My design office is working on a self-initiated, hamburger-related project which involves eating and reviewing a burger a week (more on that later). So when we learned that Umami was offering a $65 burger we were torn. Review or don’t review? Fork over the better part of a C-note for 1/3 pound of fried ground beef, or drop $7 on the best burger I’ve ever had and spend the other 58 bucks on a beer, a 200% tip and a month’s worth of clean water for seven Philippine families. In the end I opted for a compromise:
So, what does a $65 burger taste like? It tastes exactly what you think it tastes like. It tastes like disappointment. If you’ve never tasted it, it’s hard to describe exactly what disappointment tastes like. Some know the acrid taste of disappointment—the kind imparted by an ordinary experience that’s been over-seasoned with hype. Others are acquainted with the bilious aftertaste that bubbles up with the revelation that you’ve just paid to be part of a marketing ploy. The M.N.O. offers up both of these flavors, but a refined palate will also identify another flavor—the disappointing taste that accompanies the realization that you’re the kind of person who would pay $65 for a hamburger.
I should clarify here that I have not actually eaten this burger. Nor will I. I know what you’re thinking—how can you review a meal you haven’t tried? Ordinarily I’d agree (and have been known to quote a Maoist maxim to this effect). But I think it’s pretty clear that Umami isn’t really selling a $65 burger. They’re selling a $65 ticket to a club that still thinks conspicuous consumption is cool. They’re selling a $65 prop for an #instabrag photo that not only tells your friends you’ve made it, but also lets them know that this is your first bubble.
Yes, it’s made with some of the priciest meat around (an 8oz. Waygu steak can set you back $350), and topped with truffles and ‘77 port reduction. In New York City—where foie gras hasn’t yet been banned for being inhumane—you can also round it out with a slab of fatted duck liver. I assume the hope here is that if you’ve never heard of Waygu, you’ll at least know that truffles are fancy, or that port is fancy, or that foie gras is fancy, and thus conclude that the burger (and ergo, you) are fancy too—kind of the way Donald Trump coats everything in gold so you’ll be sure to know he’s “classy.” But just in case four layers of iconically indulgent ingredients send too subtle a signal, Umami went ahead and gave it a name to remove all doubt. M.N.O. stands for “Money’s No Object.” Yeah, you read that right. And no, it’s not 1999.
Clearly, then, the exorbitant price of the M.N.O. is not about the provenance of the beef, or the rarity of the truffles, or the vintage of the port, or the patient torture du canard. It’s not about about the flavor—unless that flavor is the savory taste of smugness. No, like the name says, it’s all about the money—and the piquantly arrogant relish that comes from spending it with abandon. The M.N.O. is not a burger. It’s an edible trophy, a prize in a contest called “look at me.” It confuses opulence with ostentation at a time when neither should be admired. It’s a spectacular indulgence that may be as delicious as it is decadent, but if there’s one thing I can tell you without ever taking a bite, it’s that it’s tasteless.