Thursday, September 30, 2010

26 Beach -- Venice, CA

3100 Washington blvd
Venice, CA 90292
(310) 823-7526

The users of both Yelp and Chowhound were in agreement that 26 Beach made a damn fine cheeseburger.  To top that, 26 Beach's staffers all wore shirts emblazoned with "The Best Burger in L.A."  They even posted that on their special board--no specials--just THE BEST BURGER IN L.A. The menus boasted this: "Famous Craftsman Hamburgers on housemade buns. No chef has been making Craftsman Burgers longer!"  I couldn't figure out what that meant, but it sounded fantastic.  Ready...Set...Terrible!
That's one greasy burger

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The burger patty was  Angus Chuck It had been pre-ground somewhere far away. This was an 80:20 blend, which was more like 75:25.  Then again, mine had so much cartilage in it that it could have accounted for 5% of the mass.  I discovered that "best" and "Craftsman" were code for "oily" and "full of gristle."  After eating half of this thing, I gave up and sent it back.  There was gristle in every single bite.  In fairness they did take my food off of the bill. The beef tasted wet-aged, and it had almost no character in terms of flavor or texture. The coarsely ground, bland chuck was doughy and neutral.
That's a lot of gristle

The Sear: The grilled sear was competent and relatively thorough.  WIN.

The Seasoning: The burger patty was little salty on the outside, but it was bland, bland, bland on the inside.

The Preparation:  I requested Med-Rare, but I received Med-Rare...heavy on the Rare. This did not work with the insipid, soft, oily beef. It was odd, because the burger patty's cooked layer accounted for 1/3 of the depth, but the meat was still dead raw in the center.

The Cheese: This was a  relatively bland Cheddar--it added no tang or saltiness to the dish.

The Bun: The bun at 26 Beach was a competently toasted but very, egg-heavy brioche. It was much too chewy.  The chewiness of the egg and the sweetness from the bun completely overwhelmed the bland, loose, greasy beef.

Meat To Bun Ratio: It seemed close, but the bun was a complete mismatch to the beef, so there really was not a good way to judge this factor.

The Fries: The fries were competently cooked, but they were not seasoned. Bland.

For a price of $13, this was a very poor burger  value--it was inedible. Best Burger in LA...really?  Most Gristle-Filled Burger in LA would have at least been truthful. It was a great way to stay in shape, though. Gnawing on gristle burned calories, and I sent most of it back. Maybe they should have marketed this ghastly thing as a diet burger. Again, they did comp the burger after the manager was shown the impressive gristle collection that I amassed from only 50% of my burger patty.

Burger Review : The cheeseburger at 26 Beach looked great and was competently prepared, but each of the components fell completely flat. Based upon this visit and the quality of the ingredients, I would not return.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oinkster -- Eagle Rock, CA

2005 Colorado Blvd
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
Oinkster Website

After seeing the best, animated, fighting owls, kids' movie ever, it was time to grab dinner with Happy Meal, and we were in the mood for a drive, so we headed out to Eagle Rock to sample the oft-lauded Oinkster.  The collective opinion of 1028 Yelpers was that Oinkster was a solid 4 stars--how could 1028 Yelpers have been wrong about this cheeseburger?............Well, it went something like this. 

The Burger Breakdown...
The Beef:  100% Angus from Nebraska.  The cut?  No one behind the counter knew, but judging from the blandness, I'd say that it was 80/20 Chuck. Chuck peppered with connective tissue. The beef had not a hint of aging, but it did have a satisfying iron taste--other than that, it was completely insipid.  It came out not completely dry, so a couple of points for that. I would guess that this beef showed up frozen in 5 pound plastic tubes from a facility in Nebraska. When this product is allowed to sit in a thawed state for more than 48 hours, it begins to leak out fluids and flavor, and, in turn, this leads to dryish, bland burgers. That's pretty much what we got at Oinkster.

The Preparation: Griddled hot to Well Done. They  rendered out the majority of the fat and the remaining flavor, sadly. The grind was coarse, and the irregular patties were formed loosely, so that the mouth feel was loose, meaty, and crumbly. As you can see in the photos, none of the juices reached the bun. This truly teetered on the edge of dryness.

The Seasoning:  There was a vague taste of salt on the outside, and NOTHING on the inside--nothing but bits of gristle.

The Sear:  It was a bit uneven, but the 1/3 pound patty could not have tolerated much more heat. The griddle imparted a nice crunch to the spots where there was sear, and that was a nice contrast in texture. Again, since there was no seasoning and there was not much by way of juices, the sear on this bland beef was not flavorful.

The Cheese:  Nicely melted American.

The Bun: The (spottily) seeded, hamburger bun was barely toasted.  It must have come from a specialty bakery, because only a specialty bakery could turn out a product this useless. The bun was bland and flimsy. It simply fell apart and away from the burger patty as it was being eaten, and I used no condiments. Happy Meal fared worse, because his pickles and ketchup added moisture and weight to the already WEAK bun.  He was displeased.

Halfway to a good sear/crust
The Meat to Bun Ratio: Hard to tell since the bun was in the business of disintegrating, and business was good. If I'd had to guess, I'd say it was correct for a single, but way too little bun for a double.

The Fries:  YECH...they called them "Belgian Fries," so I can only assume that "Belgian" was code for something that is greasy, lank, and undesirable.  The fries were very "Belgian."  They were also unsalted. Finally, there were two ketchup ketchup and a chipotle ketchup. Neither of these choices was worth a damn, since both were heavy on the acid and sweet flavors which created an overly "bright" taste to them--a lot like sugary, malt vinegar. Neither of these so-called ketchups featured the customary hearty, tomato flavor, which is why one uses................................ketchup.  The muted, sturdy flavor of a Heinz would have been much preferred.

The concept at Oinkster was high-quality, American, comfort food.  They called it "Slow Fast Food." In practice, the Oinkster  quickly delivered an assemblage of so-so ingredients that comprised a bland and mediocre whole. If you live in Los Angeles, you can safely skip Oinkster--you'll save money on gas--you will miss out on nothing.  The value was poor--18 bucks for 2 baskets of bland and a couple of cokes.

Burger Review : This was the Obama of cheeseburgers--Popular, Full Of Promise, Talked A Great Game, Over-Priced, Impressive (at first glance), Bland, and it generally Under-Performed.  It was truly nothing to be proud of, and it is even more doubtful that it will be tried again.

Burger Rating...3 Bites

Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Tomy's -- Los Angeles, CA

11289 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 479-0601

Big Tomy's sits on the corner of Sawtelle and Pico--dangerously close to the Little Tokyo district on Sawtelle--Asian girls are hot.
That is a gang of food for 12 bucks

Homies--Collect 'em all
Let me begin with....The "Big" in Big Tomy's has to do with the BIG value. For 12 bucks, Colonel Mustard and I got 2 single cheeseburgers, 2 beverages, 1 order of plain fries, and 1 order of chili fries.  The chili fries--wow--I almost felt like I needed to go to rehab--they were a delicious, greasy, salty, meaty pile of poison, and I want more. I  could have written a poem celebrating the magnificence of that dish--all meat, orange grease, and creamy, melted cheese on hot, crispy fries--heart stopping goodness.

Even more awesome were the coin-operated, novelty dispensers--double win!  Homies and  Day of The Dead temporary tattoos.  I love California.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Meat:  Meh--preformed, 1/3 pound patties of bland chuck--medium grind. It was completely benign.

The Seasoning:  There was no seasoning. Another tragic case of a place the griddles chorizo not putting that latent seasoning to use...sigh.

The Sear:  Nominal--the patties were thin, and the griddle was hot, so they cooked fast, and there was no way to get a great sear onto them.

The preparation: Griddled hard and hot--cooked Well Done. In spite of of the cooking temperature and the thinness of the burger meat, these burgers still came out juicy without being greasy.  Points for that.

The Cheese: A single slice of American applied halfway through the cooking process. One slice was enough for the thin burger patty.

The Bun:  Unseeded, standard hamburger bun.  It was moist and toasted. They also didn't use oil or butter on it, which I prefer.

The Meat to Bun Ration: Perfect...not a bit of bun went to waste.

The Fries:  Fine...just fine.

Honestly, Big Tomy's made a fine cheeseburger. It was made from generally blah ingredients, which were cooked and assembled with ruthless efficiency.  The burger meat was bland, but it was juicy, and the bun and cheese lent additional moisture and savory flavors, that I wasn't left reaching for my beverage or condiments.

Burger Review : This really was an OK cheeseburger. There was nothing bad nor great about it.  The chili cheese fries, on the other hand, were fantastic.

Rating...3 Bites

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Belvedere at The Peninsula Beverly Hills -- Beverly Hills, CA

9882 South Santa Monica Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 551-2888

First off, I need to declare--formally and for the record--that Colonel Mustard has mad, parking skills--Ace Ventura, "like a glove" parking skills. Parking in Beverly Hills can be a pain, and the Colonel whipped a creative, mid-block, three-lane u-turn, and deftly got us to within an inch of the curb in one try.  It was magical, and I feel lucky to have been there.

Colonel Mustard picked Belvedere as our burger du jour. Belvedere is a AAA Five Diamond Award winner, so this was not to be a cheap lunch. It was in the Peninsula Hotel, and I really don't know how we even got past the front door......recession....go figure.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Executive Chef, James Overbaugh came by the table and informed us that the mild, 80:20 Chuck came from a well-respected farm in Nebraska, but we glazed over on the details, because the beef itself was completely unremarkable. It had the faintest taste of aging, but otherwise it was very neutral--it really left me wanting for some bigger beef and blood flavors--I would have preferred a big hit of beef since this was a big patty. They pushed the fat content right to the edge--the burgers were rich but not oily.

Preparation: They nailed our request for Med Rare on the grill. They loosely hand-formed the 1/2 pound, medium-coarse grind patties.

The Sear: Grilled with very little char, and the sear was not exceptional or interesting--they could have gone with a much hotter grill.

The Seasoning: None in the blend, but there was a nice hit of salt and pepper on the outside. This would have made its way to the interior in a smaller burger.

The Cheese: The booming and hearty Hook's 2 Year Aged White Cheddar was a show stopper. It was rich, sharp, complex, and salty. It was perfectly draped over the burger patty, and it lent a HUGE amount of flavor to the dish. Had this been a 1/3 pound burger instead of the hefty 1/2 pound, the cheese would have really perfected the dish, except..........

The Bun: This was tragic. The bun was a barely toasted, sweet, flaky crusted, crumbly on the inside brioche. The cheese simply couldn't overcome both the sweetness of the bun and the relative blandness of the beef. The bun was just far too delicate to stand up to the big, juicy patty, so it generally disintegrated in my hand as I ate. This was case of under-manipulation of the dough, so no significant gluten strands were formed, which would have given the onion-topped brioche a little heft and a fighting chance.

Meat to Bun Ratio: Skewed on the side of the beef, since the bun was too dainty for the dish.

The Fries: Well, hello there! The fries were peeled, hand-cut, par-boiled, battered, and deep fried in a fresh and neutrally flavored oil. Sort of like creamy french fries in onion ring batter. They were super crunchy and hard to put down. The staff confirmed that they had never seen anyone finish off one of these generous cones of starchy treats. The fries were perfection. I would come back just for the fries at Belvedere.
The best fries in Los Angeles

Value: The Grilled Angus Beef Burger was $19, and they charged that with a straight face. Frankly, that was the right price for the target market, so no umbrage taken.  Besides, the service was polite, prompt, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and impeccable.  That said, the high price point led to high expectations, and the burger did fall a little short of those expectations.

Burger Review : For a big price tag, Belvedere delivered a generous meal. We both polished off our entire 1/2 pound cheeseburger. All in all, this was a fine and competent cheeseburger. It was on the verge of the verge of greatness.

Rating...3 Bites (3.5)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Carl's Jr. -- Freaking Everywhere

Seriously, Carl's Jr has saturated the market
You can find it EVERYWHERE.  
I guess it's called Hardees in certain parts of  the country.
Carl's Jr Website

The Original Six Dollar Burger® they promised
The Original Six Dollar Burger® they delivered
This stop at Carl's Jr., my first........and last, was inevitable since this chain really pimps the hell out of its burger fare on TV, 24/7, and I live in California. In response to the marketing onslaught, Happy Meal (the youngest BurgerBuster) was swayed by the call of the Bacon Western kudos to their ad agency--the kid really made a stink about wanting one.  I got one of the Six Dollar Burgers--The Original Six Dollar Burger® for about $4 bucks.  I ordered it plain so that I could review it BurgerBusters-style--naked.

The Burger Breakdown...

The 6 Dollar Burger was about a 1/3 pound affair, and it was not the worst looking cheeseburger that I have encountered.  HOWEVER, it looked NOTHING like the burger on the menu board or the advertising.

The Beef:  The menu board made the claim of 100% Angus beef.  Sure, why not?  It was hard to tell what it was based on the awful preparation, hold time, and spice blend. You can't spell "Angus" with out "Anus."

Hey, look!! You can friend/like crappy, precooked burgers on FaceBook
The Sear: Meh, it was sort of there, but the burger had been stored and reheated so the original sear was wrecked with steam from the reheating process...sigh.  It was weird--the sear on the edges was epic, but that's where it stopped--too bad.

The Preparation: Flat, preformed patties, which looked nothing like the juicy, thick, burger porn on the menu board. The speed at which the burgers came out clearly indicated that the patties were precooked, and they were just in the cheese melting business at Carl's Jr.locations, and the cooking occurs somewhere else or, at the very least, a long time before I placed my order. The burger meat came out Well Done and crumbly.

The Seasoning: LOTS of it. Whatever blend of seasoning that they worked into the patty simply overpowered the beef flavor. The seasoning took over the entire thing, and the seasoning was not all that amazing.  I Imagine that this was to mask some really bland beef, since not a hint of beef flavor was present.

The Cheese: Nicely melted American.  American cheese is just so reliable, and Carl's Jr. did not f*ck that part up.  Like I said, they were in the cheese melting business.  I may put that on my resume---Cheese Melter.

The Bun:  A big, fresh, moist, seeded, standard, hamburger bun. The bun was just barely toasted, and it also appeared to be reheated, so there was no interesting texture or contrast with the burger patty.

Meat to Bun Ratio: It was actually exactly right, and this was one of those cases where the bun provided moisture to fill in for the dry beef.

OK, the Carl's Jr. box has been checked, and it's pretty much what one might have expected.  It was an OK fast food burger, but was not the sort of thing that I would eat twice.  For 5 bucks I could have had something cooked fresh without 54 grams of fat.

Burger Review : Whatever. This would have been OK had they cooked the burger to order and not over-seasoned it.  Then again, if my Aunt had balls, she'd be my Uncle.

Rating...1 Bite
This would have gotten 2 bites for the bun and cheese, but the the precooked, over-spiced beef was unforgivable.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vortex Bar and Grill -- Atlanta, GA

878 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30309
Vortex Bar and Grill Website

Midtown Atlanta has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years. It was not long ago that the only worthwhile destination was the Cheetah, and being outside after dark was an ill-advised scenario. Things have certainly changed. Now there are brand new apartment homes, walking/biking paths, and plenty of bars and restaurants to satisfy even the most picky and annoying of the young urban hipsters.

One of the more renowned of these places is The Vortex Bar and Grill. Featured on the Travel Channel's Man vs. Food, the Vortex was a rather unique spot. It's like a Rockabilly shrine, with Mike Ness wannabes manning most of the battle stations and Suicide Girls posters on the walls. Often, such attention to gimmicks and decorations is a sure sign that the food is mediocre at best. Rest assured, Vortex put just as much love into its substance as it did its style.

The Vortex Bar and Grill -- Coronary Bypass Burger
Ugly Bag of Mostly Water (UBMW) was in town on business, so he and his co-workers thought it would be rude not to hit the Vortex, given its short walking distance from the office. Seating was immediately available, as it was still relatively early for a dinner seating. The menu revealed a wide range of dishes, including about twenty different burgers. Fear not, dear reader. For this, too, was indeed no negative indicator of food quality. The Vortex's burgers were half-pound sirloin patties, flame grilled to order. While your humble reviewer is normally a no-nonsense burger type -- meat, cheese, bread, and maybe a pickle, thank you -- he had to make an exception when he laid his eyes on the Coronary Bypass Burger. As described by their menu, it consisted of "Our big half-pound sirloin patty, topped with a fried egg, three slices of American cheese, four slices of bacon, with plenty of mayo on the side that we expect you to slather all over this burger. It comes with a side item too." Yes, please. When the burger arrived, UBMW realized that invoking the wrath of the burger purists on this site was a small price to pay for the meal he was about to enjoy.

The skinny (irony intended): this was, as advertised, 8 ounces of sirloin, cooked perfectly to order. It seemed to be a bit leaner than the ideal 80/20 blends, but the Vortex's kitchen was adept at handling any burger meat. The bun was nice and firm, and was either an egg bread or a potato bread (egg is the best guess, given the lower density). You burger purists out there will be happy to know the first thing your reviewer did was sample just the meat, cheese, and bun. The meat was definitely of good quality, and had that strong flavor that is characteristic of sirloin. Given the cut of meat they use, though, it was also surprisingly tender. It was juicy (but not greasy), was cooked medium as ordered, and had a nice char and sear without drying out the outer parts of the patty. The American cheese melted nicely and was a perfect complement to the strong, sirloin flavor. If there was one criticism, and a minor one at that, it was that the patty seemed a touch too over-manipulated. The addition of the bacon and egg to the mix made a good thing even better. The egg was fried, Over Medium, and on top of it was a weave of four slices of meaty bacon. It was a delicious combination, so much so that UBMW didn't leave a single bite behind on the plate.

Other burgers: Ugly Bag's colleagues ordered fine selections such as the guacamole burger and the Elvis burger (that's right, topped with peanut butter and fried plantains). Both received rave reviews. While it is a serious violation of protocol, you are fully encouraged to sample one of their specialty burgers. You can be confident that flavor will be not overshadowed by gimmick.

Additional tip: try the potato salad. Instead of a traditional potato salad, they mixed the roasted potato pieces in with sour cream and chives.

Burger Review : They really cared about their food at the Vortex. Quality beef + quality other ingredients = win. It wasn't the best burger on the planet, but it was up there.

Rating...4 Bites

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rock Sugar -- Century City, CA

 Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen Website

Mini Burgers...Mini Review...

Grilled and toasted

  • Greasy
  • Grilled...not seasoned...bland.
  • Overcooked...duh...they were tiny--I feel like a dolt for having asked for this Med Rare
  • Not actually cheeseburgers
  • Fantastic, tiny, toasted, brioche bun.

Pepsi Max says, "NO!"

Burger Review : Never again.

Rating...2 Bites

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

JNJ Burger Shack -- Los Angeles, CA

5754 W Adams Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016
(323) 934-5390
JNJ Burger Shack Website
Introducing...Pepsi Max

JNJ Burger Shack was just that...a shack--with a kitchen and a cash register on one side and a BBQ joint on the other side. The journey with Colonel Mustard, Side Of Fries, and Pepsi Max took us to the burger side.  Outdoor seating--plastic chairs and tables--gravel underfoot--a tent-like awning to protect diners from hungry birds and the elements. JNJ Burger Shack had a very backyard feel to it. The principle sound heard in the background was our lunch sizzling on the griddle--just like a backyard BBQ.  The service was friendly and courteous, and they nailed the order from drinks to fries.

The Burger Breakdown...

 The JNJ Cheeseburger was a monster--two 1/3 pound patties and two slices of cheese. It was a lot of cheeseburger for 5 bucks.

The Beef: A conversation with the owner (?) revealed that they used the "Johnny Rockets" blend of ground beef for their burgers as ordered from the supplier. It tasted of 80:20 ground chuck with some rib meat cut in to add funk and depth. Further, there was something aged in there to deliver a tasty front note.

The Sear: Magnificent, crunchy, deep, dark, and hearty all accurately described what happened there.

The Preparation: The irregular patties were shaped loosely and by hand, but there was a binder in there (egg?) which created a firm bite in spite of the gentle handling of the medium-coarse grind in creating those loosely formed patties. This meant that the burger was cooked to Well Done on the small, crazy-hot griddle, since raw egg in a cheeseburger would have been nasty. That was OK, because that binder served to preserve the moisture, which would have otherwise vaporized. It had a bit of a meatloafy, damp chewiness to it, and that was welcome in a Well Done burger, which would have been crumbly or rubbery otherwise.

The Seasoning: Finally--seasoning both inside and out. They hit it with a proprietary blend of spices, all of which served to highlight the beefy and aged notes of the quality blend. 

The Cheese: Nicely melted American--they melted the cheese onto the patty while it was still on the grill.

The Bun:  A big, fresh, moist, floppy, seeded, standard, hamburger bun, which was oiled (not buttered) and grilled brown and crispy. The crunch of the bun really tied into the crispness of the sear and the creaminess of the cheese. Note that the bottom bun was beautifully toasted, presumably to catch any drippings from the burger patty.

A little too much bun

Meat to Bun Ratio:  I didn't finish my bun, because I wanted to enjoy the meat and cheese by themselves. The ratio was skewed to the bun. This cheeseburger didn't actually ooze much juice due to the preparation, so a less mighty bun would have sufficed.

The Fries:  Damned tasty and crispy.

JNJ Burger Shack served one of the best burgers that we have tried in Los Angeles.  The value was remarkable, and the quality was strong.  I am glad that it is close to my house so that I can go more often.

Burger Review : It's a monster, but it's so good that you can't help but finish it. A damn good burger.

Rating...4 Bites

Monday, September 13, 2010

Norm's -- Westwood, CA

Westwood location;
Pico Blvd. E. of Sepulveda
(310) 479-2978
Norms Website

A little about Norms, as excerpted from their website.

"...NORMS Restaurants made its debut in 1949 when Norm Roybark, a Los Angeles native, opened his first NORMS Coffee Shop near the famed Hollywood corner of Sunset and Vine. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between, we continue to honor the promise of our historic neon sign which read, “We Never Close”. Still owned and operated by the Roybark family, NORMS Restaurants continues to thrive in an era that has seen many trendy restaurants come and go...NORMS Restaurants....
Our dishes are prepared with the freshest ingredients. In fact, most are made from scratch. From steak-n-eggs to crisp, mouth watering salads, our NORMS customer is sure to find a dish
to satisfy their craving...Where Life Happens."

Norms was pretty much what it promised to be--a 24/7 joint, and there was free parking in the back. Seating was counter or booth.  The burger arrived in about 10 minutes after ordering.

The Burger Breakdown...

  • The Beef: 80/20,  finely ground, completely tasteless, greasy Chuck. Seriously--not a hint of beef flavor.
  • The Seasoning: Not even the tiniest bit of seasoning found its way into or onto the thick, bland patty.
  • The Sear: The sear looked was dark and even. Sadly, the beef was too bland for the sear to intensify much of anything.
  • The Preparation: The thick patty was cooked on a large griddle--they got it to Med Rare competently.
  • The Bun: A standard, seeded, hamburger bun, which was doused in Griddle Mate and toasted in a weak fashion. The result was a flabby, greasy bun with a weak texture that did not stand up to the burger.
  •  Meat to Bun Ratio: Skewed in favor of the meat--the bland, joyless meat.
  • The Cheese: American Cheese.  No issues there, but the poor cheese never stood a chance. 
  •  The Fries: Meh--at least they were fresh.
Norms was relatively cheap.  The huge cheeseburger was about 9 bucks. 9 bucks worth of burger that could not be stomached--yech.

Burger Review : Norms...Where Bland Happens.

Rating...1 Bite 

 Editor's Note: A much, much better burger was enjoyed at Norms on 28JUN11

Sunday, September 12, 2010

La Grande Orange -- Santa Monica, CA

New Name....... M Street Kitchen
2000 Main St.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
La Grande Orange Website
Today, I headed back to La Grande Orange in Santa Monica to re-sample the first cheeseburger that I tried in LA about a year ago. The last time that I went, the service was awful; the bun was a spongy monster; and the burger was bland and greasy. The cheeseburger was so blah, substandard, and disappointing that I didn't bother taking the time to review it. I hoped that things would take a turn for the better this time. Some foreshadowing occurred prior to our food arriving...Terry O'Quinn from Lost walked by our table...that set the tone for changing the on can never truly escape one's past.

The service was what I remembered...shoddy and lazy...hell, it deteriorated since the last time--the day crew on a Sunday was even less professional than the evening crew on a week day.
The bad presentation: due to the unwanted, shredded, iceberg lettuce....sigh and yech
  • The silverware was flecked with bits of dried on food--I tried several sets, and I finally gave up looking for a clean knife (after 3 tries) and just wiped one down.
  • The bottoms of the plates were crusty with bits of other people's food from previous seatings. Good thing that I have a healthy immune system, because it seemed clear that LGO was doing its best to put my health to the test.
  • The wait staff knew nothing about the food--they couldn't tell me the cut of beef that was ground for the burger. While I was promised a report on the type of beef used in the burger, that never came to pass.  One person of them claimed that the buns were baked in-house, and the other informed me that the buns came from the Melrose Bakery--there is no Melrose Bakery...there is a  Melrose Baking Company, so maybe that's it.  Either way, I found this level of bad service baffling in a weak economy.
  • I ordered a cheeseburger with no greens and Dijon mustard on the side--my burger arrived with shredded lettuce on the bottom and no mustard.  The pictures look like hell, because I had to scrape that crap off of my burger.  Seriously--shredded, iceberg lettuce---who does that?  WEAK!

The Burger Breakdown...

  • I ordered the $12 The Cheeseburger...ground fresh daily, and grilled over white oak.
  • The Sear: In spite of being grilled, the sear was deep and rich. There was just a hint of char, and this sear had a satisfying crunch. That white oak fire burned hot and provided the perfect temperature and just bit of smoky flavor to round out the dish.
  • The Seasoning: Hell yeah! The exterior was well seasoned.
  • The Beef: I don't know what it was, but it was nicely aged, rich with beef flavor, and not greasy. It was very flavorful, high-quality beef.
A mighty sear
  • The Preparation: It was cooked to Medium--I ordered Med Rare.  However, it retained its juices, so not too many points off there. The medium grind made for a meaty and satisfying mouth feel.
  • The Cheese: Shredded, Sharp Cheddar, huh?  Yeah, it looked like hell on the plate and on the burger, and I assumed that it would flop, but it totally worked. The Cheddar worked its way into each bite as I chewed and blended perfectly with the beef to create a booming, hearty flavor profile. I thought, initially, that the amount of cheese was meager, but it was the perfect amount--the cheese had an immense flavor, and any more would have overwhelmed the well-seasoned burger.
Way too much salt
  • The Bun:  Meh, the toasted, seeded, brioche bun was the real low point. It was too big and too spongy.  Whether it was baked in-house (unlikely) or delivered by the Melrose Baking Company (more likely), it was heavy handed, gummy, ponderous, and inappropriate for the dish.
Too much bun
  • The Fries: Whatever they coated the fries in to make them stick together and crisp up (egg wash?) also caused WAY TOO MUCH sea salt to adhere to them, so the fries were crusted with flakes of salt to the point that they were pretty much inedible.

Aside from the service, the bun, and the fries, this was a damn good burger. It had deep and powerful beef and umami notes, and the cheese brought the whole thing together to the point where it was very nearly a great burger. The texture, bun aside, were fantastic.  I almost preferred this cheeseburger to the one at Comme Ça, because it was less oily and more manageable...the bun sunk it in this regard.

Burger Review : Damn, that was a tasty burger with enormous flavor.  Like Terry O'Quinn's John Locke character on Lost...this burger, and La Grande Orange, found some new life, but it continued to be tormented by persistent and pronounced shortcomings. Everything but the meat and cheese were awful.

Rating...3 Bites  If they manage to fix that bun, it will be a 5 Bites burger.  They need to fix the service and general cleanliness, because it's the right thing to do...seriously, it was nasty.  Fix the fries, because they are inedible.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

At Last Cafe -- Long Beach, CA

204 Orange Ave 
Long Beach, CA 

Today, Happy Meal and I drove to Long Beach to meet Side Of Fries at the At Last Cafe.  Side Of Fries had been hyping this joint for its quality of food and the fact that the burgers have always looked amazing.

At Last Cafe was a cramped and bustling joint that seated about 26 people inside and out. It had two servers, neither of whom had any business being as bad as they were in the middle of this, the Great Recession.

We discovered that the service was the namesake of the restaurant:
  • At last someone has wiped the syrup and grease off of my table.
  • At last someone has found me some clean silverware.
  • At last someone has provided me with the napkins that I asked for three times.
  • At last someone has delivered the mustard that I asked for twice
  • At last someone has someone has brought the check to the table.
  • At last someone has brought the lemon slice that I requested four, that never showed up...sigh. 

OK, you probably got it--the service was abysmal.

The Burger Breakdown...
  • The Beef: 80/20, well-aged, finely ground Chuck. It was probably more like 75/25, because it was ridiculously oily. It was like eating a puck of bland, bacon drippings on a bun--utterly miserable.
  • The Seasoning: There was a hint of salt on the exterior, but there was not a trace of seasoning inside the THICK, 1/2 pound patty.
  • The Sear: They gave it a hell of a try, but the grind was so fine that the juices of the burger leaked copiously as the patty cooked, so the sear was made rubbery and bland by the boiling liquid in the pan.
Grease on knife after cutting the patty
  • The Preparation: The thick patty was loosely packed and pan seared to a perfect Med Rare. The thickness of the patty and the fine grind is where this went wrong. The exterior of the patty was flavorful, and the fat rendered out so that it was palatable--at least the outer 1/8 inch of the burger.  The interior was more or less a fine grained, oil slicked beach and completely inedible.  It was like BP had their way with my food.
  • The Bun: WEAKLY toasted, standard hamburger bun, which was cool and clammy on the inside. GROSS. This cooled the cheese and was just downright nasty on the tongue--pasty and cool. It appeared that they had stored the buns in the refrigerator--a weak move.
Could not finish....did not not want again
  • The Cheese: 50 cents extra for a slice of American Cheese--dicks.  It was already a $13 burger. They managed to melt the cheese, but the cold bun cooled it off and that was that.
  • The Value: The value was poor, since the burger was too greasy to finish.
Not a single one of us was able to finish these awful, grease sponges. Naturally, the servers failed to note it as a bad sign that we were leaving half of the food on our plates and that we turned down the offer of carryout boxes. I did not want to carry this home--I didn't have the correct permits to turn my car into a tallow tanker.

The At Last Cafe cheeseburger would be great for anyone on a diet. You would spend your food budget on this burger and then throw it calories ingested.

Burger Review : I would not eat this again on a dare.

Rating...1 Bite

Friday, September 10, 2010

O!Burger -- West Hollywood, CA

8593 Santa Monica, Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
O!Burger Website


Today's quest for a truly good cheeseburger took Side Of Fries and myself to O!Burger in West Hollywood. It was a certified organic joint, so Kombucha instead of Diet Coke....whatever....fine. Here's what O!Burger's site had to say about themselves:

"...O!burger is the first burger joint in the Los Angeles area serving only !00% certified organic food. We aspire to make a delicious burger that leaves you satisfied without feeling stuffed!..."  Pro Tip: "without feeling stuffed!" is code for small, overpriced portions.  Ready...Set...Terrible!

After ordering from the brain dead counter person, we sat down in the 16-seat establishment and waited for our $17/person food to arrive. An extra buck for cheese...dicks.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Certified Organic, Grass Fed, blah, blah, blah--it was the beef version of a Prius, OK?  It tasted aged, and that was the sole positive note. The patty was thin, rubbery, and dry--it was like eating a non-lubricated condom. Clearly, it had clearly been frozen for a good long while before it reached the griddle.

The Sear: The sear was OK. Again, it was a very thin patty, so a decent sear was not an option.

Seasoning: A little salt was present on but certainly not in the beef...meh.

The Preparation: While the menu board proclaimed that all burgers are cooked Med Rare to Medium, the kitchen staff worked hard to make a liar out of that statement. All three burgers came out a chewy Well Done.

The Bun: Whole, freaking wheat...gross. The toasted bun, while moist enough, had a slight flavor of sawdust that one comes to accept in whole wheat breads. The meat to bun ratio was fine, but the meat was weak and the bun was weak was weak.

The Cheese: White Cheddar without a trace of Cheddar flavor. It just added a bland, gummy feel to an already chewy burger.

The Fries: Crinkle Cuts--crispy on the outside and mealy on the inside...weak.

The sliced, Roma tomato that garnished the dish was also mealy....awful.

What was shocking and enraging was that this place actually got busy during the 30 minutes that we suffered through this overpriced nonsense on a bun.

Burger Review : Save the drive and gnaw on a Prius...O!Burger is Certified Crappy and a 100% Bad Value.

Rating...1 Bite

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ketchy's II -- Santa Monica, CA

La Grange at Sawtelle
Behind Mizu 212

Los Angeles, CA 90025
Ketchy's  II Place Page

Colonel Mustard, Side Of Fries, and I decided to celebrate Rosh Hashana  by eating something non-kosher, and non-kosher beef with dairy on top seemed like the way to go.

We headed off to Ketchy's II in Little Tokyo in Santa Monica--Asian girls are hot. Yes, there was a Ketchy's (I?), but that one was run over by an old, Japanese gardener, and they couldn't get the property re-zoned, so Ketchy's II was the only option....and now you know.

Ketchy's II is a classic, hamburger stand--outside seating only (8 seats at 4 tiny tables), so small that it barely warrants its own address, and only one or two guys can fit behind the ordering counter.

For about $6.50 we got a cheeseburger, fries, and a drink.

The burger breakdown....
  • The Beef: It tasted like a lean, 90:10 Chuck. It tasted strongly of aging, which was nice. It was pretty bloodless, so the only real flavor came from the aging.
  • The Sear: The griddle gave the burger a decent, but not impressive sear. The thin patty would have turned to dust if it was on the heat long enough to get a thick sear.
  • The Seasoning: There was only a hint of salt on the exterior, and not a taste of it within the patty itself. This was a damn shame, because they used a really nice seasoning blend on the fries, which would have been great on and in the actual meat.
  • The Preparation: Griddled hard, pressed flat, Well-Done.
  • The Bun: A standard, non-seeded, hamburger bun, but it was moist.  Even though it was toasted on both sides, the bun retained enough moisture to compensate for the dryness of the patty.
  • The Meat to Bun Ratio: This was very nearly perfect--maybe 5% too much bun--if the patty had been juicy, the bun would have been dead on.
  • The Cheese: The American cheese was perfectly melted and, when coupled with the soft bun, provided enough moisture to make for a pleasing bite that didn't require a beverage to wash down.
The fries were frozen, crinkle cuts, but they were fried hard and crispy, and the seasoning was just right--it was hard to stop eating them.

Did I mention that Asian girls are hot?  

Burger Review : Above average value for a slightly above average cheeseburger.

Rating...3 Bites

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