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Fried resolutions

Fresh and crispy Umami Fries won’t let you down in 2019

Wasabi fries from Umami Fries at Mother Road Market

Greg Bollinger

It’s the time of year again when people make, and subsequently abandon, earnest resolutions that suddenly seem to require ungodly determination. If you’re like most of us and already regretting making restrictive resolutions (like reducing your carb intake) instead of permissive ones (like making 2019 the year of trying new things), maybe you’re looking to make a switch. If so, Umami Fries at Mother Road Market might be the encouragement you need to set more delicious goals for yourself.

Another entry in a growing number of pop-fusion concepts, Umami Fries—brought to you by the same folks behind Gogi Gui Korean Grill—marries the spicy, rich, fermented flavors of Korean meats with a medley of starches. Bulgogi beef, curried chicken, gochujang pork, wasabi chicken, and more are served over your choice of delightfully crispy French fries or puffy flour tortillas.

Many of the fry plates range from $11–$12 each and come with an over-easy egg as well as an assortment of condiments like cheeses, slaw, bacon, kimchi, and jalapenos. The taco plates all feature three well-stuffed flavor packages for $10–$11.

The gogi beef fries—their signature dish—comes topped with tender chunks of trimmed bulgogi beef, shredded cheese, a fried egg, diced kimchi, house sauce, and sesame seeds. The beef was nicely rendered and free from intrusive globs of fat or errant sinew. The shredded cheese (used sparingly) allowed the bulgogi to shine through what otherwise could have easily been a battleground of toppings.

Umami Fries’ main strength lies in the restaurant’s tendency to not overindulge what’s already an indulgence. Topped fries—nacho fries, chili cheese fries, carne asada fries, and the like—too often become puddles of excess drowning limp, bloated carb noodles. Thankfully, Umami Fries lets the protein speak for itself, understanding that cheese, queso, and kimchi should accent the meal, not suffocate it.

To fairly assess the quality of Umami Fries’ foundation—the fries themselves—we ordered an additional plate from another establishment at Mother Road Market.

The fries from both places, while equally delicious, were worlds apart. Umami uses a thinner cut, similar to McDonald’s fries but without the quick-wilting quality. This cut produces a perfectly crispy, rigid fry without any drooping. The inside is more airy than soft, and the entire fry is skinless. The table also greatly enjoyed the other joint’s fries, which were thicker cut, moderately crispy, flecked with skin, and plump with pillowy insides.

It became obvious through comparison that the thinner cut fry was exactly the right choice for the Umami Fries concept. By increasing surface crisp and decreasing the starchy volume of the fry’s interior, the fountain of toppings and sauces have less of an opportunity to saturate the fries or create a boggy mass of potato mess.

The table split on whether the taco or fry preparations were preferred but agreed that the bulgogi was true to its namesake. The gochujang pork pleasantly married queso with fermented peppers and garlic, and the chicken dishes were nicely tender. The satay chicken curry tacos highlighted classic curry powder profiles, and the wasabi fries—topped with shitake mushrooms, tofu, pickled ginger, chicken, and wasabi sauce—tasted like a deconstructed sushi roll in the best possible way.

A kick of wasabi delivered by a fry covered in runny egg yolk is something I resolve to eat more often in 2019. The only knock against the dish was that the tofu and the chicken seemed a little redundant. The two proteins served a similar purpose in terms of bite size, texture, and depth of flavor.

Overall impressions of Umami Fries’ offerings were favorable—and the fries even stood up to oven-reheating without losing their crispy appeal. If the table had any grievances, it was that all our dishes ate rather sweet, which seemed unfortunate given that rich, earthy flavors the name implied were present, but too easily washed away by sugary sauces. While Bulgolgi beef requires a certain amount of sugar to glaze properly, the gochujang sauce cradling the pork and the wasabi honey drizzle glazing the chicken fries edged sweeter than necessary.

To see if our sugary perceptions were just a consequence of menu selection, we ordered three additional toppings: creamy coconut sauce (tops the Thai Fries; strong, authentic tom ka soup flavor), special Chinese mustard (tops fries of the same name; has more kick than spicy mustard), and spicy strawberry sauce (tops the Ichigo Fries; tastes like high quality jam). All were overwhelmingly sweet—flavorful, no doubt—but very sweet.

But if you’re cracking under the stress of your resolutions, maybe what you need is something sweet to help you remember why you keep on keepin’ on. Maybe you need some fries with a little bulgogi on top. Fries that stay crispy and won’t let you down the way 2018 did. Fries that are ready to take on 2019 and all its boggy messes. Maybe it’s time to go get some resolution fries. Your future self will thank you for it.

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