly what you would expect.

Overall, not too shabby for what it is.  The service was extremely friendly.  The people watching was slightly more interesting than the food to be honest.  I can’t say I’ve ever sat in front of a Home Depot for more than a couple minutes, but I bet they could figure out a way to make a reality series out of it.  Coming here for the food and not stepping foot in the Depot was an odd experience.

See this and more from me at Foodspotting.com:

#60: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

OK, I know Five Guys Burgers and Fries is a chain, and a pretty big one at that, but they’re relatively new to the area and the west coast in general so I thought I’d show what they’re all about to those that have not been to one yet.

Lots of people like to compare them to In’N’Out Burger.  This is a valid comparison in that they are burger chains, use fresher and higher quality ingredients than your average fast food joints, cook food to order and have generally very good customer service.  Beyond that however, I find them to be quite different.  In’N’Out clearly strives for consistency and simplicity even down to their buildings.  There is little variation in design from one to the next.  I haven’t been to nearly as many Five Guys, but they seem to work around whatever locations they find.  For instance, here in Roseville, they have a very simple rectangular space in the old Applebees building.  The Natomas location is much larger and L-shaped with the ordering line flowing in the opposite direction.

Though their menu isn’t quite as basic as In’N’Out it’s still a lot more basic than your typical fast food chain.  In addition to burgers, they also offer hot dogs, veggie sandwiches and grilled cheeses.  They offer more topping options than In’N’Out, including grilled mushrooms, relish, jalapenos, green peppers, A.1. steak sauce, BBQ sauce and hot sauce.

When you walk in, you will be guided towards the counter down a path bordered by sacks of potatoes and boxes of peanut oil.  Once at the register they ask if you’ve been to Five Guys before and given a little crash course on the menu if not.  I’ve been eating here on the weekends more than usual so the cashier seemed to recognize me this time.  I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger with mayo, lettuce, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms.  I ordered fries as well, though I only did so for the completeness of this post.  I’ll tell you why in a moment.  Once my order was complete and paid I headed out to the front of the mostly empty dining room to claim a table.

This is where my biggest complaint about this particular location comes in.  The dining room is very cramped.  They have so many tables here that it’s difficult to move from one end of the dining room to the other.  It’s not so bad when it’s this empty, but I was still moving chairs and bumping into tables on my way to the soda machines.  When it’s busy, it gets awkward and annoying to get to a table in the middle.  Looking at the layout, I’m not even sure a wheelchair would be able to navigate the outside very smoothly without someone having to take point and help by moving some tables and chairs to widen the path.  There is so little space left over that the children’s highchairs are stored right in front of one of the two soda fountains (and of course the Mr Pibb is in that far corner).  On top of all this, there is no obvious place to wait for your order if you are taking it to go.  If you want to stand and wait you’ll almost certainly be in the way, so you’re left with taking up a table and chair.

Update: It’s been about 3 months since this visit and I just had lunch here again.  They have dramatically improved in this area.  Tables have been reoriented and they may have even removed some.  It felt a lot better.

Five Guys is about as fast as In’N’Out, which means not all that fast.  Take that time to grab your soda, napkins, ketchup and a scoop of complimentary peanuts to snack on.  When your order is ready, it comes out in a bag.  There is no “for here” or “to go” here, it’s served the same way no matter what.  If you’ve ordered fries, a good amount of the bags weight will be coming from those.  They give you a ton.  This is what you’ll see when you peer inside the bag:

The last few times I’ve ordered fries they were not cooked particularly well and were basically greasy, soggy potatoes.  Last week was the final straw and I decided I wasn’t going to order them anymore.  Even when cooked properly I’m not a very big fan of them and end up using an awful lot of ketchup with them.  I ordered them this one last time as I said above, for completeness of this post.  The crew must have been reading my mind because they nailed it.  They were actually cooked well, had a slight crunch to them and were overall pretty good.  I may be tempted to try them again next time, but they’re still on notice in my book.  I much prefer In’N’Out’s fries to these, even on Five Guys best day.

I respectfully disagree, Colorado Springs Gazette

The burger itself is great.  I’ve had very consistent experiences with my burgers at Five Guys.  Today there was so little time between when it was wrapped and unwrapped that the cheese hadn’t had a chance to melt and stick to the foil like it normally does.  The bacon is flavorful and crispy, the onions are tasty and the lettuce fresh and crisp.  The mushrooms don’t offer a lot of flavor but I enjoy the texture.  The beef is very similar to In’N’Out, thin patties of fresh beef that are never frozen.  The cheese is one of the highlights here in my opinion. It isn’t particularly strong or unique but they seem to put just enough on the burger so you can taste it in each bite and it adds a creamy texture.  My cheese loving friend (the one that ordered all the extra gruyere when we went to The Counter) even commented that he likes the cheese at Five Guys because he can actualy taste it, opposed to most other fast food cheeseburgers.

I’d give this location 3 of 5.  Minus 1 for the cramped dining room and 1 for the inconsistent fries.  The burger is the star here, though I’m kind of curious about their hot dogs.

Website: http://fiveguys.com