Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gulfstream -- Century City, CA

10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 553-3636
Gulfstream Website
I was out with Colonel Mustard and Side Of Fries today, and what happened at Gulfstream at the Westfield Mall in Century City was baffling. The Hillstone Restaurant Group owns both R + D and Houston's, both of which have put out pure garbage burgers whenever I have tried them. I expected more of the same awfulness at Gulfstream, but instead I was pleasantly surprised...well, sort of. 
The Burger Breakdown... 
  • The aged Chuck was freshly ground (medium), in-house, and gently pressed into large (7 oz), flat, uniform patties. 
  •  The burger came out a perfect Med Rare. 
  • The patty was perfectly seasoned both inside and out.It was cooked on a grill, and that grilling process gave the beef a nice hint of char.  
  •  It appeared to be a 75:25 beef to fat ratio, because this was a greasy-ass cheeseburger. Flavorful, but greasy. It was uncomfortably greasy, and that was too bad, because that took away from the excellent flavor of the beef. Oh, and it was pretty greasy.

      • The aged beef flavors were intense--funk from the aging, and a solid hit of bloody iron served as front and middle notes.
      •  The White Cheddar was perfectly melted and served as a perfect, flavorful complement to the patty. 
        • The bun--baked in-house by persons skilled in the craft of sponge making. By "in-house" they meant, "for the restaurant group", because this is the same bun that they served at R + D. The bun was fresh, sweet, and incredibly firm/resilient.  It had the flavor of a Hawaiian Sweet Roll and the texture of a Tempurpedic mattress.  Honestly, the bun was firmer than the beef--when I took a bite of the cheeseburger, I found myself unsuccessfully shearing through the bun to the point where it compressed juice/grease onto my hand from the beef.  It was so chewy that it persisted in my mouth longer than the meat and cheese, which meant that each bite was sweet, chewy bun, savory beef, sweet, chewy bun.  Too much bun. See video, below......that baby crying in the background--we solved it. We made a bed of burger buns, and the baby fell asleep nearly instantly.
        • The tomato slices were excellent--ripe, flavorful, and juicy.
        • The fries were just awful--thin, greasy, cool, and unseasoned
        What I found most surprising was the fact that Gulfstream was able to serve a flavorful product using the same basic ingredients that both Houston's and R + D managed to totally botch. If you were to look out the front door of Gulfstream, you would be able to see Houston's....WTF?  R + D served up a particularly offensive wreck of a cheeseburger--the youngster couldn't stomach that nasty thing, and they are down the street. Oh well, at least there was a small, greasy glimmer of hope at Gulfstream.

        Burger Review : Great flavor--a step above its sister restaurants in terms of flavor, but overwhelmingly oily.  Pass. 

        Rating...2 Bites

        Sunday, August 29, 2010

        Kalbi Burger -- Los Angeles, CA

        4001 Wilshire Blvd.
        Unit E
        Los Angeles, CA 90010
        Kalbi Burger Website

        Today's burger outing took us to Koreatown in Los Angeles to sample the new Yelp superstar cheeseburger at Kalbi--It's been #1 on Yelp for a month--163 reviews and counting at the time of this post.

        Kalbi was in a little strip mall, and I couldn't tell you what was next to it, since the signs were not in a language that I couldn't read. The interior was spotless and lot like a diner from the Jetsons.

        Kalbi/Galbi refers the style of Korean dishes prepared using rib meat, which is marinated in a mild mixture of soy, garlic, and sugar. The traditional version has a distinct flavor, which is particularly ill-suited in its sweetness for burgers.

        Initially, I only ordered a plain Angus cheeseburger, $6.45, but after speaking with the very polite and knowledgeable young woman at the counter, I added the signature Kalbi Burger, $8.45, to my order, since that  promised to be a more interesting blend. Seriously, the staff was a pleasure to talk to. Everyone, and there were 4 of them in the small cooking and assembly area, was very pleasant and helpful. I have never encountered a staff that was so well informed about their product outside of Umami Burger. As we were packing up to leave, the owner, Hawk, even stopped by to see if I had additional questions. 

        The Burger Breakdown... 
        • The buns were shipped in from a bakery that prepared them especially for Kalbi Burger. These buns really were the star of the dish....the best way to describe them would be a white bun with a brioche crust. Very fresh, and very moist--they handled the contents most competently. They were nicely toasted with an ideal meat to bun ratio.
        • The beef was ground on-site, which was a good sign. They cared enough to hand prepare the cornerstone of the menu.  After grinding...medium...it was just left alone and hand-pressed into firm patties as they were required.  The standard burger--an 80:20 Angus chuck.  The Kalbi Burger was 50% chuck and 50% marinated rib meat (Kalbi), the fib meat was slightly fattier than the chuck.  I had to assume, from the lack of funk, that the beef was wet-aged, or not aged at all. In the case of the Kalbi Burger, the rib meat did not provide the extra oomph that one looks for from that cut--the marinade cut the gaminess, which would have been welcome to butch up the insipid chuck.

        • The burgers were assembled on the "make table" with precision and great care by a staff clearly devoted to detail.  Even the relish on Happy Meal's DELICIOUS hot dog was applied with precision.  It was more like a sausage than a hot dog, and it was the best thing that we tried at Kalbi Burger.
        Carmelized sear from the griddle
        • They seared the patties on a large griddle, and the sear was good and dark. They cooked the thinnish patties to a juicy Well Done. Sadly, there was no seasoning in or on the patties, so they had very little character in terms of flavor to go along with the excellent texture. In fact, the sweet kalbi marinade made its way into the standard burger, because it was baked onto the griddle--I could have done without that, since burgers are savory dishes.  Some of the darkness of the sear was attributable to the caramelized sugars that coated the griddle and unfortunately sweetened the dish.
        • The American Cheese was something akin to a very thick slice of Velveeta, and it melted down to a nacho sauce consistency when it encountered the sizzling hot patty. This gluey texture was not appropriate to the dish, and Happy Meal was not pleased. It also had that characteristic, Velveeta sweetness, which begged for some umami and salt to balance it out.  This effect was magnified in the case of the Kalbi Burger due to the sweet marinade. Too much of a bad thing.  Happy Meal took one bite and spiked his burger onto the tray. He pronounced it "gross."
        The Value...Kalbi Burger served up generous portions, but is simply wasn't good enough.

          The Kalbi Burger--cheese on the bottom.
          At the time of this review, Kalbi had only recently opened. I imagined that they were still ironing out the kinks.  This was a very precise and technically proficient burger in terms of preparation and assembly. Perhaps it catered to a regional taste, which I did not share. Were Kalbi Burger to swap out the cheese and get with the salt and pepper--hell, a little Korean soy in the grind would probably kick it up a couple of notches--then I could see this becoming something truly remarkable. The irreplaceable elements of passion and care were already in place. Frankly, all of the Korean patrons seemed very happy with their food, and Kalbi Burger may have chosen to serve that market. I didn't think to ask the owner about his target market, but due to it's Koreatown location, one could assume that the burger was tailored to Korean tastes.

          Burger Review :  A precise, freshman effort, which may mature into a solid win if they choose to manage the flavor profile to an American palette--the skill was there, but the ingredients failed the test. At the time of this review, the cheeseburger had a long way to go to earn repeat business.

          Rating...2 Bites

          Saturday, August 28, 2010

          Literati Cafe -- Brentwood, CA

          12081 Wilshire Blvd.
          Los Angeles, CA 90025
          (310) 479-3400
          Literati Cafe Website

          Today, the youngest BurgerBuster (Happy Meal) and I headed out to meet a good friend in town from Montreal. As we headed down Wilshire, we noticed Literati Cafe, and we figured that they would have a balanced menu, which would make everyone happy.

          As luck would have had it, Literati Cafe had a couple of burgers on the menu, so we ordered a bunch of the $14 Literati Burgers.

          The Burger Breakdown... 
          • The bun was a brioche, which came from La Brea Bakery, but I don't think that it was delivered on the day that I consumed it.  It looked like a brioche, but is was a little dry, and it was nearly flavorless. It was nicely toasted, though.
          • Mine came out a perfect Med Rare, as ordered. The sear--meh--they grilled it, but it was nicely seasoned on the outside, so that generally made up for a lack of sear and crust. There was bit of char from the grill, so I got a satisfying, small taste of carbon.
          No bites taken yet--it came out looking like this.....sloppy
          • The meat was funky, but in a good way.  The dry-aged front note of what tasted like a blend of Angus rib and chuck was hard hitting.  It really let me know that someone had aged the hell out of some beef. The youngster found it a little gamy, but I found that the most satisfying part of the experience. While they touted Niman Ranch pork and lamb on the menu, they didn't make the same claim about the beef.  That should have been a good sign, because Niman Ranch burgers have never been particularly flavorful, since the meat generally shows up pre-ground.  For $14 bones, Literati should have been grinding that in-house, anyway.
          • Sadly, the middle note from the beef was wholly lacking--I expected a rush of blood and iron to follow up on the funk, but it did not. The perfectly melted Aged White Vermont Cheddar and Gruyère did a capable job of filling the flavor voids, left by the bloodless beef and bland, brioche bun. The Cheddar provided the salt and iron notes, while the Gruyère filled in a bit of sweetness. It came together in a way that mostly worked. It was a  backdoor approach to achieving a full flavor profile, but it succeeded, kind of. The issue was that the flavors from the cheeses were noticeably delayed since those notes had to make it through the fat that the cheese exuded. It took a moment to appreciate the clever use of the cheeses to nearly round out the dish.
          • The grind was medium. The beef was not over-manipulated, so the patty had a pleasant, but somewhat weak, mouth feel. The beef was not particularly firm, so it wasn't completely satisfying. It seems that they replicated Niman Ranch pre-ground beef's bland texture and flavor but they worked in some funk. It was odd, because they seasoned the outside, but the inside was bland. The cheese could not compensate well enough to make up for that. Clever only took this burger so far.
          • Beef to bun ratio--perfect.  The dryish, bland bun was a competent delivery vehicle, which did not upstage the patty.
          • The Roma tomato slices that accompanied the burger were utterly foul, however. It's as if they were vacuum-packed overnight with a raw salmon. Standards!!!
          • The fries were remarkably savory. I had to ask the waitress if they were cooked in beef tallow. She checked with the kitchen, which assured her that they only used canola oil.  Either way, they were marvelous--thin, crisp, and rich in flavor. They were the highlight of the meal. Damn good, but in no way did they make up the value gap to get us to anything resembling $14 worth of quality and deliciousness.

          Honestly, had they swapped out sirloin for that bland blend of beef, this could have been marvelous. Well, had they used flavorful meat AND had they seasoned the blend, then it would have been marvelous.  Oh, and gotten a good sear on it. And....used a fresh bun.  Bah...never mind. You can't fix unsatisfying.

          Burger Review : Literati delivered a merely OK burger, which cleverly concealed the most of the shortcomings of its beef. Being clever is not the same as being good. Fortunately for Literati, the cuisine bar in Brentwood was set VERY LOW in terms of burgers. It beat the hell out of cheeseburger serving neighbors Tavern and Barney's Gourmet Burgers. The fries were damn good.

          Rating...2 Bites

          Friday, August 27, 2010

          Eureka!Burger -- Redlands, CA

          345 Pearl Ave
          Redlands, CA 92374
          (909) 335-5700

          Eureka!Burger Website

          Eureka!Burger got all the great press for the best burger in the Redlands...San Bernadino area.  Even the signage promised "Gourmet Burgers and Craft Beer."

          The smell, as I approached this place, was amazing--it smelled like a restaurant that made a great cheeseburger. That smell continued within as I approached my table, so I was looking forward to something tasty.

          Me: Please bring me some brown or Dijon mustard.
          Waiter: Uh..all we have is Grey Poupon
          Me: *sigh* That'll do.

          Read that Grey Poupon bottle...it was emblazoned with the word "Dijon."

          That should have been my queue to walk out, but it was 103 in Redlands, and I couldn't bear another walk from parking lot to new place on a day that was 30 degrees hotter in that locale than in LA.


          The Burger Breakdown...

          The Meat:  GREASY--I have to assume that it was a 70:30 blend gauging by the grease that I was continually wiping from my lips and was oozing from the patty.  The menu touted burgers made from Angus chuck.  One can only assume that the "g" in "Angus" was a typo, because this thing tasted like what I imagined ground up bungholes would--BLAND.  I confirmed that they got their meat pre-ground from their supplier. The grind was way too fine. Finally, they must have left it at a preschool for a week and let the kiddies use it as PlayDoh, because it was freaking rubbery in a way that suggested prolonged and excessive handling by an amateur, back-of-house staff. Clearly, if they couldn't grind their own meat, they had no business hawking "gourmet" burgers.  P.S. Chuck would have been fine for a backyard BBQ, but since they were touting and charging for premium produces, then it would have made sense to sell a premium product.

            Seasoning: NONE--NOTHING...NOT A DAMN THING.  I wonder if I forgot to asked to be up-charged for salt and pepper... It was like chewing rubbery, greasy water. It was Apple Pan all over again. I've had more interesting shredded daikon radish.

            The Sear: Nah--nothing but weak grill marks on a rubbery patty.

            Preparation:  Grilled not griddled to Medium rather than the Med-Rare that I ordered. I confirmed that they actually had a griddle in the kitchen, which would have at least imparted a sear to the burger patty rather than the uneven grill marks pictured here. WEAK.

            The Cheese: The American slice that cost me the extra buck was stale and dried out, so it really didn't melt, and it was rubbery. The pictures demonstrate how rigid the cheese remained.  BLEAK

            The Bun: unevenly toasted and incredibly bland.  The menu claims that it a "...Locally, Fresh Baked" brioche.  Not a hint of butter or sweetness. Really just a big, dry sponge. Too much bun for the small patty. Their baker gave them a bad product, and Eureka!Burger made it worse.

            The Meat To Bun Ratio: It was impossible to care--both meat and bun were unpalatable--they sort of deserved one another.

            The Fries: The fries were barely warm, and they were lank and bitter.

            The Value: While this awful burger was mercifully small--at 9 bucks (cheese was an extra buck...c'mon) it was a real ripoff, but since it was inedible, it was a scam at any price. I was only capable of powering through half of this one. It was most unpleasant.

            "Eureka" means "I have found it." In this case, it meant "I have found a truly awful burger in Redlands, CA." Eureka!Burger had found a groove, though. They managed to succeed, and in a mighty way, at taking mediocre ingredients and making them worse. The burger was a case of 4 plus 4 being forced to equal 2.

            It took much nerve to be a joint that posted its press on its walls and on it's website. That hubris would only have been justified had they backed up the hype with a quality product. Eureka!Burger FAILED to live up to the hype and delivered a cheeseburger of remarkably poor flavor/quality. I couldn't finish this nasty, grease sponge. It took a lot of nerve to serve a burger, which looked NOTHING like the burger porn photos on their site. Those burgers looked good--thick, seared, and of a size that matched the bun. Yuck!Burger would have been a more apt name.I would have also accepted Bait and Switch!Burger, but Yuck!Burger...just easier to say.

            Burger Review :  Really, really far from gourmet. In all fairness there was an upside--that greasy monstrosity of a cheeseburger packed a wallop as a laxative...4 visits to the porcelain in 18 hours.  It made for an interesting drive back to LA. I could feel the bolus of grease as it made its way through my system.

            Rating...1 Bite

            Sunday, August 22, 2010

            Five Guys Burgers and Fries -- Carson, CA

            Main Website for Five Guy Burgers and Fries

            This marks the 100th post on TheBurgerReview.  After a ton of burgers, a review of Five Guys Burgers and Fries was conspicuous in its absence.

            I will say that I was not a fan of their decor, which consisted solely of great reviews.  That would be like me wearing a shirt advertising that I am a great kisser and an amazing lover.  Show..don't tell.

            The Burger Breakdown...

              The Beef: The patty was fresh beef...80:20--not a trace of aging. The beef was relatively mild in terms of hearty beef flavor, but it was juicy. Each patty was 3.2 ounces of fresh, never-frozen Chuck.

              The Seasoning: None.

              The Sear: A fine sear was accomplished via a very hot griddle.

              The Preparation: The burgers at Five Guys were cooked on a griddle to a juicy Well Done.
              The patties were smashed flat and seared perfectly. What really put the burger over in terms of texture was the fact that they wrapped it in foil the second that it was assembled. This allowed the ingredients to get steamy, and this caused everything to bind together in a wonderful way. If you prefer your cheeseburgers with bacon, then you should request that the cheese be melted over the bacon. Otherwise, they will stack the burger on top of the bacon, and this does not make sense. You want the bacon on top for crunch, and you want the cheese to hold it in place.

               The Cheese: American--super gooey American.

              The Bun: The Standard seeded bun was Sarah Lee that one could have purchased  in any grocery store. It was soft, toasted, sweet, and compressed perfectly.

              The Meat To Bun Ratio: For the Little Cheeseburger, the ratio was dead on. In the case of a regular Cheeseburger (double meat), there is a little too much meat and heft for the soft bun.

              The Fries: These were peel on and the farm of origin, or at least the city of origin, has always been listed on the whiteboard. The fries were par-cooked, generously seasoned, and dark. If you like your fries crispy, be sure to specify that--sometimes the fries can be a little lank. A regular sized order ($2.99) was enough for 3 adults.

              Toppings: The following list accounts for the toppings for which there is no additional charge. Bacon is extra.
              • Mayo
              • Relish
              • Onions
              • Lettuce
              • Pickles
              • Tomatoes
              • Grilled Onions
              • Grilled Mushrooms
              • Ketchup
              • Mustard
              • Jalapeno Peppers
              • Green Peppers
              • A.1.® Steak Sauce
              • Bar-B-Q Sauce
              • Hot Sauce
              The Value: A 3.2 ounce  cheeseburger was about 4 bucks.  It was a damn good value. The larger cheeseburger (double) was an equally good value. Free refills on drinks, free peanuts, and a huge amount of fries made this an excellent deal.

              In spite of the seemingly average ingredients, the Five Guys cheeseburger transcended its humble, component parts to achieve a glorious whole. This was a symphony of textures. Chewy bun--crumbly beef--gooey cheese.  It was a gift to my mouth. The saltiness of the cheese was a perfect compliment to the near blandness of the patties.  While there were condiments in abundance, none were needed.

              Burger Review : Totally deserving of Zagat's Best Fast Food Burger for 2010  If you haven't tried one, do so. Do so soon.

              Rating...4 Bites   To be fair, some days the beef can tend to be bland, and that only warrants a 3 Bites rating on those occasions.

              Friday, August 20, 2010

              The Hole in the Wall Burger Joint ... Redux -- Santa Monica, CA

              11058 Santa Monica Boulevard
              Los Angeles, CA
              The Hole in the Wall Burger Joint Website

              Sometimes you want to give a burger place a second chance.  DON'T!

              The last time that we visited The Hole in the Wall Burger Joint for a cheeseburger, we walked away unsatisfied, but at least we weren't angry.  Today.....angry and sad.

              They called this The Working Man's Gourmet Burger.  They  must think that the working man has a busted palette.

              The Burger Breakdown...
              • The Beef--over-manipulated, coarsely ground chuck.  Juicy and lean, but not flavorful--it had no character and no depth of flavor. The beef was chewy and very dry.
              • The Sear--EPIC, dark, rich, deep, crusty with a hint of carbon--PERFECT
              • The Seasoning--SALTY--way too salty---In N Out salty--yech.
              • The Bun: The "old-fashioned" bun--too big, too chewy.
              • The pretzel bun--tasted of molasses, and that made no sense with a burger.
              • The Fries: These were gummy and actually tasted like dirt.
              • The house-made ketchup is water, bitter, and chunky. YUCK. It tasted like acid reflux.
              • The Value...poor. $8.00 for bland Chuck on a big chewy bun.  
              Burger Review : Don't bother--the quality has gone in the wrong direction.

              Rating...1 Bite

              Thursday, August 19, 2010

              Jollibee -- San Francisco, CA

              This one, mercifully, has closed.

              Location : Lots of places
              Jollibee Website

              OK, it has been established that San Francisco has more than its fair share of lousy cheeseburgers, but it seems that they are actively seeking to best the worst by bringing in international competitors.  Enter Jollibee--the Philippines answer to crappy burgers.  Ready...Set...Terrible!

              Jollibee was our futile, last ditch effort to find a morsel of burger goodness in San Francisco.  That effort resulted in complete failure.

              The Jollibee cheeseburger was mercifully small, but it packed a wallop of crappiness.  Steamed, rubbery, salty, searless--just craptastic.  Oddly, this sliver of crap could not compete with the grinning evil on a bun delivered by Cafe Zuni, though.

              It was barely worth reviewing--it was just a cheap, low-quality, unpleasant, highly processed bit of fast food awfulness.

              No sear--just gray rubbberyness.

              The seasoning was overwhelmingly salty.

              The bun was thin and flabby.

              The whole thing was a PASS.

              Also, the fries sucked, but they weren't as crappy as the fishy mess served up at the Mission Beach Cafe.

              What the eff is that little bee smiling about?  The fact that he served you a turd, and you paid 2 bucks for it, that's what.

              Burger Review : Weak--do not want.

              Rating...1 Bite

              Zuni Cafe -- San Francisco, CA

              1658 Market Street
              San Francisco, CA 94102
              Zuni Cafe Website

              It had been a crappy couple of burger days in San Francisco when Tess of the B'Urgervilles and I went to the much lauded Zuni Cafe for their signature, house-ground burgers.  Keep in mind that this cheeseburger was served on GD focaccia, so one can imagine the gustatory hell that we were about to enter.  The burger was 17 bucks, and the cheese (something snooty in the White Cheddar family) was an additional $1.75......dicks.  Ready...Set...Terrible!

              The burger arrived and looked fine until it was flipped over to reveal a cool, grill treatment, so it had weak sear marks and a rubbery crust.  The focaccia (rosemary) was oddly lacking both rosemary and the customary, slightly chewy and firm texture--it was more like cornbread.

              Bite one--hmmm that's oddly gamy--I wonder if it's just me--looks across table to see similar look of confusion mirrored on dining partner's face.

              Bite two--well, that's sort of........fishy tasting and reaching for unpleasant.

              Bite three--this is downright unsettling.

              Bite four--no, it's just plain off-putting.

              Bite five--there was no bite five.

              I have failed--I could not choke this one down.  However, I consider myself a survivor of the single worst burger that I have ever tried.  It was a crapcake--and that was actually insulting to cakes of crap everywhere.

              The grind was fine as polenta, and the flavor was pure, fishy skank.  It was also remarkably firm, which suggested that they took puréed ground round, added dashinomoto (bonito flakes) or fish food, and an egg--whizzed it up in a food processor while going out back to smoke, and then caught up with an old friend for ten minutes before realizing the mixture was nearly liquefied, and then saying "eff it, let's serve it anyway." The cooked burger ended up being a meatloaf made with Gerber baby food with the flavor of overly "ripe" salmon. I assume that they did not bother trimming the beef deeply enough and handed us a burger made from the bacteria-rich rind of the dry-aged beef.

              The mouth feel was ghastly--mealy, vaguely toasted focaccia sandwiching mealy "beef" with a greasy wad of salty cheese.  More sadly, the dubious focaccia dutifully soaked up the fishy drippings to deliver a bite of something resembling a soggy, carp-flavored brownie.

              The waitress sheepishly hustled away the plates of 2/3rds consumed burgers and brought us a dessert menu to cleanse our palettes.  The strawberry sorbet was bright, sunny, and bursting with fruit flavor, and the peach meringata dish was a work of genius from the dual perspectives of texture and flavor.  That meant that someone in the Zuni Cafe kitchen was worth a damn, but it certainly was not the guy on the grill.

              In all fairness, the burgers were removed from the tab. There were other patrons in the restaurant that were not revolted by similar looking burgers, which suggests that either we got a bad batch or that the other patrons were OK with the food. 

              Burger Review : Astonishingly bad. Tee up Destiny's Child's I'm a Survivor, and just walk the other way.  You really, really don't want to know.  I could still taste it 24 hours later.

              Rating...1 Bite

              Lulu B's Grill -- Naples, FL

              8795 Tamiami Trail North
              Naples, Fl, 34108

              Phone: (239) 594.5330
              Lulu B's Grill Website

              Tired of the same old food choices, this Burger Buster decided to bust all the burgers near his office in Naples, FL. I decided to start with the top of the food chain (no pun intended?) with Lulu B's, winner of the prestigious "Best Burger in Naples" award from the Naples Daily News. We of the Burger Busters' Brotherhood know better than to trust awards from the media. Even more doubtful is the people's choice award, where mere mortals get to cast their votes for the likes of Wendy's and Chili's.

              Where was I? Oh, yes, the burger at Lulu B's...

              I am pleased to report that Lulu B's breaks the trend of awards going to bad restaurants. In fact, your humble author may have had his faith renewed in the principle of the wisdom of crowds. The folks at Lulu B's lived up to their billing and then some. The restaurant was a 50's-styled diner, nestled in the middle of a nondescript shopping plaza on US 41. I will admit to feeling the temptation of straying from my mission and sampling some of their other fine-looking options (like the pot roast melt. What could possibly be wrong with that?), but you will be comforted to know that I forged ahead and ordered my burger. It was a classic diner burger, griddle cooked Medium Well, although the patties -- yes, that's pattIES... I ordered the double, as I did not become fat by accident -- are a bit thicker than you would normally find. Regardless, the meat had a very nice sear and was perfectly juicy. The bun was quite tasty, with a nice consistency, with my lone criticism being a burger:bun ratio that skewed a bit too much toward "bun."

              After one bite, my visual critique became a distant memory. This would be a very good cheeseburger anywhere. In an area like Southwest Florida, it's almost criminal for food to be this good. The meat was nicely aged and perfectly seasoned. The textures of the meat, cheese, and bun were in nearly perfect harmony.

              Burger Review : After speaking with the proprietor of the establishment, it was apparent that they take great pride in their burgers. It is with good reason, as it is a food at which they excel at Lulu B's. If you find yourself stuck in Naples, you can at least take comfort in a good cheeseburger.

              Rating...4 Bites

              Mission Beach Cafe -- San Francisco, CA

              1198 Guerrero St
              San Francisco, CA 94103
              Mission Beach Cafe Website

              At the urging of a fellow burger aficionado, Colonel Mustard, myself, and a small army went to Mission Beach Cafe to sample the burger.

              Upon entering the restaurant, the smokey smell of BBQ was surely a sign of delicious things to come, right?

              The waiter seemed pleased and proud to state that the burger at his cafe was rated #4 in San Francisco.  Who the eff goes around chanting, "We're number 4--We're number 4"?  That's not even good enough to make it to the podium.  Runner-up status is nothing to crow about.

              Now take a look at these ingredients.  Maybe the bar was set so high in San Francisco that this assemblage of culinary excellence wasn't enough to make the grade. 

              The beef--Prather Ranch--granted, it was pre-ground, but quality, nonetheless
              The cheese--aged, Winchester Gouda
              The bun--Peppered potato
              The tomatoes--heirloom
              The fries--Kennebec

              This was a surefire recipe for awesomeness--the very best ingredients were sourced, and it would have merely taken a competent effort to assemble the awesome parts into a more awesome whole.

              And..........here we go.  It would seem that the theme of the Mission Beach Cafe cheeseburger was Green--Ed Begley, Jr would have been proud.

              The Burger Breakdown... 

              Desperately seeking beef
              • The beef, which was juicy and deliciously seasoned, came out a perfect Med Rare--it even retained some of the aged funk as a front note...........but they cooked it on a cool grill, and that gave us weak grill marks and a rubbery, gray exterior in place of a proper Maillard sear. I attributed this to the energy conservation efforts in the kitchen.  There was no point in making the grill hot and using a bunch of natural gas to cook--that would be been wasteful, and would have required additional energy to cool and/or vent.

              Greasy, black grill smear
              • The bun was clearly made of recycled Styrofoam, and it was just too bulky for the modest burger. It was also stale and chewy. To add the final insult--rather than toasting it properly on the grill, the kitchen staff wiped it across the grill to create the appearance of grill marks with the blackened grease from the grates--NASTY and BITTER (see photo on right).

              Excess bun and a greasy plate
              • The fries were obviously cooked in the same oil as some sort of fish, so they tasted nice and........ fishy--I take my Omega-3s, and I prefer not to double up on them while eating fries. They were also clearly re-fried based on the rubbery crust and  sodden texture. Reclaimed oil is best used in cars not in fryers.

              • The tomatoes were damned tasty, though.

              The "Key Lime Pie"....not so much. It's a fine lemon curd pie, but Key Lime it is not. The used gelatin to set the filling, and it lacked the traditional graham cracker crust.  Ooof.

              Burger Review : Meh  Great ingredients are nothing in the face of a concerted effort to minimize their impact.  #4 was probably generous.  Sometimes, the whole is less than sum of its parts.  It is fair to hold out hope for this burger, however.  The beef and seasoning, which are the cornerstone of a great burger, were dead on.

              Rating...2 Bites

              Luce at the InterContinental San Francisco -- San Francisco, CA

              888 Howard Street
              San Francisco, CA 94103
              Luce Website

              Dominique Crenn was named Esquire's Chef of the Year in 2008.  Esquire is all over the place when it comes to food--they thought that Le Tub was the second coming of Jeebus. One can only hope that she had nothing to do with the cheeseburger that was served during the lunch hour at Luce.

              I was impressed enough with the kitchen's attention to detail at breakfast to schedule a lunch meeting at Luce. The potatoes were perfectly diced bordering on brunoise, and this spoke well of the guiding hand in the kitchen, or so I thought.

              The Burger Breakdown... 

              • The bun---(see photo) had char marks on the inside and outside to insure that the bun was infused with the unpleasant taste and smell of pungent burnt starch--YECH!
              • The beef, while it was all-natural, Niman Ranch (made from real cows), was not ground in-house, so it yielded all of its nuance and aged flavors to the fluid and plastic bag in which it arrived.  
              • Texture--meaty tapioca...completely without character. 
              • Seasoning--what seasoning?  BLAND.
              • Sear--merely adequate, but the grill left much to be desired.  Surely, there was a griddle or a plancha or a heavy skillet in that big ole kitchen.
              • Med Rare--yep, they nailed that.
              • Cheese--Bleu.  It crushed the burger into oblivion--it was all that I could taste. It didn't so much mask the flavor of the weak burger as it made the lack of hearty flavors in the meat even more apparent.
              • Meat to Bun Ratio--really good, but the bun was burnt, so whatever.
              • Tomatoes--Unripe and mealy.
              • Fries--Lank 
              • The Value--$14 bucks for pre-ground Chuck on a burnt bun. The value was shameful.
              Burger Review : This was just a hotel burger and a lousy one at that.

              Rating...1 Bite

              Tuesday, August 17, 2010

              Five Guys Rated Top Burger by Zagats

               Link to full article on Zagats

              Well, we called this one quite some time ago.  We are please to see that Zagats has followed suit.

              Five Guys continues to be the gold standard for smashed flat, griddled-hard cheeseburgers.  Also, one can find Five Guys locations all across this great nation. 

              Mr. Franken Burger

              Saturday, August 14, 2010

              Zabie's -- Santa Monica, CA

              3003 Ocean Park Blvd
              Santa Monica, CA 90405
              Zabie's Website
              But please don't, just don't go here, not for a burger and certainly not for juice.

              Zabie's is located a block from The Counter--I should have gone to The Counter.

              I took Happy Meal (the youngster) to Zabie's after washing the car and seeing Despicable Me......for the second time....*sigh* 

              It was 2:00 PM on a Saturday, so the place was empty except for some guy and his creepy, ginger kid that would not stop eyeballing me, WTF?

              Happy Meal ordered a freshly squeezed apple juice, and to his dismay, the fruit fly covered juicer delivered a pulpy, orange, opaque liquid that tasted strongly or carrots. When I mentioned this to the proprietress, she informed me that they NEVER clean out the juicer. BLEH.  We got him some lemonade instead and passed on the drippings that filtered through what was presumably an unholy melange of composting vegetation being jealously guarded by a legion of drosophila.

              The special board was merely a reiteration of 3 menu items....verbatim...at the same price listed in the menu.  I do not think that "special" meant what they thought it meant.

              We ordered two of their 10 dollar Angus burgers with Jack cheese. They came out Med Well, which was BS considering we asked for Medium,. but we didn't want to wait an additional 20 minutes for a re-fire. That was a good call, since the burgers would not have improved at a commensurate level to the added wait time.

              The Burger Breakdown... 

              • Meat to Bun ratio was wildly weighted toward the bun--the dry, double-toasted, fibrous, brioche bun. There was half an inch, all the way around, of excess bun..excess, stale bun.  Note: buns never need to be toasted on the top. The initial impression to the palate is dryness, and since the inside is already toasted, the crunchy texture is already achieved yet in a more appealing fashion without delivering the unavoidable unpleasantness that comes from toasting the outside of the bun.

              • The beef: Angus, medium grind, densely-formed patty with a half-assed sear.  They seasoned the hell out of it, but but something really bland like Mrs. Dash, so mustard was non-optional.  The burger was D...R...Y.  Drier than even Med Well should be.  You can see from the "final bites" photo that not a drop of juice had seeped into the bun, because there was no GD juice.....only dust...dust and shame....dust and shame and disappointment....dust and shame and disappointment and impotent rage.

              You know who eats cheeseburgers like this?  Terrorists, that's who.  Terrorist training camps feed the trainees nothing but Zabie's burgers and tell the recruits that this is what America is all about.  No wonder they hate us so much.  It was that I could do to stop myself from loading up on fertilizer and gasoline after choking down that bone dry monstrosity of a cheeseburger.  Happy Meal couldn't even finish his (above), and that boy can EAT.  I had to start him on an IV of saline and Ringer's lactate in the car just to rehydrate him.

              Burger Review : Eff and No
              Could not finish

              Rating...1 Bite

              Sunday, August 1, 2010

              Burger Kitchen -- Los Angeles, CA

              8048 W 3rd St
              Los Angeles, CA 90048
              Neighborhood: Mid-City West
              (323) 944-0503
              Another day out with Happy Meal--this time the  California Science Center.  A bigger hit than LACMA.
              After 4 hours, we were hungry, and we made the journey to a newish spot, Burger Kitchen, to bust some cheeseburgers.

              If I were a stickler for service, I would have flamed this joint without a second thought, and it would have looked something like this:
              • Walking up, we were greeted with the sight of one of the servers dumping beverages from a vacated table at the base of one of the trees that lines the street.  Straw and all were poured out, and there was a nice collection of straws, so this appeared to be common practice....gross.
              • Service was scattered and disorganized, especially considering that we were the  6th table, and there were three front-of-house staffers.
              • Burger Kitchen announced the fact that they have Pat LaFrieda beef at every opportunity--menu boards, menus, website,  etc., but we did not discover that they were out until AFTER we attempted to order it.   WEAK. Note: Don't make people wait 10 minutes to discover the fact that the ONE thing that is your claim to greatness is not available.
              • The single portion of fries was massive--too much for an adult and a child, but the waitress did not bother to mention that when I ordered two with our burgers.  I took home about two pounds of fries.
              • We were never asked if we wanted a beverage other than water.
              • Our water glasses went dry with no offer of a refill.
              • They placed WET skewers in the burgers to keep them assembled during the trip from the kitchen.  They claim that this was to avoid splinters, but plucking a clammy stick from a burger...c'mon--they were cold and wet, and that couldn't have been up to health code.  A wet stick in rare beef........blech.
              • The plates and tables--not properly cleaned.  Sticky residue on the table, and crusty stuff on the bottom of the plate was encountered when shifting the plate.
              • The ketchup that came with the fries was way too spicy to serve to a child.  I had to ask for suitable ketchup.
              • The dessert that I ordered for Happy Meal did not arrive as described....they took it off of the bill, but a chocolate ice cream sandwich is wildly unlike a pile of vanilla ice cream on a single cookie with chocolate syrup. They were out of cookies, and chocolate ice cream, and communication skills.
              • I had to get up and track down a spoon, since a fork is not an effective way to consume what was intended to be an ice cream sandwich.
              • Finally, the waitress only bothered to check in with us only as I was chewing the last bite of burger...  Comedy.
              • When I did mention to the manger/owner? of the joint that the tomatoes were mealy and clearly unripe, he was surprised and immediately suggested that I could have have them replaced.  I suggested that they simply not have been served in the first place.

              OK, you get the point--the service was disorganized.  How about that burger?  Funny thing...This burger flirted with excellence in spite of  the fumbling staff and some quality control/back-of-house issues.

              The Burger Breakdown... 
              • The rib, chuck, and sirloin blend was coarsely ground and perfectly prepared. Sadly, it was peppered with connective tissue, and was a little too greasy.  Easily remedied, and the flavor was there.
              • The brioche, had it not been a little stale, would have been just fine, and it was toasted properly.
              • The tomatoes were mealy--not a big deal, they were window dressing but still........it was shite form.
              • The patty was griddled to perfect sear, and it was impeccably seasoned.
              • The Sommersetshire Cheddar provided a splendid, creamy, sharp, and salty counterpoint to the aged blend.  It really made the burger.
              • The Meat : Bun ratio was damn close to perfect.
              • The portion of beef was relatively huge.  The Golden State could take a page out of this book.
              Given a year to settle in and work out the service and quality kinks, Burger Kitchen this may evolve into a top-notch burger establishment.  I mean, it better, since burgers constituted 90% of the menu items.  I do not plan to spend money/time there again until the nonsense gets resolved in terms of service.

              Burger Review : Excellent in terms of flavor, but one needs great patience to look past the blemishes . If they are able to grow past some serious service issues and a couple of quality kinks, Burger Kitchen may be worthy of a second review.

              Rating...4 Bites  really 3 1/2 Bites, because of the staleness of the bun and the connective tissue in the beef.

              In fairness, Burger Kitchen did get back to us via Yelp. Daniel at Burger Kitchen indicated that they took our comments to heart, and that they have made improvements in the following areas:

              The skewers are now dry.
              The have organized the dining area into sections, and they now assign servers to those sections.
              They have created a better ordering plan to insure that ingredients are on hand.
              They have a new inventory and portion control system.
              I will re-review, since the burger fundamentals of sear, seasoning, grind, blend, etc. were all in place.

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