Teri-yucky or Teri-yummy?

It seems like every comfort food goes through a revitalization at some point. First burgers were re-examined, then everyone had updated macaroni and cheese. Cupcakes, those staples of childhood, were brought into the new millennium (and we're ready for them to slide back into oblivion, like dacquoise, kthxbye).

Now it appears to be the turn of that Mexican-Japanese dish, the teriyaki plate. Long the province of run-down, filthy holes in the wall near college campuses and the appallingly bad chain of shops known as Yoshinoya, teriyaki in OC is making a comeback. Gustavo swears by Mos 2 and Teriyami; I wanted to see how the latter, reviewed recently, compared with the newcomer, Umami Teriyaki (no relation to the LA burger shops, incidentally).

Which teriyaki plate reigns supreme?

Umami's mixed plate, $6.99, comes with a big pile of grilled beef and a bigger pile of grilled chicken, atop rice, essentially unsauced. Elsewhere you get a pile of orange slices and a deep well of mesclun salad.

The beef is quite good, lean and well-cooked, but where Umami excels is in their chicken. Most chicken destined for the teriyaki bowl is cooked to within an inch of its life, its muscle fibers seized into a tense, off-white knot, striations clearly visible. Umami's chicken, however, is grilled just to doneness over a hot grill, so that the outside is slightly charred but the inside is still juicy. It is, far and away, the best teriyaki chicken I've ever put into my champing maw.

The mesclun salad is dressed with a lighter version of the ubiquitous sesame dressing, and the oranges are ripe (surprising, given that we are most definitely out of orange season here), but I found myself craving the Hawaiian plate lunch staple of macaroni salad. It isn't needed, it just would go really well with the plate.

Teriyami's plate, with the upgraded “premium beef steak” for $6.99, came with rice, grilled vegetables, macaroni salad and Romaine salad. A veritable mountain of food, far too much for one person to eat.

The beef was wonderful: tender, beefy, with just a little char, the nap of sweet sauce just enough to season. The drippings fell down onto the grilled cabbage, making a humble vegetable something special.

The chicken, however, was just plain salty. It was almost as though two separate people had salted the meat; even drowning it in sauce didn't help the fact that I went through two drinks trying to eat it. I had to discard the cabbage underneath the chicken, too; it was far too salty.

The macaroni salad was acceptable; I prefer the kind made with thick, mayonnaise-y dressing, but this had a nice tang to it. The salad was very fresh; no quibbles about quality, but it had too much dressing on it, which robbed the lettuce of the flavor.

Both of these places are worthy; the prices are rock-bottom, the quality is high, and the people are extremely pleasant. While I intend to visit Teriyami again many times (it is a stone-cold bargain), I have to hand the winner of this week's Dueling Dishes to Umami Teriyaki. Congratulations!

Umami Teriyaki, 4045 W. Garden Grove Blvd., Orange; (714) 740-0842.
Teriyami, 14215 Red Hill Ave., Tustin; (714) 832-3323.

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