Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pop Burger -- New York, NY

14 East 58th Street
New York, NY

I had about an hour for lunch with the LRP (Lovely Romanian Princess), and Pop Burger was close and convenient. It was about noon, and the place was relatively quiet. We ordered some ridiculously over-priced burgers (over $40 for two lunches) at the window, and we waited about 7 minutes for our orders to come up. I ordered the POP Burgers, and LRP went with a veggie burger.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Yawn. I discovered, much to my bemusement, that Pop Burger served mini-burgers. The patties could not have weighed in at more than 2 ounces each. The beef was mild, bland, and only moderately beefy. As for the cuts of beef in the grind...I guessed it was Chuck. The burgers were basically devoid of character. The beef was a little on the chewy side. It was neither greasy nor juicy. The beef was dull.

The Seasoning: I detected a faint hint of salt on the exterior of the wee patties, but it was not enough to improve the bland burgers.

The Sear: Pop Burger valiantly attempted to sear the waifish burger patties, but a proper sear would have dried out the patties even further.

The Preparation: Well Done was the only way to get a burger this small. The burgers were so small that each amounted to 2 bites.  The beef was ground at a medium setting. I honestly gave up on these tiny pucks of Chuck. They were so uninteresting that analyzing them was nearly pointless.

The Cheese: Pop Burger provided a mini slice of American cheese to top the teensy burger patties. The cheese was fine, but the burger was just dull. The cheese could not save this lifeless burger.

The Bun: Pop Burger served up its POP Burgers on mini-brioches, which were a day past their prime. The buns were bland, dry, and chewy.  Pass

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The dryish brioche slightly outpaced the dryish burger patty.

The Fries: The battered and par-cooked fries at Pop Burger were FAR better than the glorified amuse bouche burgers. The portion was not laughable, and the quality was fine. The fries were golden, crisp, nicely salted, and the crunch of the batter served to balance the creaminess of the centers.

The Toppings: The tomato slices were ripe and flavorful, but the shredded Romaine lettuce was watery. The lettuce served to make a dull burger even more dull.

The Veggie Burger: Woof--this was a $10 breaded and deep-fried slice of portabella mushroom. It was rubbery and greasy. Pass.

The Value: For $9.25, Pop Burger served up 2 miniscule burgers. Each was about 2 bites. When I surveyed my lunch, my initial thought was, "Are you kidding me?"  They were not. A side of fries was $4.25, and that was well over-priced for potatoes, but at least there were more than 4 bites of fries. The value at Pop wallowed in weakness.

I was grateful for the company of the LRP, because Pop Burger was a bust, otherwise.

Burger Review : Pop Burger served up bland and tiny burgers for an exceedingly high price.  Don't!

Rating...2 Bites (3 but the Value took this one down a full point)


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Burger Kitchen (3rd Visit) -- Los Angeles, CA

8048 W 3rd St
Los Angeles , CA 90048


The Burger Kitchen had recently been featured on Kitchen Nightmares. The son, Daniel, had taken over the operation and sent father, Allen, off to do other things. Fat Bruce Lee and I were curious to see if the Gordon Ramsay treatment had delivered or fizzled in terms of burger success.  We walked into a completely empty restaurant at 12:30 PM on a Thursday afternoon in a section of Mid-Town Los Angeles, which was otherwise bustling with foot and vehicle traffic.  
We were quickly seated and handed a couple of shoddily photocopied order sheets,which oddly made no mention of the name of the restaurant on them. The formerly sizable and descriptive The Burger Kitchen menu had been stripped down to a couple of items and a fistful of sides and toppings. We ordered a couple of the 8-ounce beef burgers with American cheese and a couple of sides. Our burgers arrived in about 15 minutes. We did find it especially charming that the manager's girlfriend ran out to her car to get Fat Bruce Lee some Splenda for his iced tea.  

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The burger beef was a combination of 45%, wet-aged Short Rib and 55% Chuck. The fat content was 22%. It was unfortunate that the beef was aggressively over-salted. I was forced to dig into the middle of the patty to determine the flavors. What I discovered was a very competent and tasty burger. The blend delivered a medium note of beef. There was a mild taste of iron. Missing were funk and blood. The beef was juicy and with just enough fat to remind me that it was bad for a good way. The grind was medium. Overall, the beef was better than average, but the seasoning overwhelmed the beef to the point where determining the actual flavors was an academic exercise.

The Seasoning: There is no point in belaboring this.  Curiously, when I brought this up with The Burger Kitchen's manager, he simply thanked me for my input. And so it goes.

The Sear: The crusty sear from the flat-top was no more. What we got instead was a competent sear from a properly hot gas grill. The sear was satisfying and semi-crisp.

The Preparation: The burgers were competently cooked to the requested Medium. The beef was ground in-house, and it was formed into the 8-ounce patties during shift prep. Care was clearly taken not to over-manipulate the beef when creating the burger patties. The bite was firm but tender enough not to be considered chewy.

The Cheese: The Burger Kitchen offered up a nice range of cheese choices (each for an additional $.50): Blue, Goat, Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Swiss, and American. I selected the American cheese. It was perfectly melted, and it provided a desirable creaminess to the bite. The seasoning masked any flavor contributions, which the cheese could have made.

The Bun: The brioche at Burger Kitchen came from Napoleon Bakery AKA Melrose Bakery. The brioche was neutral and surprisingly firm and chewy. This was not unpleasant, but it was very un-brioche-like. The bun was toasted to a satisfying crispness, which lent a nice texture to the bite.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was fine.

The Toppings: The shredded Iceberg lettuce was just ok, but it was a little on the wilted side. The tomato slice was hearty and refreshingly ripe.

The Sides: Both the fries and the fried pickle chips were cooked in oil, which was at least a day past its prime. As a result, the fried items tasted a little rancid and more than a little burnt. The pickle chips oozed an unpleasant puddle of oil onto the plate. The fries had a good color, but they were a little on the gummy side. The fries were seasoned with sea salt.

The Value: Had the burger not been salted to death, the value at The Burger Kitchen would have been fine. $7.50 was not a crazy price for a cheeseburger.  Considering the over-seasoning and the burnt-tasting fries, I was not a fan of the value on this visit.

I had watched the episodes of Kitchen Nightmares, which featured The Burger Kitchen, so I understood the unenviable position that Daniel Saffron, owner and manager, found himself in. Sympathy aside, the burger was merely OK, and it was not the sort of thing that I would return for.

Burger Review : The new Burger Kitchen featured a scaled back menu in terms of selection. The burgers and fries both came up lacking in terms of preparation.

Rating...3 Bites

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mon Ami Gabi -- Las Vegas, NV

3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Fun facts about Mon Ami Gabi in Las Vegas, NV:

 At the time of this review...
  • Mon Ami Gabi was the 9th busiest restaurant in the US with $36 MM in sales in 2010. 
  • Mon Ami Gabi went through about a ton of potatoes every day.  
  • Mon Ami Gabi's french fries were hand cut using blades specifically configured for the restaurant.
  • Mon Ami Gabi seated about 600 people--150 on the patio.
  • Mon Ami Gabi was a chain with locations in NV, IL, MD, and VA.
  • Mon Ami Gabi was in possession of a time machine at the time of this review, because that was the only way to explain the blazing speed with which menu items were delivered to the table.
Happy Meal and I were spending Thanksgiving in Las Vegas as a clever way for me to dodge the cooking and cleaning tasks attendant with the holiday. It seemed like a lot of work for the two of us, and the boy liked the idea of all-you-can-eat. We both won.

I had been in contact with Mon Ami Gabi's Executive Chef, Terry Lynch, and he was kind enough to reserve a table for us on the patio for Friday evening. The staff was most attentive and accommodating...half of our party of 4 was 40 minutes late due to awful traffic. Happy Meal and I enjoyed our wait watching the fountains at Bellagio, looking up at the replica of the Eiffel Tower, and tearing into savory, hot, crusty baguettes. To accompany those baguettes we had occasion to sample the Carrot Amuse. This was a fine slaw of fresh carrots with honey, cilantro, parsley, champagne vinegar, and cayenne pepper. The slaw was delicate, earthy, and just sweet enough to work in balance with the baguette.

When our friends arrived, we ordered a bunch of Prime Cheeseburgers. Within a scant 5 minutes, our burgers and fries arrived.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef blend at Mon Ami Gabi was a custom blend of USDA Choice Angus Chuck and USDA Prime Top Sirloin. The 8 ounce patties were formed in-house during morning prep. The burger beef was ground (medium) and blended off-site and delivered by Buedel Meats. The fat content was 20%. That fat perfectly coated the lips without being overwhelmingly greasy. The flavor profile of the beef was marvelous. The burgers were beefy with mild notes of funk from 7-10 days of wet aging. The bite also delivered a firm, but not overbearing note of minerals from the Sirloin component. The mouth feel was juicy, tender, and steaky. This burger kept one mindful that it was composed of high-quality ingredients. Happy Meal was equally delighted with the flavor of his burger.

The Seasoning: The seasoning was just barely there. At first, I found it a little concerning that such a light amount of seasoning was applied to the beef, but it became clear that this was intentional, after my first bite. The cheese deftly picked up the slack.

The Sear: The brief time that elapsed between ordering and enjoying indicated that the heat of the cooking surface was near that of the sun. The sear was dark, flavorful, rich, and it provided just the right firmness. One can observe the thin layer of sear, which encased the evenly Med-Rare interior to appreciate the level of care and practice that went into the preparation of this burger.

The Preparation: The burgers were gently formed into evenly round, flat, 8-ounce patties during shift prep. The tenderness and looseness of the bite were indicative that great care was taken when pressing the ground beef. There was absolutely no trace of the proteins forming new bonds. My burger was cooked on a brilliantly hot, gas-fired grill to a perfect Med-Rare.

The Cheese: Mon Ami Gabi offered Brie, Bleu, or Gruyere with the Prime Cheeseburger. I went with the Gruyere. I chose well!  The Gruyere delivered the usual nutty and buttery notes, but it also came through with a satisfying hit of salt and iron. The savory and well-melted cheese was a perfect match for the gently seasoned beef in terms of both texture and flavor.

The Bun: The brioche bun was delivered by Bon Breads. Bon Breads came through with their usual impeccable quality. The brioche was nothing less than perfect. It was mildly sweet. It was buttery and perfectly toasted. The crew at Mon Ami Gabi had the sense not to brush the top of the bun with any oil. I was grateful for this, because I truly detest getting my hands greasy from a burger bun--it is the purpose of the bun to keep grease AWAY from my fingers. The tender, moist, fresh bun compressed perfectly, and it held the juices of the burger at bay without lending any breadiness to the bite.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was exceptional.

The Fries: The ribbon-cut fries were spectacular. The fries were par-fried and then fried to order in very fresh vegetable oil. The fries were crisp to the point of resembling long chips. They were perfectly salted. The portion was massive, and not one of us managed to eat more than a third of the fries, which accompanied each of our burgers. The potatoes were partially peeled prior to being cut, so they retained some of their earthiness.

The Toppings: The tomato slices were fresh--this was November, and the tomatoes were Summer fresh. The Iceberg lettuce was crisp and sweet.

The Desserts: We tried the Crème Brûlée and the Bananas Foster. Both were wonderful, but I couldn't stop picking at the Bananas Foster. Buttery, sweet, caramel, banana with a fresh crêpe filled with Bryer's Vanilla Ice Cream---delicious. Again, the desserts appeared with unnatural speed.

The Value: Mon Ami Gabi only charged $12.95 for one of the best cheeseburgers in Las Vegas (in the country). This delicious burger weighed in at 1/2 pound, and it came with more fries than a human should consume in a week. The value was very good at Mon Ami Gabi.

The Prime Cheeseburger at Mon Ami Gabi was a study in refinement and complexity. Each bite delivered no less than 8 sequential notes with the same timing and order.  Steak..Beef...Fat...Juice..Funk...Nuttiness...Savory...Sweetness...Butter. It was a bit like eating music.

Burger Review : Mon Ami Gabi made one of the most thoughtful and complex burgers, which I have had the pleasure to sample. Sample? Nay, devoured! I ate the whole thing and some of Happy Meal' was that good.

Rating...5 Bites

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paul's Da Burger Joint -- New York, NY

131 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

While in NYC filming the pilot for my fledgling, burger show, the crew and I happened upon Paul's Da Burger Joint. Fortuitously, this place was already on my list of well-reviewed burger shops in the city, and we just happened to drive by it,.The team at Paul's Da Burger Joint was kind enough to let us shoot some footage there. I found it noteworthy that the place was packed with regulars at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon. Some of those regulars were even sporting shirts emblazoned with the restaurant's logo.

Below is how the establishment's website described itself:

"Paul's "Da Burger Joint" was established in 1989 by its namesake Paul. Originally called "Paul's Palace".

It was a family operation run by Paul and his immediate family. To this day, it is run by the same people in the same manner. We can be described as a 50's eatery with counter service, checkered table cloths and vintage decorations. Many people have described us as "their home away from home" because of the friendly cozy environment created by our hospitality and style. Regulars enjoy sitting at the counter, talking with the cooks that they know by name, while eating their big juicy burger and sipping their cold beer.

We offer a wide variety of toppings available on any burger including mushrooms, jalapenos, chilly, bacon, etc to name a few. We make shakes, frosteds, egg creams and soda floats. We provide a big portion of high quality food at a reasonable price and do our best to satisfy all customers and make everyone feel at home. We look forward to dining with you over and over."

I sat at the counter and ordered a 1/2 pound Cheeseburger for $5.50. I was a little concerned that 1/2 pound of meat for $5.50 was to good to be true. I half expected a bland mess, which was beloved by locals for reasons born more of nostalgia than current quality. I was happily incorrect.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The blend in the burgers at Paul's Da Burger Joint was bespoke and prepared off-site by their butcher. That same butcher seasoned the blend. The grind was coarse, and this gave the burger a satisfyingly firm and long-grained mouth feel. The mild funk and iron notes led me to conclude that some dry-aged Sirloin made its way into the burgers. The burger also carried a strong beefy flavor even though it was only cooked to the requested Med Rare. The fat content was a mere 15%, but the burgers were extremely juicy. The beef was somewhere between good and great.

The Seasoning: I noted a mild dusting of salt on the exterior. Mesquite was added by the butcher during the blending process.

The Sear: The sear on the burger patties at Paul's Da Burger Joint was solid. It was even, dark, and crisp. The griddle was hot enough that the sear did not penetrate deeply enough to compromise the Med Rare cooking request.

The Preparation: Did I mention the excellent sear and the perfect cooking temperature?  Watching the cooks create the burgers was entertaining. When an order was placed, they grabbed an 8-ounce ball of ground beef and spiked it hard onto the flat top. That was the extent of the shaping, which the patties received. Interestingly, all the burgers that I watched leave the pass were all generally circular.  The seared burger patties were finished under metal domes, which served to retain the heat from the gas-fired flat top and cook the thick patties more rapidly than an open cooking method. This was like tenting a turkey to reduce the cooking time.

The Cheese: The choices were Cheddar or American. I went with American. Paul's Da Burger Joint applied 2 slices of cheese to its cheeseburgers, so the savory goodness inherent in the American cheese was pronounced and satisfying. The cheese was nicely melted, and it filled in around the coarse beef.

The Bun: The bun was a standard, seeded, lightly toasted, burger bun. It was mildly sweet and a little yeasty. The toasting lent a pleasing crunch around the edges. This toasting complemented the texture of the sear on the beef.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was just right. The chewy, soft bun captured all of the juices from the burger without adding undue breadiness to the bite.

The Fries: The fries were previously frozen, par-cooked, peel-off, steak fries. The fries were crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. I noted a pleasant earthiness in the thick-cut fries. The seasoning was absent, but this was easily remedied.

The Value: I couldn't finish the meal. It was $5.50 for a 1/2 pound of steak-heavy cheeseburger with a gang of fries on the side. The value was excellent at Paul's Da Burger Joint.

After trying the burger art Paul's Da Burger Joint, I was not surprised at the loyal following they had amassed and retained over the years. The burger was tasty and well-priced. The staff was exceptionally friendly and accommodating.

Burger Review : A really, really good burger and an amazing price was enjoyed at Paul's Da Burger Joint.

Rating...4 Bites

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kobeyaki -- New York, NY

293 7th Avenue
btw 26th & 27th Street
New York NY 10001

Mr. Frankenburger, Protein-Style, the B'Ass Fisherwomen, and myself found ourselves in need of a break from the Javits Center and, more importantly, in need of a burger. Protein-Style, with an eagle eye, spotted Kobeyaki. We had been seeking out a different spot, but I got us good and lost. Protein-Style stepped in like a boss. Kobeyaki was reminiscent of Super Duper Burger in San Francisco. The focus was on organic, healthy, fast food. 

Here are some excerpts from their site: "At Kobeyaki we have a fresh approach to Japanese cuisine by providing healthy, creative and delicious Japanese food in a fast casual environment...

...We believe that raising animals humanely and naturally on a vegetarian diet without the use of hormones is important to the sustainability of the planet...

...All of our Kobe Style Wagyu Beef is naturally raised on family farms without the addition of growth hormones or antibiotics. All the Waygu cattle live on a 100% vegetarian diet and are raised humanly with love and care. Kobe style Wagyu beef contains less saturated fat and more omegas 3 and 6 fatty acids than regular beef which means this nutrient dense protein helps you maintain muscle while burning fat and maintain a healthy weight and healthy blood sugar levels...

...The sustainability of our food sources is important to us and we will continue to strive to partner with vendors who can help us achieve these goals..."

We ordered our meals at the counter, paid, were handed pagers, and we settled in for a 5-minute wait. Expectations were reasonably low, but the place was packed, and the kitchen was jammed with cooks. I counted at least 6 cooks and about 6 counter people. My low expectations were ill-founded.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The Kobe beef patty was interesting in terms of both flavor and texture. The beef was beefy, really beefy, and it led me to wonder if Kobeyaki had added a little MSG or kelp to bump things up. It seemed unlikely, but they certainly used something interesting to get so much flavor out of the Chuck. The Wagyu beef was organic and grass-fed, so I guessed that some of the strong flavors were a result of the cattle's diet. The beef was springy in the way that perfectly tender, fresh meatloaf is springy. If they used a filler to pull that off, I was unable to discern what it was. The bite was loose and juicy. There was a minimal amount of oiliness. The patty was strongly flavored and quite savory.

The Seasoning: I ordered this burger with no modifications, so it came fully sauced and dressed. The seasoning was salty and complicated in the way that good Japanese spice blends tend to be.

The Sear: The sear from the flat top was nominal, and this burger would have benefited from a robust sear to hold it together and round out the texture. The juiciness of the burger and the volume of burgers that were being cooked made the moisture conditions impossible to impart a solid sear.

The Preparation: Kobeyaki was packed, and I didn't want to stall the line by asking a bunch of questions. The burgers were cooked to a delightfully juicy Med Well. The burger buns were sauced on both the top and bottom. I gave up trying to analyze the sauces, and simply let myself enjoy the experience. The sauces contained enough oil and creaminess to make up for the lack of cheese on the burger. The burger was wrapped in a waxy paper satchel in a fashion, which I assumed was commonplace in Japan, but it was not something that I had ever encountered in the context of a burger.

The Cheese: There was no cheese, and it was not missed.

The Bun: The bun at Kobeyaki was a simple brioche. It was nicely toasted. The top was not oily. The bun was pleasantly sweet and yeasty. Most importantly it was moist and fresh. The bun competently contained the copious juices from the sauces, slaw, and burger patty.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: Perfect.

The Toppings: The slaw, which topped the burgers, was fresh and crisp. It balanced the delicate sweetness of sunomono with the earthy snap of carrot slivers. I ordinarily eschew veg on my burgers, but in the case of Asian-themed burgers, I have found it most satisfying to enjoy the dish as a whole. Examples of this include MIRU8691 and Neri's Curbside Cravings--both spectacular LA burgers.

The Fries: Kobeyaki offered one kind of fry and that was tempura-battered sweet potato fries. Sweet lord, these were delicious. These were, hands down, the creamiest sweet potato fries that I had ever tried. The tempura was perfectly crisp, and it remained crisp as the fries cooled. The interiors were smooth and gently sweet. The fries were marvelous.

The Value: I dropped about 15 bucks on a 5-ounce Kobe Beef Burger ($9), a side of fries ($3), and a fountain drink ($2), and I walked away sated and happy with the quality of the meal. The value was completely fair.

I walked into Kobeyaki with low expectations, and I anticipated a gimmicky, low-quality, fast food burger. What I had was a high-quality, flavorful, and well-executed burger. My sole regret was that Kobeyaki did not have the soft-shelled crab sandwich on the menu on the day that I visited.

Burger Review : Win

Rating...5 Bites (rounded up from 4.5)

The Spotted Pig -- New York, NY

314 West 11th Street
New York, NY

The Spotted Pig was high on the list of most of the New York burger review sites, which I had read. I had tried to go the previous evening, but a 2-hour wait for a burger was not going to happen. I chose a less busy time the following day, and I was seated immediately. Service was friendly and prompt. I ordered the $17 Chargrilled Burger, and settled in for a 25-minute wait. During that time I learned about the burger. I also enjoyed watching the endless parade of kitchen staff shuttling food from the basement storage area, through the dining area, and into the kitchen. In New York, things are different.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The Spotted Pig worked with a blend of Pat La Frieda-sourced cuts. The burger incorporated Brisket, Short Loin, and Chuck. The flavor profile was mellow, and the Brisket was the flavor that dominated. While very competent, I had hoped for something a little more aggressive in terms of beef flavor, but what I got was a really subtle and thoughtfully prepared burger patty. The fat content was high, but it was well-balanced by the juiciness on the burger. I pegged the fat around 25%.  There was only a mild taste of funk from aging. The texture was springy and moist. All told, this was a very smooth tasting burger. However, this was only determined by eating parts of the burger not covered in the Roquefort cheese. The cheese overpowered the mild beef.

The Seasoning: The seasoning was appropriate to the mild flavors of the beef. The savory blend was applied as the patty cooked, and and it served to round out the mild flavors of the carefully constructed burger.

The Sear: The menu promised a Chargrilled Burger, but the only char that I found was on my bun. The beef was treated to a lackluster set of grill marks. The thick patty certainly could have taken on a competent sear without over-cooking. Still, this was in keeping with the theme of mellow restraint at The Spotted Pig. The grill marks imparted no interesting flavors or textures to the dish.

The Preparation: The burger making process at The Spotted Pig was laudable. The Pat La Frieda beef was ground and gently blended in house. The burger patties were carefully hand-formed into beef pillows a day in advance and allowed to rest for at least 24 hours. During morning a prep a test burger was cooked, and if the test burger was not perfect, then the beef was allowed to rest even longer. The gentle handling ensured that the burgers did not become chewy. The long rest period allowed the copious fat in the burgers to thoroughly re-incorporate so that the burgers would not be greasy. The burgers were cooked on a too-cool gas grill. I imagined that this was intentional, but the effort fell flat in terms of flavor, texture, and presentation. The kitchen sent out a perfect Med Rare in keeping with my request. The 8-ounce patty was cooked so evenly that it gave the appearance of having been cooked sous vide.

The Cheese: The decision to top such a cautiously crafted and gently flavored burger with Roquefort cheese was puzzling at best. It was like projecting Ansel Adams photos at a speed metal concert. The juxtaposition was jarring to the point that the beef was utterly lost in the salty tang of the soft, white cheese. I found this to be an epic misstep.  

The Bun: The top of the bun was charred, and this lent an unwelcome bitterness of burned starch to the bite. Otherwise, the brioche was bland and relatively neutral. It lacked any discernible crispness. The unseared, moist beef coupled with this bun and the creamy cheese made for a very tame mouth feel. This dish needed something by way of texture to liven it up, and the bun was not up to the task.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was good. The brioche caught all of the juices without becoming soggy. The mild bun did not detract from the bite--it was barely noticed.

The Fries: The shoestring fries were cut in house and served peel-on. They were thin enough that they did not require par-cooking. The fries were cooked in vegetable oil and finished with rosemary and salt. The seasoning was perfect, and the fries were difficult to put aside. 

The Toppings: There were no toppings, and that was just fine.

The Value: $17 for a cheeseburger borders on absurd. The ingredients were of high quality, but the preparation, combination, and assemblage simply did not support the price point.

The cheeseburger at The Spotted Pig was half fantastic. The beef was delicious and well considered. The cheese was a nightmare, and the bun was dull. The price was too steep when these factors were all taken into consideration. I would recommend trying this burger without the cheese.

Burger Review : Tasty and thoughtfully handled beef at an overly high price at The Spotted Pig.

Rating...4 Bites (rounded up from 3.5)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BareBurger -- New York, NY

535 Laguardia Place
New York, NY 10012

The lovely Raquel, the concierge at the Trump SoHo, recommended BareBurger as one of her favorites. It was a snap to get a table as the restaurant opened, and I had the good fortune of getting some of Misha's time. Misha was a managing partner at Bare Burger and was highly involved in the operation the Laguardia Place location. This was the second location of six with another scheduled to open in mid-November and seven more in the works. BareBurger was expanding rapidly, and I hoped that they were doing it with integrity.

BareBurger took sustainable and organic to a new level. The wood for the tables was harvested from storm damaged trees. The walls were bamboo. The light fixtures were recycled containers. The to-go containers were made of biodegradable corn. The ketchup and mustard were organic. All of the meats were sourced cruelty free, free range, and organic. The meat choices were broad: bison, ostrich, elk, beef, chicken, turkey, and wild boar was on its way the following month. All of the vegetables were certified organic, as well.

It was with a little trepidation that I ordered an Original BareBurger, and I requested Med-Rare after determining that Chuck was a minority constituent of the beef blend. My concern was that BareBurger, in their relentless pursuit of delivering a certain type of product might have lost sight of the goal of delivering a delicious burger. My concerns proved to be unfounded.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The 6-ounce patties were a Sirloin-heavy blend of Sirloin and Chuck. The beef was wet-aged and sourced from Blackwing. The fat content was a scant 10%, and that fat was not missed. The burger was wonderfully juicy. The flavors were strong steak and beef with a mellow note of aging. The bite was juicy and tender. The Med-Rare cooking temp let the minerals shine through from the Sirloin.This was highly satisfying beef. I had difficulty putting this burger down.

The Seasoning: A great deal of care went into the preparation of the proprietary seasoning blend, and this savory/tangy mixture was liberally applied to the exterior of the patty as it cooked. The seasoning lent a savory and mild barbecue flavor to the dish. The seasoning was unique, interesting, and it worked perfectly with the flavorful beef.

The Sear: The sear at BareBurger was created using a properly hot flat top. The sear was crisp and dark. It enhanced the already rich and sturdy flavors of the meat and seasoning. The texture was also most welcome.

The Preparation: The beef was ground to medium and gently formed into the thick, 6-ounce patties no less than three times per day. The point of this was not to let the proteins knit together to create chewiness. This attention to detail resulted in a very tender bite of perfectly cooked chopped steak. My Med-Rare request was perfectly executed.

The Cheese: The blend of organic Colby and Jack Cheddars was flavorful and sharp. The cheese lent just enough oil to the dish to round out the mouth feel.

The Bun: I was briefly taken aback to learn that the Brioche buns at BareBurger were sourced from Philadelphia. That seemed like a long way to go for buns when New York had so many good bakeries. The moment that I bit into the moist, firm, eggy, sweet, and toothsome bun, I completely understood why they selected that bun purveyor. The bun was perfect for the burger. It brilliantly absorbed the juices while maintaining its consistency and contributing its own flavors to the dish. The bun was lightly toasted, and in the case of this burger, the crunch was not missed.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was perfect. Every bite was ideal.

The Fries: Wow! The organic, peel-on, hand-cut fries were par-cooked in soy oil and finished in peanut oil. They were crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. They were golden brown and perfectly seasoned. I had difficulty not filling up on the fries at BareBurger.

The Sauces: The sauces were best described as smart. I was especially fond of the house-made barbecue sauce. This sauce employed some Indian themes as well as traditional flavors. Since it was a proprietary blend I have chosen not to share the breakdown of the ingredients, which I managed to puzzle out. The chipotle sauce was splendid, as well.

The Toppings: The lettuce and tomato were both surprisingly fresh and flavorful for the first week of November.

The Shakes: I sampled a chocolate shake at BareBurger, and it was marvelous. The ice cream came from Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn. This purveyor shared the same passion and commitment to sustained organic food. Beyond that, the ice cream was fantastic. There was an abundance of crumbly, dark chocolate shavings that lent a wonderful texture to the creamy dessert.  I loved the shake.

The Value: A cheeseburger at BareBurger went for $8.95, and that was money well spent. The value at BareBurger was strong.

I walked into BareBurger a hungry skeptic, and I walked out of BareBurger a sated fan. I strongly urge you to try BareBurger. They prepare thoughtful, skillful, and flavorful burgers and fries. I came to learn that the kid-friendly establishment serves a Sunday brunch with Nutella whipped cream on waffles covered in root beer syrup.  It was like they cracked open my head and stole my fantasies.

Burger Review : A wonderful and flavorful burger was enjoyed at BareBurger. Go there and go there soon. I hope that BareBurger finds its way to Los Angeles.

Rating...5 Bites

DBGB Kitchen and Bar -- New York, NY

299 Bowery
New York, NY 10003

For the first burger on this NY trip, I had wanted to try The Spotted Pig, but that spot came with a 2-hour wait for a table. The runner-up choice for the evening was DBGB Kitchen and Bar. Tess of the B'urgervilles and I had high hopes for this spot. We scored the last table in the bar and settled in for an unduly long wait just place our orders. Once ordered, the burgers did not arrive until at least 35 minutes later. We had some catching up to do, but that was a long wait for a couple of cheeseburgers. Nonetheless, we imagined that a burgers with a Daniel Boloud pedigree and a stout $16 price tag would be well worth the wait. We imagined incorrectly.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  The 6 ounce burger patties were a blend of Ribeye, Short Rib, and Strip Steak trimmings. The flavor was very mild, and the burgers were pushing 30% in terms of fat content. I assumed that the Strip Steak trimmings were primarily fat. The flavor of the burger could best be described as mildly steaky. Tess remarked that it was the sort of burger that she was glad came with toppings. The beef, while fatty, was also quite juicy. There was no trace of aging, and the burger lacked notes of beefiness, which would have been appropriate. The bite was loose and yielding.

The Seasoning: The burger patty was lightly seasoned with a salty blend.

The Sear: The sear on the burgers at DBGB Kitchen and Bar was meek. These fatty, thick, juicy burgers would have benefited from a competent sear. The lackluster sear did nothing for the burger in terms of flavor or texture.

The Preparation: The preparation was fine. I ordered a Med-Rare burger, and I was presented with a Med-Rare burger. The beef was gently formed into patties during the day shift. The burgers were cooked on a moderately hot gas grill.

The Cheese: The White Vermont Cheddar, $2 extra, was the clear winner on the plate. The Cheddar had character, but not enough to pull the dish out of the mediocre neighborhood where it was slumming. This marvelous cheese was not only shamefully over-priced, but it was also the sole item on the plate of genuine interest.

The Bun: What, oh...sorry, I nodded off while thinking back on the bun. The bun was utterly devoid of flavor. It was perfectly neutral with all of the appeal, to the palate, of a sheet of newspaper. The bun was also not toasted, so it sopped up the copious grease oozing from the burger patty. The bun was a lukewarm, oily, bland mess.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This, while completely moot, was fine.

The Toppings: Mine never showed up, and I didn't have the extra 35 minutes to wait on tomato and lettuce.

The Fries: The first batch were mealy, lank, and barely warm--they were also fishy tasting. The second batch was crisp, unseasoned, and they had the bitter after-taste of stale fryer oil.  Yech.

The Value: The value must have been fantastic for DBGB Kitchen and Bar. It was miserable for me. I was most unhappy to have paid 16 bucks for slow service, an average tasting burger, and unpleasant fries.

DBGB Kitchen and Bar was several years old at the time of this review, but the service and quality all spoke to an establishment in its first month of life. I was astonished that the restaurant was packed on a Monday night. Perhaps other dishes on the menu were good, but the burgers were on the low side of average.

Burger Review : A shamelessly over-priced, sub-par cheeseburger was left half-uneaten at DBGB Kitchen and Bar.

Rating...3 Bites (2.5 after the half point deduction for weak value)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Johnny Rockets -- Los Angeles, CA

6060 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Happy Meal and I had spent a couple of hours at the Peterson Automotive Museum, and lusting after cars, which were well beyond our means, had left us with a gnawing emptiness that only a burger could fill. Johnny Rockets was attached to the museum, so it was a pretty simple choice. Johnny Rockets touted itself as "The Original Hamburger." This left me scratching my head. We had seen some of the "original" automobiles, and I would have much preferred something more recent.  We ordered a couple of Rocket Singles with cheese. Our wait was about 15 minutes, and that seemed overly long considering the place was fully staffed and less than 1/3 full.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The menu proclaimed that the burger patties were 1/3 pound of fresh, never frozen, 100% beef. The beef was most likely plain Chuck, although it lacked the beefiness that most Chuck delivers. The burgers were mild at best. There was no trace of aging or anything else of interest. The beef was dryish, and the patty was not not chewy or oily. The beef was competent but not interesting.

The Seasoning: The patties were seasoned...I watched the kitchen apply something from a shaker while the patties were on the griddle. The seasoning was a mild salt and pepper blend, and it did little to enhance the flavor of the burger patties.

The Sear: The sear was darn fine at Johnny Rockets. It was dark and even. It was mostly cosmetic, since the beef lacked any real character, which would have been enhanced by a good sear.

The Preparation: The 1/3 pound patties were cooked to Well Done on a properly hot flat top.  The patties were seasoned as they cooked, and they were only flipped once, which was appropriate. The patties were irregular in shape, so I assumed that they were formed in-house.

The Cheese: The Cheddar that topped our burgers was uninteresting to the point of being invisible. I was completely unaware of the cheese on my cheeseburger. The Cheddar was completely pointless on these cheeseburgers.

The Bun: The bun was just right. It was an unseeded, plain, fresh, moist, slightly sweet, and slightly yeasty, burger bun. It was beautifully toasted. This lent a satisfying crunch to each bite.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was just fine.

The Fries: The fries at Johnny Rockets were previously frozen and completely bland. They were on the mealy side, and they were under-seasoned. I tried some of Happy Meal's fries, but I went with a salad.

The Toppings: My burger came with chunk of Iceberg lettuce from deep in the interior of the head. The lettuce was pale and a little bitter. The tomato slice was fresh, juicy, and ripe. The lettuce in my salad was Romaine, and it was perfect.

The Value: The Rocket Single at Johnny Rocket was $7.59, and it came with a side of fries or a salad. The burger was small and bland (average), and the fries were uninteresting. They did offer all the fries that we could eat, but we didn't want to finish the ones that we had. The value was weak but not insulting.

Johnny Rockets served up a slightly over-priced and uninteresting burger. I had tried Johnny Rockets in the past, and I had been unimpressed. That experience was not a fluke. The burgers were on the low side of average. What was confusing was that JNJ Burger Shack used the same blend of beef, and their burgers were mighty fine.

Burger Review : Whatever

Rating...3 Bites

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ruby's Diner -- Carlsbad, CA

5630 Paseo Del Norte #130D
Carlsbad, CA 92008

Happy Meal and I were at Legoland California........again, and we were in need of snacks. We had enjoyed some solid cheeseburgers at Ruby's Diner in the past. Ruby's Diner had swapped out the American Kobe Burgers with something new, Premium All-Natural Burgers. What, apparently, set these burgers apart from the others on the menu was that they were composed of Premium rather than Choice beef. This led me to believe that these particular, featured burgers would be in some way better. Better for me, that is. They were better for Ruby's Diner, since they were charging a premium price. The first attempt was a cheeseburger, which barely resembled what I had ordered, but this was resolved in a few minutes.  Total wait time: 15 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef (Chuck) in the Premium All-Natural Burger was far less flavorful and far oilier than the standard burgers at Ruby's Diner.  The burger was only mildly beefy. It had no trace of aging. The beef was oily, and I pegged the fat content near 30%. Overall, this was a bland, oily burger. The bite was firm but not chewy.

The Seasoning: There was none.

The Sear:  Ruby's Diner got half of a sear onto the burger patty. The ho-hum sear coupled with the lack of beefy flavors and seasoning made for an uninteresting and average-tasting cheeseburger.

The Preparation: The beef was ground on the fine side of medium. The burgers were cooked to Well Done on a hot flat top. The patties were turned once during the cooking process. The preparation at Ruby's Diner was competent, but they were working with an dismally bland product. The patty was roughly 6 ounces. The patties were clearly mechanically formed and shipped to their final destination.

The Cheese: Ah, American Cheese....what can't you do? The twin slices of American cheese on my burger were perfectly melted and lent all the savory and umami that they could to the otherwise flavorless patty. This was not enough to save the dish.

The Bun: The seeded, standard burger bun at Ruby's Diner was perfect. It was fresh, moist, a little sweet, a little yeasty, and perfectly toasted. The bun lent a perfect crunch to the bite. The bun was a runaway winner.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was perfect.

The Fries: Ruby's Diner took delivery of pre-cut, par-cooked, frozen, bagged fries, and they were fantastic. I snagged some of Happy Meal's fries, and I opted for the healthier cottage cheese option. The fries that I did savor were perfectly cooked to a crisp, golden brown on the outside, and the interior was positively creamy. The fries were a little under-seasoned, but the texture was wonderful.

The Toppings: This fell completely flat. Both the Iceberg lettuce and the tomato slices had a sallow look to them. The lettuce was past its prime, and it was spoiled in one spot. The tomato was clearly under-ripe, and it had no business on a plate.

The Value: The Premium All-Natural Burger came in at $9.99. This was 2 dollars more than a more flavorful and leaner burger with comparable toppings and sides. The value was weak for a dish advertised as Premium.

I happen to like Ruby's Diner, and Happy Meal likes it, too. Sadly, the Premium All-Natural Burgers are over-priced, and they under-delivered. Go to Ruby's Diner, and enjoy a regular cheeseburger.

Overview: Pass. The Premium All-Natural Burger at Ruby's Diner was a pricy downgrade.

Burger Review...3 Bites (rounded up from 2.5 Bites)

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