Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pie 'n Burger -- Pasadena, CA

The Pie 'n Burger trophy wall
913 E. California Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91106

Pie 'n Burger was on tap for a visit by Happy Meal and myself.  We made the 20 mile drive to Pasadena to sample what was a pretty highly reviewed burger by Serious Eats, Yelpers, The LA Weekly, Chowhound, and Gayot.  Pie 'n Burger was a diner that was well past its prime--it sported a weathered interior with peeling laminated paneling at the counter. More impressively, they had a wall of awards for burger awesomeness from various publications.  That certainly held some promise, so we settled in for some Pasadena-style, cheeseburgery goodness

The Burger Breakdown...
Pie 'n Burger Wrapped
The $6.50 Burger (4 oz.) came wrapped in white paper, and it bore a striking resemblance to the bland disaster on a bun that the Apple Pan serves up to duped Angelinos. Surely the citizens of Pasadena would not stand up to those sorts of shenanigans.

Pie 'n Burger Unwrapped
The Beef: Standard, bland 80:20 Chuck. It was a medium grind, and I let them cook it the way that they liked to cook it.

The Preparation: The way they cooked it was a crusty Well-Done, which was fine for a meh-quality beef.  The patties were firmly formed and then smashed flat on a searing hot griddle.  Even cooked to well, the beef had very little flavor, which indicated that it had been frozen for a good long while prior to making it to the griddle.  Ground beef leaks away the flavorful juices and blood during the process of freezing and thawing.  Freezing causes ice crystals to form and force their way through the membranes of cells and their organelles. When thawed, the punctured membranes release those liquids.  This is exacerbated when the beef is ground prior to freezing, because the mechanical action of grinding weakens those structures in the beef, which causes even more damage during the freeze/thaw cycle.

The Seasoning: They thoroughly seasoned the exterior of the patties, but none of that seasoning made it into the blend, very Apple Pan-style, these burgers were dangerously bland.

The Sear: They got a crunchy, hearty sear onto the thin patties with that hot griddle.  This also rendered out enough of the fat to make these burgers less of a threat to my health.

The Cheese:  The nicely melted American cheese saved this cheeseburger from failure and abject blandness.  The gooey cheese got to work and filled in the crevices of the sear and provided saltiness and umami. As a result, the dish, when contemplated as a whole, rose to the level of OK.  Go cheese!

Pie 'n Burger Sear
The Bun: This was a heavily buttered, moderately toasted, standard, non-seeded, hamburger bun. It was unremarkable and inoffensive in every way. It was a completely neutral bun.

The Fries: They were 1/4 inch thick, standard food service fries. The crunch was mediocre, but the insides were creamy since Pie 'n Burger were cooked their fries long but not hot. They were fine.

The Value: The value was weak at Pie 'n Burger. If I had been in the market for nostalgia, I suppose the value would have been good, but I really wanted a burger that lived up to the hype or, at least, was better than meh-average. As it was, the burgers were small, low-quality, and over-priced at $6.50 a pop.

Ok, ok--the burger was weak to average, but we're talking PIE 'n Burger here, so maybe the pie was the big deal.  The pie was NOT the big deal.  We tried both the Apple and the Lemon Meringue.  Both pies were reminiscent of going to a friend's house when you were a kid.  The catch was that you popped by when their grandmother was visiting.  Naturally, their parents foisted off some of grandma's pie on you, and it invariably had that old lady taste to it. You dutifully choked it down, because etiquette required that you do so.  Afterward, you commiserated with your friend over the grossness of their grandmother's cooking. It was the same deal at Pie 'n Burger--the apple pie's crust was bready, sodden, and overly salty. The lemon filling was disturbingly chunky due to the unblended gelatin or pectin or corn starch or whatever thickening agent was used.  The pies were unpleasant and mediocre--oh, and at $3.50 per mercifully small slice, they were overpriced in terms of both portion and quality.

Burger Review : Pie 'n Burger--the "mediocre" is silent.

Rating...2 Bites

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Hungry Cat -- Los Angeles, CA

1535 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028-7304
(323) 462-2155

The Hungry Cat is best known for its seafood, but the Pug Burger was well-reviewed, and that demanded that The BurgerBusters investigate. It was "Ball Cap and Ass Crack" day at The Hungry Cat. It was ball caps and ass cracks to the left of me, and ball caps and ass cracks to the right. Fat Bruce Lee and I were not happy with the view.  Street parking at The Hungry Cat--it was not even remotely challenging to find a spot.

The Burger Breakdown...

The $16 Pug Burger was surprisingly tall when fully assembled. That was a bit daunting, because I did not wish to compress all of the juices from my cheeseburger.

The Beef:  Niman Ranch Chuck--sigh--80:20 Niman Ranch Chuck.  It was a medium grind, and I ordered it Medium generate the flavors needed to overcome the blandness that I have come to expect of Niman Ranch burgers. It did have the characteristic front note of aged funk that Niman Ranch can be counted on to unswervingly deliver.

The Preparation: The beef was loosely formed into a barely flattened 5-6 oz. sphere. In spite having been pre-ground and shipped in a plastic tube from far away, the beef managed to retain it's meaty texture. Additionally, the burger was very juicy.  One of my dining companions had his cheeseburger with lettuce. The lettuce blocked the juices from being soaked up by the bun, and he ended up with "well-lubed" hands.

The Hungry Cat Pug Burger
The Seasoning: They got a good hit of a salty blend on the exterior, and that was potent enough to make its way to the center with every bite. This level of seasoning on the exterior was completely necessary to compensate for the lack of seasoning in the blend and the fact that Niman Ranch Chuck is just plain bland.

The Sear: They got a rich, crunchy sear on the burger using a wonderfully hot grill.  The seared/cooked layer was deep enough to melt a sufficient amount of the collagen in the Chuck to impart a reasonably beefy flavor to the dish.

The Cheese: Bleu...only Bleu, so I had Bleu on my cheeseburger.  The Hungry Cat used an especially veiny version, and when it melted, the fatty part made its way down the sides of the spherical burger, and I was left with a pile of green mold. It looked like a clump of algae that one might find in a pond.  It tasted fine, though. The Bleu cheese had a fine metallic tang to it that compensated for the bloodless beef. This was one of those rare cases where Bleu cheese did not overwhelm the dish. One could argue that this dish required a potent and salty cheese to round out the flavor profile.

The Hungry Cat Pug Burger Sear
The Bun: When I first saw the smallish, grilled bun perched atop the burger patty.ball like a kid's party hat on an adult, I began to emotionally prepare myself for a greasy, wet disaster.  I was happily mistaken.  The mild, firm, rustic sourdough roll/bun was crusty and hearty enough to stand up to the daunting thick burger patty, which had to be compressed to eat--I was unable to unhinge my jaw to accommodate the 5 inch thickness of  the assembled bun-burger-bun stack. Amazingly, when I finished, there was not a drop of juice on my hands or my plate. The bun was remarkably capable.  It was mild in flavor, and its texture was half English muffin/half sourdough roll.

The Fries: They were thin, peel-on, and cooked in peanut oil.  The fries at The Hungry Cat were the best thing on the plate. They were wonderfully crisp, and they were properly seasoned.  Yum  Peanut oil really brings out the best in french fries--its high smoke point allows the fries to be cooked at a high temp, which creates a deep layer of dehydration (crust), which retains its crunch even as the dish cools. A thinner layer of crust, from a lower cooking temp, tends to more quickly allow the fry to become soggy and lank as the moisture inside the fry permeates the fried crust and re-hydrates it.

The Value: was overly pricey for a pretty average tasting cheeseburger made from ground chuck.

On an excellent note: The bacon, which came with the burger, was smoked in-house in a little smoker across from us on the patio. It was rich and subtle--it was thickly cut and creamy with the perfect amount of salt and smoke.

Burger Review : The high-quality ingredients at The Hungry Cat, combined into a pretty tasty but unexceptional whole.  The cheeseburger was competently prepared, balanced, and tasty, but in no way worth the $16 price tag. 16 bucks...Get the chuck out of here. I would not return for this burger, but I would not steer anyone away if they were in the neighborhood.

Rating...3 Bites

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cube Marketplace and Café -- Los Angeles, CA

615 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2013

Fat Bruce Lee and I chose Cube Marketplace and Café as the burger du jour. It was a bit of a hike from our Century City fortress, but we found metered parking right out front.  We chose Cube based on a glowing review over at Serious Eats and a bunch of gushing comments from Yelpers. After all, it is the mission of The BurgerBusters to sample such things so that you don't have to.  Ready...Set...Terrible!
Cube Marketplace Burger

The Burger Breakdown...

Please keep your thumb out of my bun.
The Beef: Conceptually, the beef was amazing. At Cube Marketplace and Café they ground hangar steak and rib meat to order, and then they loosely formed it into a 5-6 ounce, thick, uniformly shaped patty. This was a fantastic idea, and I certainly was looking forward to this, especially since I was informed that they only cooked this to Med-Rare due to the ingredients. That’s how I like my burgers, especially when they are composed of high-quality cuts of beef. 

The Preparation:  Here is where the beef part of the dish went terribly, terribly wrong. They cooked my burger to a grayish Well Done.  Granted, they got a great sear on it, but at what cost….at what cost?  The dramatic overcooking of the small, thick patty did two especially awful things to my cheeseburger.  1.)  It brought out an excessively gamy flavor in those perfectly aged cuts of quality beef. 2.) Because the beef was ground to order, and they ground it quite/overly finely, the beef released a fair amount of blood and fluid during the cooking process.  That overcooking converted all that blood and fluid into a mealy pudding, which bound all of the bits of beef together.  This, combined with the gamy flavor, resulted in a burger, which had the taste and texture of liver-flavored dog food.

A Terrific Sear on the Cube Burger
The Sear: Wow—a damn fine sear from a hot griddle—thick, crunchy, and completely wasted considering the fact that they murdered the patty by overcooking it.

The Bun: They served the burger on a beautifully-toasted but dry and oddly mealy brioche, which was baked in house.  The bun was conceptually great—baked in house for maximum freshness, perfect sizing, and quality control. Sadly, it was dry, and it had the texture of day-old focaccia.

The Cheese: I ordered Cheddar with my burger, and I suppose it was fine, but the awful flavor and texture of the beef and the bun completely overwhelmed my palette. I have no recollection of the cheese. It was a White Cheddar, though.

The Fries: They were clever. The fries were flat (ribbon cut) so they were nicely crisped, and they were well seasoned. They came out like french fry/potato chip hybrids. Sadly, the fries were the best thing on the plate. The chipotle ketchup added just the right amount of heat to this part of the dish.

The Value: At $18, this was a pricey burger. It would have been a poor value even had it been excellent, because the portion was really quite small. In fairness, I ate only about a quarter (three bites) of this cheeseburger, and I sent the rest back. Cube did everything right from a service standpoint. They offered to refire the dish, but I really didn’t want to wait an additional 20 minutes and chance another inedible dish.  They did comp the burger and the side of charred broccoli that I stole from Fat Bruce Lee. The broccoli was delicious.

The cheeseburger at Cube Marketplace and Café was a lot like the 2004 Lakers where Shaq, Kobe, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone couldn’t bring it home. All the ingredients were in place, but Cube just couldn’t make it work.

Burger Review : Overcooked, small, and way too expensive.
Rating...One Bite

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wolfgang's Steakhouse -- Beverly Hills, CA

445 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Fat Bruce Lee and I had been doing some research to find a truly great burger in Los Angeles, and Wolfgang's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills came up as a candidate. This was one of 5 locations that Wolfgang Zwiener had opened.  Herr Zwiener was formerly the head waiter at Pete Luger's in Brooklyn, NY, and he created a series of classic steakhouses based on his years of experience.  The guiding hand in the kitchen of the Beverly Hills location was Chef Cid Gonzalez, and Chef Cid was present on the day of this review.  Oh, free parking for two hours in the lot below the building.

The Burger Breakdown...

Wolfgang's Steakhouse Burger

The Beef:  8+ ounces of coarsely ground beef sourced from of U.S.D.A. Prime cuts of Angus, which was aged on-site.  This burger tasted of cuts of beef taken from the proper half of the cow...the back half. Upon biting into this cheeseburger, I was happily surprised by the rush of funk, mineral notes, and strong beef flavors. It was a phenomenal first bite--it was so good, that I cut a piece off for Fat Bruce Lee (on a diet) to taste so the could make certain that I was not having a horribly generous day.  Fat Bruce Lee concurred--it was a gorgeous bite of beef.

The Sear: It looks like the got some spotty grill marks onto it and then transferred it to a broiler. The photos demonstrate that it was grilled, but the half sear on the rest indicates that something else was going on. Additionally, the dark patches on the cheese show that a broiler was used. That said, the sear was weak--this burger would have benefited from a crunchy, crusty sear.

The Preparation: Med-Rare as requested.
The beef was ground coarsely. The huge burger patty was very loosely packed and somewhat irregular in shape. This created a variety of cooking temps on the irregular surface, and that led to a very savory flavor profile, since certain areas were cooked harder than others. Additionally, the mouth feel was dead on, because the burger was thick enough to be cooked on the outside while leaving a juicy core of nearly raw, ground steak in the center.  The burger ended up being pleasantly juicy without being greasy.

The Bun: The bun was darn good. It was toasted on both sides, white, seeded, and fluffy.  It appeared to be a little pillowy, at first glance, but this slightly sweet bun yielded easily, and the resultant bundle of compressed gluten strands made it toothsome without any chewiness.
The sesame seeds provided a small but satisfying crunch in each bite. This bun was provided by BreadBar, and was the same bun that BreadBar used for their burgers.

The Seasoning: They dusted the burger with a nice seasoning blend. It seemed that the spices were finely ground before being applied to my burger. I grind my salt and pepper together with a mortar and pestle to achieve uniformity, and I got the impression that a similar level of care was taken at Wolfgang's Steakhouse.
  As for the was hard to say--the richness of the steak flavors were all that I could taste.

The Cheese: Properly melted American--they broiled the burger after they applied the cheese, so even the cheese had a sear on it--this was similar to the burger at BLVD 16.

Meat to Bun Ratio: Perfect. One would expect that massive burger patty to soak through that bun, but the bun held up through the last bite.

The Fries and Rings: They served both fries and rings with the cheeseburger. The fries were 8 inch long, 1/3 inch thick squared cylinders of firm potato. They were slightly refined steak fries, so they were hearty. The rings were thickly cut onion dipped in a flaky batter, which managed not to be overly greasy. Like the fries, the earthy, root vegetable flavor came through.

The Value: The enormous cheeseburger (I could only eat 1/2, but I wanted to eat all of it), fries, and rings was only $14. It was enough for 2 meals--my leftovers were enough for dinner. Considering the quality and sheer volume of food, it was a very good value. While I kept the vegetables on the side, I made a point of sampling them. The tomatoes at Wolfgang's Steakhouse were completely respectable. Chef Cid clearly took the time to inspect his own produce.  That is rare.

The burger is on the lunch menu, but if you ask really nicely, they will prepare this for you at dinner time, as well.

Burger Review : This was the best cheeseburger that we have tried in Los Angeles. The burger at Umami tasted clever and "photoshopped" when compared to the powerful, honest flavors in the burger at Wolfgang's Steakhouse. Wolfgang Zwiener and Chef Gonzalez....we salute you, and we thank you for setting the bar in Los Angeles when it comes to excellence in burgers.

Rating...5 Bites  revised to 4 Bites

Editor's Note: We returned to Wolfgang's Steakhouse on 08DEC10, and things were very different.  The dining room smelled a little/lot like sour mop water, and there was a thick layer of dust on every horizontal surface except the tables. Chef Gonzales was not in the kitchen on that day--Chef Jaime was running the show. Even though there was only one table seated (10 top) in the entire restaurant when we walked in, AND that table had already placed their order, the kitchen's first attempt at my burger came out after a 40 minute wait.
  • Luke warm
  • Overcooked to Med Well
  • No sear
  • No seasoning
  • Over-toasted, dry bun
  • Cheddar cheese instead of the American cheese that I ordered
  • The rings were shoddily battered, limp, and unseasoned
  • The fries were undercooked, not crisp, and under-seasoned.
  • Wolfgang's Steakhouse Fries
  • It was merely an average cheeseburger--3 Bites.This was based solely on the quality of the beef.
I sent that burger back, since it was not cooked properly. The second burger came out about 12 minutes later.  It was very different from the one that I sent back...
  • Hot
  • Med ordered
  • Still not seared as well as what we saw on our initial visit but an improvement.
  • Properly seasoned
  • American ordered
  • Properly battered and crisped rings with good seasoning
  • Crisp, well-seasoned fries.
  • It was like a different kitchen prepared my burger.
  • This was a damn good cheeseburger 4.5 Bites.
Accordingly, we have reduced Wolfgang's Steakhouse's 5 Bites rating to a 4 Bites rating.  Consistency is key--Umami Burger has managed to put out a quality burger every time that I have visited, and Wolfgang's Steakhouse fell well short of the mark in that respect. This was a matter of attention to detail in the kitchen, and on this visit, that attention was sorely lacking.  In fairness, the burger was comped by our waitress, Jill.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

8 oz. Burger Bar -- Los Angeles, CA

7661 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046

8 oz. Burger Bar Burger
8 oz. Burger Bar has been on the list of cheeseburgers to review for the better part of a year, and I finally found room in my schedule to sample it.  What with the all of charity work, the continuous ultramarathon training, and all of the duties attendant with the title of "World's Most Handsome and Muscular Man," I had been swamped.

You know what I don't love--a waiter that doesn't act remotely interested in being a doing a good job as a waiter until he drops off the check--weak performance = weak tip.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  The beef burgers at 8 oz. Burger Bar were composed of a blend of Tri Tip, Short Rib, Chuck, and Sirloin. It was a little light on the sirloin--the beef had a great nose--the first impression was a wave a quality funk from the quality cuts. It was a sexy, steak funk rather than a skanky chuck funk, and that was refreshing for a change. Sadly, even at a bloody Med-Rare the steak and mineral notes did not shine through. The blend was about 75:25 beef to fat, so there was a fair amount of lip wiping going on during the course of the meal.

The Sear: They cooked the burger on a grill, which
could have been at 20 degrees hotter to impart a proper sear. Nonetheless, the grill marks provided some good color but no real sear to speak of.

The Preparation: Med-Rare as requested. The beef was ground to medium coarse. The uniformly thick, flat patty was packed somewhere around the medium firm range. The mouth feel was firm, and since the patties appeared to have been prepped on the same day, it was not rubbery or stiff.

The Bun: The bun was just fine. It was a toasted, plain, white, unseeded hamburger bun. This bun had enough sweetness not to be bland, but it did not overpower the burger with strong flavors of its own.  The bun was at least a day old, so it was a hair on the stale side. It was sufficiently moist in the middle not to be an issue, though.  Additionally, this cheeseburger was juicy enough to compensate for that small problem.

The Seasoning: The outside was competently seasoned with a salty blend, while the burger blend appeared to have not been seasoned. Just a little salt in the mix would have compensated for the flavors left lacking by the meager amount of sirloin in the original blend.

The Cheese: Properly melted American--enough said.

Meat to Bun Ratio: This was perfect. They nailed this with the half pound patty, and it made me wonder if the smaller "Melrose" burger was served on the same bun.  The "Melrose" used a 25% smaller patty, which would have created a bun-heavy and dry dish had the identical bun been used.

The Fries: The fries were fantastic. They closely resembled the peel-on, skinny, hand-cut fries served at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, but these were prepared so that the outsides were crisp and the insides were creamy. It was hard to stop eating these fries. They were woefully under-seasoned, but a generous dash of sea salt remedied that.

The Value: The meal at 8 oz. Burger Bar set my companion and I back $35 (before tip) for two cheeseburgers, 2 orders of fries, and two soft drinks. $17.50  was a lot for a simple cheeseburger. Given the choice between this and Umami Burger, I would go to Umami Burger
. The value was not strong in this one.

Burger Review : The cheeseburger at 8 oz. Burger Bar
was darn good--really darn good. It missed the mark by just a little in several areas, but it was a well above average burger. I will be trying this one again in hopes that they were having an off night.

Burger Rating...4 Bites

Friday, October 15, 2010

Umami Santa Monica -- Santa Monica, CA

500 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Umami Burger Website

For the past decade, there was a so-so coffee shop in the Santa Monica Fred Segal--I know this, because I used to get my coffee there when I worked next door. I am intensely grateful that Umami Santa Monica was not open at that location back in 2000-2001, or I would be fantastically and magnificently obese. I mean assisted living, getting around on a scooter, needs help to pee, weighing in on a special scale, extra wide doors, reality show obese.

The Socal Burger
Umami Santa Monica was the second Umami Burger location that we have reviewed, and it was as good as the original Umami Burger on La Brea. The burger reviewed and pictured was the usual...bun, meat, and cheese.  Umami Burger's menu offered a variety of interesting topping combinations, but we are not in the habit of reviewing toppings.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The various and flavorful beef cuts (short rib, flap, skirt, and brisket) were clearly well-marbled prior to being ground into  the medium coarse blend that became burger patties. The burger had a luxurious mouth feel from the fats and juices. The patty was precisely and evenly formed yet loosely packed. This created uniformity and avoided chewiness while allowing the texture of the various cuts to come through.  The blend also retained a nice volume of juices, which later soaked into the bun.

Fat Bruce Lee declared this to be a "fantastic burger."
The Sear: Ta da!! The sear was completely even and dark. This was accomplished with top heat, lots of it, from a mighty broiler rather than the bottom heat of a griddle.

The Preparation:  Med-Rare as ordered. The beef was handled with great care. The amazing tenderness and perfectly even temperature was due to a sous vide treatment of the burger patty prior to searing it off on the flat top.

The Seasoning: Yeah--just right.  The burger patty was thoroughly seasoned on the exterior. The patty was thin enough not to require seasoning throughout the blend. Still, they clearly tricked out the blend with some extra umami ingredients, which made the cheeseburger's flavors really come together.

The Cheese: I went with the American cheese that Umami Burger made in-house. It was pretty fantastic. It melted perfectly and evenly. The flavors were creamy, sharp, mellow, and salty.

The Truffle Burger
The Bun: The burger came on an evenly toasted, non-seeded, pillowy, domed, white, hamburger bun. I was pleased to see that they didn't oil the bun as they had on previous visits--I was never a fan of grabbing an oily bun. The bun had that "school lunch roll" sweetness with the yielding firmness of a potato roll.

Meat to Bun Ratio: This was just right. The precise meat to bun ratio provided a last bite, which was identical to the first bite.

The Fries and Tots: The skinny fries were as good as McDonalds made them back when they cooked their fries in beef tallow, and they were seasoned perfectly.  The Tots were more like cylinders of minced, au gratin potatoes with Cheddar, which were breaded in panko and then fried to a crisp golden brown and salted perfectly. Both starch choices were fantastic.

The Value: It was $10 for a fist-sized cheeseburger.  The richness of the dish and the quality of the ingredients supported that price. Win 

Burger Review : The themes that ran through Umami Santa Monica were consistency and precision.  They truly shamed almost every other burger that we have tried in Los Angeles by executing everything perfectly. This was case of quality ingredients prepared with great care. If you have not tried Umami Burger, do it soon, because you NEED to try the best burger in Los Angeles.

Burger Rating...5 Bites

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cassell's Hamburgers -- Los Angeles, CA

3266 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Cassell's Hamburgers--a Los Angeles institution with a reputation for excellence. Yelp and were all over this place. They both touted it as one of the best burgers around. Side of Fries, Fat Bruce Lee, and I made the trek to Koreatown to try the best burger in LA--take that back---The World's Best Hamburgers---that's what the sign said.  Sweet, sweet advertising--the one thing that you can trust.

Cassell's was a simple setup.  
  • Get in line.
  • Grab a tray.
  • Call out the order.
  • Scoop the condiments into paper ramekins or onto the burger.
  • Pay.
  • Find an table and eat.
The Burger Breakdown... 

The Beef: Simple, bright red, and freshly ground--not a hint of aging.  The patties were loosely packed and preformed. I would guess that the patties were formed on site, since commercial processors are not good at shipping loosely packed patties.  It was probably an 88:12 chuck, and since the American cheese in the reach-in cooler was from Costco (Kirkland brand), it's wasn't a huge stretch to guess that the beef was the 12% fat ground chuck that they grind on-site and sell at Costco. Some reports suggested that they ground their beef on-site. If that was the case, then they wasted their time, since it tasted like bland, Costco hamburger meat. Meh.
World-Class Burger Searing Hardware......WA

The Sear: Damn--they had a massive and beautiful pull-out broiler that was capable of imparting a magnificent sear as it drained away the excess fats from the sizzling patties. Well, that's what could have happened with that piece of kitchen equipment. Sadly, both the griddle and broiler flames of this device were set too low to properly sear the beef, so the burgers were a little rubbery as the low heat more braised than fried them.  This meant that the loose packing of the patties was for naught. There was not a hint of crunch on the surface of the meat.  That was a waste of excellent equipment.

The Preparation:  Meh--they tossed the patties onto the pull-out broiler, flipped them once, let them reach Well Done, and transferred them to the toasted buns. 

The Seasoning: None--none at all.  Meh.

The Cheese:: American from Costco. Meh

The Bun: It was toasted on the top griddle--no oil.  The bun was big, dry, and bland. It was completely uninteresting and added no value to the dish. Meh.

Meat to Bun Ratio: There were two patty choices. 1/3 pound and 2/3 pound. I went with the former, because I was not ready to die.  In this case the bun overwhelmed the dryish, lean, over-cooked beef.  My companions had similar issues with the larger patties, and they slathered their cheeseburgers with condiments to moisten them enough to choke down.

The Fries and Onion Rings: Not a hint of seasoning, but they were cooked properly.

The Value: Pretty awful--I was out $12 and change  for onion rings, and soda, and 1/3 pound Costco burger.  Meh.

Burger Review : Cassell's Hamburgers was nothing special--it was completely unmemorable. They prepared average and bland ingredients in an average and bland fashion, and they delivered an average and bland cheeseburger. Meh.

Burger Rating...2 Bites 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BLVD 16 -- Los Angeles, CA

10740 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024-4493
(310) 474-7765

BLVD 16 Website

BLVD 16 was located inside of the Palomar Hotel.  The Palomar, when I stayed there, was fantastic. The staff was very friendly and attentive.  Fat Bruce Lee, myself, and our Australian colleague (Jet Lag) hoped that this would translate into our dining experience.

The young woman, who waited on us, was friendly and knowledgeable. She was well-versed in both the ingredients and the preparation of our burgers--that was beyond refreshing.  We also had the good fortune of picking a day when the Executive Chef, Simon Dolinky, was in the kitchen. The deck was stacked in our favor.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  The usual...80/20 medium ground chuck. The beef came from Brandt Beef, and while it was a humble chuck, it delivered a strong beef flavor on the front end. It was lacking those bloody, iron notes required to carry the dish home.  Chuck is chuck--it can only take a dish so far. To create a truly special burger, sirloin, rib, and other bold and interesting cuts need to make their way into the grind to create depth of flavor and texture.

The Sear: The sear was strong. I requested a hearty sear, and that's what I got. They did this on a griddle or in a pan.

The Sear on the BLVD 16 Burger
The Preparation: They nailed the Medium request. The collagen from the chuck melted nicely through the cooked rind of the burger patty, and the inside remained pink and moist. The cheeseburger served by BLVD 16 was a $10 lunch-sized portion, and the smaller size of everything (compared to the $14 dinner burger) was absolutely appropriate to a lunch.

The Bun: Boo--It was one of those uninteresting, dry, flaky brioches that the La Brea Bakery sends out for the purposes of sabotaging perfectly good burgers. The La Brea Bakery is generally very competent, but this particular style of bread is their Achilles' heel. We've seen this bun before--it was like a bland croissant, and it robbed the burger of moisture without providing any value in terms of flavor and texture.  Had we used the onion marmalade/compote and the onion rings, the moisture may have been sourced elsewhere, but that's not how we roll.  Bun...Meat...Cheese.  This was the same bun that was used at Literati with similar results.

The Seasoning: A peppery blend of something flavorful coated the outside. The inside was relatively bland.

The Cheese:  A ho-hum Cheddar of unknown origins--it really didn't add any discernible flavor or texture to the burger.  Frankly, its proximity to the dry bun ruined its chances of providing the expected, melted cheese goodness in terms of mouth feel.

Meat to Bun Ratio: The bun was mercifully small, so the meat in this burger almost, but not quite, overpowered the bun. Still hands were dry at the end, so it was just right.  The flakiness of the bun was misleading, since it collapsed but did not fall apart--a big bun turned into a small one that did the trick in terms of containing the burger and it juices.

The Fries: Crisp, crisp, crisp--the fries were fantastically crisp. They were perfectly seasoned with salt and herbs from the rooftop garden (Is it really wise to eat plants grown in the middle of LA?). The were wonderful!

The Value: At $10, this cheeseburger was on the high side, and sides were extra. Higher quality beef would have brought the value into a more tolerable range.

Burger Review : BLVD 16 delivered a perfectly prepared burger, which was cooked with great care and skill. Sadly, the bun and the pedestrian choice of beef failed to showcase the skill that was clearly present in the kitchen.  This was about as good as Chuck could get--Chuck only goes so far, though. Still, this was a well above average burger.

Burger Rating...4 Bites

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Blu LA Cafe -- Los Angeles, CA

126 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014

Blu LA Cafe Burger after I peeled of the mystery bacon
Happy Meal and I spent a handful of hours at the California Science Center, and by the time that 2:30 rolled around, I was dizzy from hunger. We fought the nonsensical traffic to downtown LA, fed the meter 3 bucks for an hour of parking,  and got ourselves into Blu LA Cafe.  The smell of beef cooking on the griddle was, what I hoped, a sign of good and cheeseburgery things to come.

Blu LA Cafe Cheeseburger
We ordered a Blu LA Cafe Burger and a Cheeseburger from a sweaty and flustered waiter. We were one of only two tables, so his demeanor was puzzling. Getting a straight answer on the ingredients was a challenge, as well. Frankly, I couldn't tell you where the buns came from, and the meat supplier continues to be a mystery. The name of the bakery was related by another staffer as the  Cordera Bakery, but I couldn't find one of those, or anything like it, when conducting a search. So it's hard to find good help during a, wait...that didn't make any sense.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Typical, 80:20 medium grind, of pre-ground, 100% Angus chuck.  This beef had a very strong dry-aged flavor to it, and that funky gaminess really carried the burger. It was almost visceral in its scent and flavor. Again, I have no idea where it came from, but beef like this gave chuck a good name.  It tasted and smelled downright X-rated.

The Sear:  NICE--the nailed the crunchy sear by cooking this burger on a hot griddle.

The Seasoning:  They dusted the outside with a mild, seasoning blend.  Like the Nook burger, the interior was unseasoned, but the strong beef flavors carried the dish. The aged funk was more than enough in the case of a burger at Blu LA Cafe. I would have guessed both establishments use the same beef.

A fine sear
The Cheese: I had my cheeseburger topped with Monterrey Jack, well, that's what I asked for....what I got was red flecked, Pepper Jack cheese, but it was fine--still it would have been appropriate for the waiter to relate the cheese options accurately. The standard cheeseburger came with competently melted Cheddar.

The Preparation: Both cheeseburgers came out overcooked to Well in spite of the fact that I called the waiter over and confirmed that they would be cooked to Medium.  Even more puzzling was that my burger came out with crispy bacon on top--huh?  It was not on the menu, and I didn't want it, and I certainly did not request it--Happy Meal made quick work of the bacon, though.  In spite of all of the blundering, the beef carried the dish over these obstacles--it was juicy enough to compensate for the ham-fisted preparation.  The patties were formed very loosely. This created a spectacular and moist mouth feel without a trace of the rubbery character that one would have expected from pre-ground, overcooked chuck. This also allowed a fair amount of the fat to render out as they overcooked the meat. That was a mixed blessing, but I'd go with fortunate accident. The additional fat was not missed.
The Bunpolcalypse

The Bun: Mine was an HUGE, dry, bland, cool wreck of a brioche. I discarded the weakly toasted top bun halfway through, and that solved that problem. Meanwhile, the standard, seeded burger bun was perfect for the cheeseburger on Happy Meal's plate.

Meat to Bun Ratio:  In the case of the signature burger, the bun grossly over-matched the beef. In the case of the standard cheeseburger, the ratio was perfect.

The Fries: These were just fine--cut in house--cooked to a deep and crisp finish. They were immensely bland, but the salt on the table set that issue to rest.

The Value: Like The Nook--this burger came in around 12 bucks, and it would have been nice had they listened to my order and delivered what I had asked for.  If I were to go back, I would save a couple bucks and order the Cheeseburger--the brioche cost more, and I threw away half of it. The burger, when served on the on the standard bun, was far better, and they used the same beef. 

Burger Review : A really good burger in spite of blundering efforts in both the front and back of the house.  Honestly, any place that stamps "best burger" on its menu should educate its staff as to what makes that burger "best." Blu LA Cafe should call their beef supplier and thank them for providing idiot-proof chuck.

Rating...4 Bites

Editor's Note: We believe that the buns were sourced from the Ca'd'Oro Bakery.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Nook -- Los Angeles, CA

11628 Santa Monica Blvd #9

Los Angeles, CA 90025
F 310.207.5220

Holy crap! These guys have an iPhone app--just sayin'.

I was, recently, pointed to The Nook by a co-worker, who claimed that they made a fine cheeseburger. The Nook was really tucked away in............a nook. Happy Meal and I overshot it twice and had to call for them to direct us to the spot.

That's a LOT of bun.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  80:20 coarse, pre-ground, Sterling Silver, chuck.  I had to ask what Sterling Silver meant in terms of beef, and I have provided a link for those as clueless on the topic as I was.  In spite of the fat content, the burger was not overly greasy, and I attributed that to the coarse grind, which allowed more of the fat to render out during the cooking (overcooking) process.  It tasted strongly of dry-aging, which provided a pleasant front note. Also, since the beef was pre-ground and shipped in plastic tubes from somewhere far, far away, it presented a slightly rubbery mouth feel.  The fact that the beef was overcooked did not help.
Too cool grill delivered a weak sear

The Sear:  Meh--they cooked the burgers on a gas grill, and the grill was just too cool to get a competent sear going

The Seasoning:  The hit the outside with a salty, seasoning blend.  The interior was relatively bland, but the strong beef flavors carried the dish over this small hurdle.

The Cheese: They topped the burger with a mild and nutty Gruyere. Fortunately, the weak cheese was compensated for by the seasoning and the beefiness of the burger meat. The Gruyere was, effectively, a "throw away" ingredient, since is contributed nothing buy a little texture and nothing in terms of flavor to the dish. This burger would have benefited from the mighty, Hook's Cheddar that was used at The Belvedere.

The Preparation: My cheeseburger came out an aggressively overcooked to Well in spite of the fact that I ordered it Medium--sigh.  It wasn't the end of the world, since quality beef can tolerated some overcooking and remain flavorful and juicy.  The Nook kept up their end of the bargain, and they used quality beef. The overcooking also melted more of the collagen in the chuck, which created a richer beef flavor. It was an OK trade off, but I would have preferred that the burger just be cooked the way that I requested.

But I ordered this Medium...not Well Done.
The Bun: A neutral but firm Pane Rustico (Rectangular Rustic Sandwich Roll) from La Brea Bakery served as the bun for the oval burgers--this put me in fear of a Father's Office burger, but instead of being a, courtesy of Sang Yoon, PIG AWFUL DISASTER, this was a pretty good cheeseburger.  The roll's sourdough-like firmness served to perfectly balance the chewiness of the pre-ground, and overcooked, burger patty. Additionally, the bottom of the roll was lightly dusted with white, corn meal, and this created an even more interesting texture profile.  The roll was buttered and heavily toasted, which was remarkable to chew on once the blood and juices of the burger soaked in (there was actual blood on the first visit...when they didn't vulcanize the patty).  That could have been a dish in of itself. 

Meat to Bun Ratio:  The Pane Rustico was the clear winner in this battle, and I left a fair amount behind on both of my visits to The Nook

The Fries: They were good on the second visit.  That time they were delicately crispy and properly seasoned--previously, they were unpleasant.

The Value: Generally worth the $12 price tag--more so if they get on the ball with the preparation of the food.

Burger Review : That was close, and with a few tweaks, it could become a really good burger. However, two visits within 3 days and each had different issues. The Nook is unlikely to get to excellent at this rate.  It was a real struggle not to rate this burger lower, because of the quality of the incompetent preparation and the consistency issues, but the ingredients were first class.

Rating...4 Bites  (more like 3.75, so we rounded up)

Note: On a previous visit, the burgers were also overcooked--the grill was much hotter, so the sear was better--the fries were under-seasoned and lank.  Clearly, there was a consistency issue at The Nook.  The ingredients were good, but a guiding hand in the kitchen would have been of great value.

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