Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Burger Kitchen -- Los Angeles.CA

8048 W 3rd St
Los Angeles , CA 90048
Website Note that their site has not been updated for some time, and the menu has changed quite a bit.
It had been about 9 months since our last visit to The Burger Kitchen, and I had promised owner, Alan Saffron, a fresh look since they had addressed the issues, which I had brought up during my previous visit. This time I brought in Fat Bruce Lee (back on a diet), so that we could sample a couple of burgers from the extensive menu. 

On this visit, we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Saffron at length, and it was a pleasure to get an insider's view of the menu, the kitchen, and the ideas behind the food. I know that some food reviewers prefer not to engage with the establishment, but I found it refreshing.

For a burger joint, the menu was deep. Alan Saffron was a bit (lot) of a meat geek, and he created a range of custom and exotic blends in addition to the Standard, Steak, and The Natural blends.  There were no less than 6 exotic blends on the new menu.  I had to hand it to Mr. Saffron--his stated mission was to serve the best burger ever, and the guy has not given up or ceased innovating. After Jonathon Gold suggested that he switch from Pat La Frieda beef (NYC) to Harvey Guss beef (Los Angeles), Mr. Saffron abandoned his La Frieda fetish and made the switch to the Harvey Guss dry-aged product.  During this visit to The Burger Kitchen, Mr. Saffron shared with us his latest innovation, and it was fantastic--more to come in this review about that.  It didn't stop there, though.

The Burger Kitchen recently brought in Carlos Abayta from 25 Degrees to oversee the kitchen. Also, they are sourcing all of the pastries from David Blaine, and they are considering having him bake the buns rather than sourcing the brioches from Ca' d'Oro bakery in Santa Monica. The Harvey Guss beef was sourced from Harvey Guss Meats and the other beef was sourced from Huntington Meats, just like at The Golden State, and the beef was delivered freshly ground. 
We ordered a handful of cheeseburgers. Fat Bruce Lee and I decided to go 50/50 on The Natural ($19) and a Standard cheeseburger with White Cheddar ($11). Our burgers arrived in about 10 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: 
  • The Standard burger patty was  8 ounces of a coarsely ground, custom blend of roughly half Short Rib and half Chuck. This was outstandingly juicy, beefy, and tasted strongly of blood.  In fact, this burger led with the blood/iron flavor, and that note carried evenly through the first half of the bite. There was no funk from aging in the Standard blend.  This beef was quite good, and the coarse grind and cautious handling allowed the beef to retain its juices.
  • The Natural burger patty was 8 ounces of a coarsely ground, custom blend of Rib-eye, Tri-tip, Brisket, and ..........well, Allan wouldn't divulge all of his secrets. This was the Harvey Guss, dry-aged product, and it was noticeably superior to the Standard blend but not significantly. This bite had a far more steak-like feel to it, and the aging really came through. It was lacking the blood from the Standard blend.  Still it was quite good, but the $19 price point was a little higher than I was comfortable with. This, too, was a very juicy burger.
The Seasoning: In both cases, the seasoning was applied to gently. The exterior and interior were both lightly seasoned, but the beef was fresh enough and flavorful enough to warrant a heavier hand in this case.   

The Sear: The sear was quite competent in both cases. The Burger Kitchen uses both the griddle and the grill to apply the sear. That was damn smart. The griddle applied an even sear, and then the grill deepened it and forced out the moisture to give it crunch. This was especially evident in the next version of the burger, which they were planning to start serving. The sear on that was EPIC.  Finally, the sear provided just the right amount of carbon from the hint of char.

The Preparation: They really got it at The Burger Kitchen. They used freshly ground cuts of quality beef, and they didn't abuse it. The hand-formed patties were thick and gently handled. The grind was satisfyingly coarse, and the cooking method was inventive, smart, and highly effective. The blackened griddle looked about as hot as a reactor it was supposed to be.  They nailed the cooking temperature requests.

The Cheese: Both burgers arrived with White Cheddar. This was just fine. The Cheddar was salty; it melted properly; it provided just enough bounce to make its presence known in the bite while competing with the firm beef for attention. I would love to see them offer an American cheese option at some point.

The Bun: The Ca' d'Oro brioche looked like a monster, but it was tender, moist, sweet and just resilient enough to handle the heft and the juice without adding undue denseness to the bite. The sole complaint was that the brioche was brushed with oil, and this made for a greasy feel in the hand and on the lips. There was enough fat in the burgers that this was not a welcome addition to the dish. It will be interesting to see what sort of buns David Blaine comes up with in the future to pair with the patties at The Burger Kitchen.

The Meat To Bun Ratio:  Perfect.

The Fries and Rings: While $3.50 was a little steep for fries or rings, the par-cooked sweet potato and standard fries were crisp and delicious with just enough seasoning. The rings were cooked in a slightly sweet fish and chips-style batter, and these were terrific, as well.
The Value: 11 bucks for an 8-ounce burger of very high quality....not bad at all.

An Amazing Sear on the Mesquite Burger
The New Burger: At the end of the meal, Alan Saffron brought out his latest burger creation. I had mentioned to him that the beef in his burgers would benefit from some added punch from additional spices. What he came out with was a 1/2 pound patty of The Natural Blend, but this time it came out with a sear that was nearly unbelievable. Also, he infused the beef with a gentle touch of mesquite. That did the trick. The mesquite suffused the bite with a mellowness that completely changed the burger. That burger was the clear winner. ****This patty is now served every day at The Burger Kitchen**** The sear was remarkably thick and crunchy without being burned.

The Burger Kitchen continues to evolve and steadily improve. We look forward to seeing them achieve their goal of serving the best burger in LA.

Burger Review : The Burger Kitchen served up high quality burger with the goal of serving up higher quality burgers as they mature.

Rating...4 Bites

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sauce On Hampton -- Venice, CA

259B Hampton Dr., (2nd St.)
Venice, CA 90291

It had been a week since I had posted anything on an un-reviewed burger. Happy Meal and I had spent the better part of his Spring Break at Legoland, and we re-visited both Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Carson, CA and SmashBurger in Del Mar (San Diego), CA.  New pics are now posted on each of those reviews. Sadly, Five Guys was pretty bland, and SmashBurger just couldn't get a  good sear on the beef--they also applied too much salt--standards.. Oh well, at least those pics are better, now. I love the camera on my Evo Shift.  Oh, we also returned to Ruby's Diner in Carlsbad, CA--the standard cheeseburger there was exceptional, and the fries were superb.

The burger du jour was at Sauce On Hampton. The Chef/Owner Sassan Rostamian was formerly the lunch chef at Rustic Canyon, which we hear has a terrific burger. Sadly, whomever was working the grill at the time of this review did not share Chef Rostamian's passion for burgers and quality in general.

The Classic, done right without toppings
The hook at Sauce was healthy, organic, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients served at a reasonable price point. Every bit of vegetation on the plate was marvelous. If only the burger and the bun had lived up to the accouterments. We ordered a couple of the "Classic, done right" burgers. These came with Cheddar and Applewood Bacon for $10 each. All burgers at Sauce On Hampton also came with tomato, baby spinach, red onion, house-made aioli, and Dijon mustard.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The 6 ounce, grass-fed, patty was coarsely ground Chuck from Estancia Beef.  It was ground at the supplier and delivered fresh to the kitchen.  It was wet-aged and came in at a ratio of  80:20. It was wonderfully funky--too funky for Happy Meal, but I enjoyed it. It was only mildly beefy, and it was otherwise devoid of character. It lacked any deeper notes of iron and umami. The beef was on the dry side, and it was oilier than I was comfortable with. This dryness came from over-cooking the burger on a too-cool grill. Frankly, some of the oiliness would have probably dissipated with a properly hot flame. The coarsely ground beef was formed gently into thick patties, so the texture (barring the dryness) of these cheeseburgers was just right.

The Seasoning: There was a faint dusting of something salty the exterior of the irregularly shaped, hand-formed, burger patties. The blend appeared to have been not seasoned at all.

The Sear: Blah...1/2 of the burger picked up a sear and a touch of char from the hot spot on the cast iron grill. The rest of the burger could have done with a much hotter flame and a shorter time over it.

The Preparation: This was a comedy of errors. Especially considering that these were the "Classic, done right" burgers. There's nothing like a big serving of irony for Easter brunch...
  1. Round One...Happy Meal's burger came out with no cheese.
  2. Round Two...Happy Meal's burger came out with no bacon.
  3. My burger came out fully dressed even though I ordered it plain.The bacon did come on the side, though. While it was no big deal to remove the generous amount of veg, the aioli on the top and bottom bun was there to stay.
  4. The Dijon mustard was nowhere to be found--it had been swapped out for a spicy thousand island-style dressing. This turned out to be a good thing in the end, since I ended up eating more salad than burger.
  5. Both burgers were cooked to a dryish Med-Well rather than the Medium, which we requested. We had waited at least 15 minutes for the burgers to arrive, and since the kitchen was struggling to get our food right (the only customers in the empty restaurant), it felt like a fool's errand to send the whole works back for a re-fire.
The burger "toppings" were all placed beneath the patty--that promised to create a disjointed and confusing bite. The tongue with all of its taste buds, is located in the lower part of the mouth. A burger should start off tasting like meat and cheese rather than a salad. I prefer it when toppings are treated like condiments rather than as the star of the dish. Easy enough to remedy though...flip it over.

The food porn version of the "Classic, done right" burger was posted on the Sauce On Hampton site.  That was the cheeseburger that we drove to Venice to try. What we got was a far less attractive and carelessly thrown together version of that cheeseburger.

 The Cheese: The Cheddar was gooey, salty, and sharp. The cheese outclassed the burgers in terms of flavor and texture.

The Bun: This was a whole wheat, oat-topped, barely toasted, dryish, burger bun. It was too big and too dry for the over-cooked, dryish burger patty. The bun looked sort of like the bun from the website. The bun was sourced with great care from a local bakery, which the chef kept a secret.

The Fries: No fries here.

The Toppings: Every bit of veg on the plate was delicious and fresh. I gave up on my cheeseburger at the halfway point and filled up on the copious salad, spinach, and juicy tomato slices. I found a reason to use the dressing that they served in lieu of the Dijon mustard.  The greens and tomatoes were absolutely fantastic. The thick slices of bacon were delicious.

The Value: It was 10 bucks for an OK burger, a dry bun, and a great salad.  The burger value was weak at Sauce On Hampton.

It was a lucky thing that Happy Meal had already filled up on Easter candy in the car, because he only ate about 5 bites of his burger. He did eat all of the bacon once it finally arrived. In fairness, the funk level of the beef made this an R-rated burger. It was good, but it was not the sort of thing that kids generally go for.

Later in the day, I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Sassan Rostamian, and he really came off as a terrific guy with a ton of passion about food--burgers in particular. The deep attention to detail with regard to beef suppliers, handling, and the remarkable quality of the produce were all quite inspirational. I have to imagine that the kitchen staff was largely responsible for the lackluster cheeseburgers that we had on this day. We will re-visit Sauce on Hampton at a time when we are certain that the chef/owner will be on hand and guiding the kitchen.

Burger Review : The burger was prepared carelessly. This cancelled out the superior ingredients and resulted in an average burger.

Rating...3 Bites

Editor's Note: We revisited Sauce On Hampton on 05AUG11, and we discovered a much-improved burger. Chef Sassan was in the kitchen, and he brought his A-game.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Astro Burger -- Los Angeles, CA

7475 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046323-874-8041

Happy Meal and I had just watched the matinee showing of Rio: The Movie...the most kick-ass, animated Blue Macaw movie ever made, and he declared it burger time. It was one of the first really perfect days of the year in LA, and the whole world was driving around. We opted for Astro Burger on Santa Monica was close. Parking was free in the back. We ordered a couple of single (4 ounce) cheeseburgers, a side of fries, a side of rings, and a large beverage. This set us back about 15 bucks.  We settled in for a 10-minute wait until they called out our number. The place was all gleaming tile and chrome on the interior.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The claim was that the beef was not previously frozen, but it was joyless and bouncy enough to suggest otherwise. It was 80:20 Chuck. The only flavor that it lent to the bite was moderate beefiness. The patties were on the dry side, and they were a little rubbery, as well. The patties were dry enough that they curled at the edges as they cooked.

The Seasoning: This was undetectable. This burger was in dire need of seasoning.

The Sear: There was no sear. The gas grill scarcely got any color on the burger patties. The exception being the curled edges, where a bit of char was present.

The Preparation: It seemed unlikely that a human was involved in creating the medium grind, thin, uniform burger patties. The beef was cooked on a gas grill to Med-Well. The Astro Burger marquee boldly proclaimed the burgers were Char-Broiled. That was misleading, since there was no broiling equipment in evidence and certainly not in use.

The Cheese: The cheeseburgers at Astro Burger came with standard American Cheese, but even this old standard failed to amp up the flavors. The American Cheese had to fight with bland, unseasoned beef and a too large bun.
Look....A Frisbee!

The Bun: This was a lightly toasted, seeded, standard, hamburger bun. The bun was moist enough and neutral in flavor. Happy Meal got his cheeseburger with pickles and ketchup, and his bun fell apart within three bites. The buns at Astro Burger were not substantial enough to support toppings.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: See photos...the bun was massive compared to the thin burger patty.

The Fries and Rings: The fries came frozen out of a bag, and they were undercooked. As a result the fries were pale and mealy. They were also unseasoned. The rings came out a very crisp and very dark, golden brown. They were also unseasoned.

The Value: PASS. I would not return to Astro Burger. The food was of a low quality yet they charged a moderate price. The value was poor.

Astro Burger....this was a weak burger, which was barely worth reviewing. They were fortunate that an even worse burger (Fatburger) stood on the opposite corner. Astro Burger was superior to Fatburger, but it was still not good enough to warrant anything better than a mediocre rating.

Burger Review : I am glad that's over with.

Rating...2 Bites

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Little Doms -- Los Angeles, CA

2128 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

The cheeseburger over at Little Doms in the Los Feliz neighborhood had been getting a lot of attention as of late, and it was time that Happy Meal and I investigated. Little Doms was also conveniently located on our way back from the zoo as we made our way to the world headquarters of TheBurgerBusters.  Little Doms was an Italian joint, and Happy Meal ordered a pizza. That kid always does better than I do when it comes to picking menu items. I ordered the Wood Grilled Hamburger w/ Burratta, Roasted Tomato Mostarda & Speck. Let me break all that down for you:
  • Burratta is a a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it a creamy, soft texture. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The word "burrata" means "buttered" in Italian.
  • Mostarda is a is an Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard flavored syrup. At Little Doms, it was roasted tomatoes, onion slivers, honey, and ground mustard. It tasted a lot like ketchup and mustard mixed together.
  • Speck...think prosciutto ham but a lot less funky.
The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  Little Doms used pre-ground, 80:20 Chuck. The beef was remarkably beefy and juicy. It was wholly lacking in any funk from aging or mineral/blood flavors. The claim was the beef was dry-aged, but none of those flavors came through. The patty weighed in at about 7 ounces. The beef was tender and not watery, so it was safe to assume that it was freshly ground.

The Seasoning: The exterior was lightly salted, and there was no seasoning apparent in the blend.

The Sear: The sear imparted by the wood-fired grill was EPIC. I would have guessed that the burger had been griddled or pan seared based on the even and deep nature of the sear, but a hot grill with wide grates can work Maillard magic. The sear added a little char and a lot of crunchy texture to the dish.

The Preparation: Little Doms delivered a cheeseburger cooked to Medium as I requested. The beef was not over-manipulated in the patty forming process, so it was a firm but tender bite. The 7 ounce patty was quite thick--around 2/3 inches.

The Cheese: Dull...the Burratta was mild and creamy. It was completely lost in the overly thick fociacca bread and the firm beef. It lent nothing to the bite. Fresh mozzarella never makes sense on a burger.

The Bun: The bun/focaccia was baked in-house. Little Doms gets all of their other breads from BreadBar. Sadly, BreadBar makes the best damn burger bun in Los Angeles, but Little Doms chose the burger as the dish for a non-BreadBar product. The focaccia, on its own, was great. It was thick, springy, relatively moist, and yeasty. However, when wrapped around the burger, it created a dry and spongy mouth feel. At first I removed the bottom bun to improve the quality of the dish. This was a half measure, and it produced an average result. The second half of the burger was consumed with no bread so that I could savor the beef. 

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The bun/focaccia bread dominated the beef to the point of nearly ruining the dish.

The Fries: None--Little Doms served fried potatoes in lieu of french fries, and I am not a fan of fried potatoes.

The Toppings: The crispy, thinly shaved Speck was terrific. It was like prosciutto with none of the funk that can develop when it is cooked. The Mostarda was a tasty sauce for dipping all of that excess focaccia.

The Value: This was 12 buck, pre-ground Chuck. The value was weak considering that this was Chuck and that the dish was nearly inedible as delivered by the kitchen.

Burger Review : The Little Doms interpretation of the cheeseburger flew wide of the mark for the most part.

Rating...3 Bites

Friday, April 15, 2011

Annabelle's Bar & Bistro -- San Francisco, CA

68 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94103-3102

Annabelles's Bar & Bistro did not make any lists of great burgers to try in San Francisco. No one suggested that we try it. We did not plan on going there. It was simply close to our location when it was time for lunch, and we were pressed for time.  They were doing a brisk lunch business, but they were able to seat Fat Bruce Lee, our guest, and myself promptly. We ordered a couple of burgers at $13.50 apiece and settled in for 10-minute wait. Once our burgers arrived, it became abundantly apparent why Annabelle's Bar & Bistro was not known/recommended for their cheeseburgers.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Yawn...1/2 pound patties of pre-ground, 80:20, Niman Ranch Chuck. Super Duper was the only place the we have ever tried that truly made Niman Ranch Chuck work--it generally fell pretty flat. That trend was not bucked at Annabelle's.
  • The beef was only mildly beefy in flavor. 
  • My burger was peppered with connective tissue.
  • The beef had no trace of aging. 
  • The burgers were very greasy rather than juicy.
The Seasoning: There was a dash of salt and pepper applied to the exterior of the big, greasy, bland patties. The salt did not compensate for the lack of flavor.

The Sear: The sear from the grill was moderate, and there was even a slight char, but no real flavor or texture was developed. This was also due, in part, to the fact that my burger came out dead Rare rather than the Medium, which I had requested.

The Preparation: The Chuck arrived pre-ground (medium-coarse) and was formed into thick, irregular, 1/2 pound patties. It was cooked on a gas-fired grill. It was not cooked nearly long enough. To top it off, for some reason the patties were placed on the plate prior to being set on the bun. The copious grease from the patties then saturated the exterior of the bottom bun, which made it a greasy mess in the hand.

The Cheese: Yawn....this was ho-hum Tillamook Cheddar. It was bland, rubbery, and it contributed almost nothing but more fat to the dish.

The Bun: The bun came from Italian-French Bakery, and the bun was terrific. It was a burger bun made from Italian was savory, sweet, and just chewy enough! Sadly, the bottom bun was unpleasantly oily to the touch.  So it goes.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The greasy beef was too much for the superb bun.

The Fries: The house-cut fries were cooked in rice bran oil....these were adequate, but they should have gone an extra 30 seconds in the fryer to get some color on them. The fries did not maintain their crispness, and this was unfortunate considering that was the strong point of rice bran oil.

The Value: I was in a hurry, so I ate half and sent the rest back. $13.50 for a weak burger was too much no matter how big the burger. Quantity rarely trumps quality. The value was poor.

When General Manager, Micah Tell, inquired about the quality of the burgers, I shared my opinions with her. She did agree that the burger was undercooked. In spite of that, the check arrived for the full amount and with a straight face. I called Ms. Tell back to our table, and after a bit of back and forth she grudgingly agreed to adjust the check amount to reflect the half burger that I managed to eat. Her attitude was far more spicy and interesting than the cheeseburgers. It seemed safe to assume that Annabelle's Bar & Bistro did not base its business on repeat customers. The pickles were darn tasty, though.

Burger Review : Pass on the greasy blandness.

Rating...2 Bites

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Super Duper -- San Francisco, CA

2304 Market Street, at 16th
San Francisco, CA 94114
Here's what Super Duper posted about themselves on their site. 
"Fast food burgers, slow food values.
At Super Duper, we serve fast food style burgers, fries, and shakes all made with the best ingredients available to us. Our beef is 100% Niman Ranch all natural beef ground fresh each day. Our shakes and cones are made with organic Strauss cream from Petaluma, and our pies and cookies for our sundaes are baked daily in house. We offer a chicken sandwich and a portobella mushroom "burger", and we make our own pickles. All of our packaging is compostable, because we care about our environment just as much as we care about our burgers.

It had been a mixed bag of burgers in San Francisco, but Super Duper came highly recommended from a reliable source. This was one of those instances where the name was apt. The burgers, and everything else, at Super Duper were, in fact, super duper. This was the best burger that I had tried in San Francisco.

We ordered a couple of burgers at the register and settled in for a 4 minute wait. The burgers come out with blinding speed at Super Duper. A "Mini" burger was anything but mini. It was a 4 ounce burger for $4.50 or $5.00 with cheese. I opted for the California Sharp Cheddar.  The 1/2 pound burger was 2 bucks more.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: This was the usual Niman Ranch 80:20 Chuck. Super Duper demonstrated that it was possible to create a superlative product from Niman Ranch beef. The burgers were JUICY, BEEFY, tender, a little funky, and just plain delicious. This beef tasted nothing like the uninteresting burgers made from that same beef, which we had been bumping into all over town. Perhaps, it was because they took daily delivery of the beef, which was freshly ground by their supplier. Whatever the reason, the expression "bursting with flavor" came to mind.

The Seasoning: This looked like simple sea salt, which they hit both sides of the patty with. The juicy, flavorful beef combined with the coarse flakes of salt to create a perfectly savory combination.

The Sear: WOW! They got an intense, crunchy, flavorful sear onto the burger patty. This was accomplished by cooking it for one minute on each side and otherwise leaving it alone. This was the only properly seared burger that I was able to find in San Francisco.

The Preparation: Luis Flores, Managing Partner of Super Duper, took me on a tour of the small kitchen and showed me the magic in action. The Super Duper burger started its life as a loose ball of coarsely ground Chuck in a refrigerated drawer. Once ordered, the ball of Chuck was placed on an oddly cool flat top. The second the beef hit the high-tech griddle, the surface heated at a remarkable pace. Within seconds the beef was already sizzling. At that point, the ball was smashed to about a 1/3 inch thickness. It was seasoned. It was flipped at the one minute mark, seasoned again, and allowed to cook for an additional minute. While that was happening, a bun was placed in a commercial toaster (a carnival ride for baked goods). The toaster heated the bun throughout and did not require the bun be buttered. The cooked burger was placed on the bun, and the toppings were applied. The even heat within the bun and beef fused the cheese to the patty within a moment. The whole process took less than 3 minutes. This resulted in a juicy burger, which was not greasy. It also created a melt-in-the-mouth, tender bite. The burger came out at just a hair past Medium.

The Cheese: The California Cheddar perfectly complemented the dish. The Cheddar was creamy and just sharp enough to lend its voice to the strong notes of beef, salt, mineral, and funk from the beef. The texture of the cheese was enhanced by the fact that it been melted by the steam coming off both the burger and the bun.

The Bun: This was a bun from La Boulange, and it was specifically made for Super Duper. The perfectly toasted bun was just crisp enough on top, as well. This provided a nice shift in texture as one bit into it. The bun was mild in flavor and took nothing away from the burger. The bun was as moist as a fresh biscuit, but it was dense and firm. The bun was utterly splendid.

The Meat To Ratio: This was perfect, and the last bite was the same as the first.

The Fries: The thin fries came par-cooked and frozen. They were cooked in canola oil to a crisp golden brown and finished with the sea salt. The fries were splendid.

The Toppings: The vegetable toppings that accompanied the cheeseburger were of very high quality. I was impressed at how ripe and flavorful the tomato slices were. Mr. Flores checked in the produce himself.

The Confections: The strawberry shake and the chocolate dipped cone were both ridiculously good and wholesome tasting.

The Value: $5.00 for a spectacular tasting and perfectly prepared burger was tremendous value.

Honestly, I walked into Super Duper with nearly no appetite, and I walked out stuffed, because everything was so good.  Luis Flores shared with me that his philosophy behind Super Duper was to take great ingredients and prepare them simply. A cheeseburger is a remarkably simple thing to prepare well. Super Duper prepared the best burger that I have had in San Francisco. This burger should be on everyone's Top Ten list.  If you liked Roam Artisan Burgers, then you would LOVE Super Duper.

Burger Review : Super Duper made an amazing and honest burger for a great price. You need to try Super Duper.  You need to eat the best burger in San Francisco.

Rating...5 Bites

17AUG11--I took Fat Bruce Lee to the recently opened Super Duper location on Market Street, and it was every bit as good as the burger that I enjoyed several months ago. Super Duper sustained a line of about 7 customers the entire time that we were there, and they kept cranking out meals with a 10-minute wait time. The operation there was tight.

The chicken breast sandwich was also terrific. It was moist, and the chicken had been marinated in an Ancho Chile salsa for about 24 hours. The resulting flavor was complex and extremely satisfying.

Super Duper was also planning on taking over the Johnny Rockets space on Chestnut Street in Cow Hollow. Cow Hollow--congrats on getting the best burgers in the city of San Francisco.

Seriously, they could have named the place Super, Fantastic, Totally Freaking Amazing Burger, and it would not have been exaggeration.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Marlowe's -- San Francisco, CA

House-style with everything on it.
330 Townsend
San Francisco, 94107

Some days it could be just plain rough on the burger hunt. San Francisco was the sort of town that made it especially difficult. Finding a great burger in San Francisco was made especially challenging by the homogeneous ngredients--Acme Bakery buns, Niman Ranch beef, etc.  The one trend that we liked was the use of rice bran oil to cook fries--that worked. We set our sights on Marlowe's to discover if this was the prized burger in SF--it was not.

The Burger Breakdown...


The Beef: Pre-ground, 80:20, Niman Ranch Chuck was what Marlowe's used for their burgers. The beef tasted vaguely of aging, so the funk note was weak. The Chuck had a fine beefy flavor, and would have been better had they honored my request to cook it to Medium. The beef was juicy and not greasy. The beef was fine.

The Seasoning: The salty seasoning blend was applied both timidly and unevenly--some bites were a little salty, but most were bland.

The Sear: Meh. The grill marks were average, but contributed nothing in terms of additional flavor or texture to the bite.

The Preparation: The 6 ounce burger patty was undercooked. The beef was was not over-manipulated, and the bite was tender. All this in spite of the fine grind--that was a positive. Sadly, the bacon, which accompanied the dish was cold. That along with the undercooked beef and the stone cold bun left me wondering if the chef (Jennifer Puccio) truly gave a damn about repeat business.

The Cheese: The California Cheddar was blah. It was a rubbery, and it provided very little by way of flavor or texture to the dish. The dish did not benefit from the cheese.

The Bun: The brioche bun came from Acme Bread. The bun was toasted on the griddle, but it arrived cold. Additionally, the bun was spongy and past its prime (a little stale and dry). The bun was not OK.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The dryish bun won this round.

The Fries: The fries were fantastic. Peel off, house-cut, and twice fried in rice bran oil--damn right. The fries were crisp, golden, and delicious. Go for the fries and throw the burger away. The seasoning was dead on, too.

The Value: 12 bucks for an average burger was on the high side.

Marlowe's has been removed from the list of contenders for great cheeseburgers in San Francisco. The standard ingredients and careless preparation did not warrant further consideration.

Burger Review : A perfectly average and somewhat incompetently prepared burger was found at Marlowe's.

Rating...3 Bites

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spruce -- San Francisco, CA

3640 Sacramento St 
San Francisco, CA 94118
Tess of the B'urgervilles and I chose the highly revered and well-reviewed Spruce as our burger destination. Spruce really was a fantastic restaurant--the wait staff was incredibly knowledgeable--the service was impeccable--the appetizers (perfectly cooked asparagus and Gruyere Gougeres) were remarkable. Sadly, the burgers did not meet the level of excellence that we had experienced from Spruce in other areas.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Spruce sourced their Chuck from Niman Ranch, and this Chuck was ground in-house to a custom ratio of a whopping 30% fat. As you might imagine, this made the bite quite greasy. The finely ground beef provided nearly no beef flavors, and it was devoid of any funk from aging. The beef was very bland.

The Seasoning: The beef was thoroughly but unevenly seasoned. The edges of the patty were very salty, while the center was meekly seasoned. 

The Sear: The burgers were grilled, so a sear was only partially present. 

The Preparation: In spite of the heavy fat content, the burgers were overly chewy. This was due to the fine grind--too much surface area for the proteins to create new bonds. It is likely that the beef was also over-manipulated during the patty forming process.

The Cheese: The Vermont Cabot White Cheddar was competent and full of Cheddar flavors, but it was completely lost in the grease and salt from the patty.

The Bun: The hook at Spruce was the house-made English Muffin. While the bun was wonderfully toasted, it was saturated with butter. Simply holding the burger resulted in greasy fingers. What was worse was the overwhelming rush of butter at the end of the bite. This was discordant with the other flavors.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: This was perfect.

The Fries: The house-cut, peel off fries were wonderful. They were twice fried in rice bran oil. This made them perfectly crisp and golden brown. In addition, the oil gave the fries a distinctly and pleasantly nutty flavor. The fries were the best thing on the plate.

The Toppings: The sliced tomatoes were truly excellent, and the fried mushrooms were splendid.

The Value: The cheeseburgers at Spruce were twelve dollars each, but that was twelve dollars for a dish that we chose not to finish. The oiliness of the beef and bun was just too much, and we relented after eating half.

Spruce served up a burger that would have aced the SATs, but it would have been unable to write a decent essay. The burger was overwrought and over-thought. It was simply too rich to be enjoyable.

Burger Review : The Spruce burger can be safely avoided. Everything but the burger was far better.

Rating...2 Bites

Fish & Farm -- San Francisco, CA

339 Taylor St
San Francisco, CA 94102

Fat Bruce Lee and I had just touched down in San Francisco, and our first stop was Fish & Farm on Taylor. Fish & Farm was attached to the Mark Twain Hotel. Fish & Farm's goal was to serve food made with ingredients sourced from less than 100 miles away. The beef was sourced from Niman Ranch, and this did not bode well--we've had plenty of Niman Ranch beef in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. This was a case of being pleasantly surprised.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef was pre-ground Chuck. Since the Niman Ranch product didn't make a LONG trip to the kitchen, the beef was far, far better than what we had tried before. Typically, Niman Ranch has been insipid. In this case, the Chuck was pretty beefy in flavor. The burgers were not greasy, but they also leaned towards dryness. In fairness we didn't get them with the various toppings, which would have lent additional moisture. The beef did have a nice note of aged funk to it, but it lacked the complexity of a perfect burger. This burger would have benefited from Rib or Ribeye meat being cut into the blend.

The Seasoning: Yes!  The seasoning was great.  They applied a heavy dusting of a salt and pepper blend, which really punched up the flavors.

The Sear: The sear was particularly impressive on the burger at Fish & Farm. This was accomplished on a gas-fired grill, which went to show what could be possible when a competent chef runs the kitchen. The sear was crunchy, dark, and deep.

The Preparation: The beef was ground to medium-fine, and it was cooked to a perfect Medium. The (7 ounce) patties were formed firmly enough to hold the beef together but not so much that they became chewy. The preparation was spot on.

The Cheese: The White Cheddar was sourced from Cowgirl Creamery. The Cheddar was genius. It resembled Gruyere in its creaminess and nuttiness. In addition to that, it brought the salt and iron notes that are customary in good Cheddar to the party. The cheese did tend to fill in where the beef was lacking, and it made for a solid flavor profile.

The Bun: This was sourced from Acme Bakery, and it was nearly perfect. The kitchen lacked a griddle, so the bun was grilled--top and bottom. This resulted in a little blackening of the top, and that gave us a slight and unpleasant scorched taste of bitter carbon at the front of the bite. The bun was wonderfully crunchy, and this provided a nice contrast to the chewy interior.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: Perfect. Fish & Farm sourced the bun perfectly and sized the burger accordingly.

The Fries: The fries were peel-off, fresh, par-cooked, and a cooked to a light golden color. They could have been cooked about 30 seconds longer, because they did not maintain their crispness as the meal progressed.. That said, the seasoning was great. The salt was malt salt, and it was finely ground--this was also true for the pepper, which was a component of the seasoning blend. This was similar to the seasoning on the burgers, so the pepper theme carried through the meal. The fries came with an excellent barbecue sauce, which I was tempted to drink as a shot.

The Toppings: The Secret Sauce was a blend of mayo, ketchup, brandy, and green pepper corns. This was like In-N-Out sauce for grown-ups. The house-made pickles were vile, however. The cornichon pickles were vaguely peppery, very mild, and flabby. This was the only component of the meal, which fell completely flat.

The Value: This was a $14 burger, and it was darn good--it wasn't excellent. The value was fair.

We have been let down tremendously by other cheeseburgers in San Francisco, so the burger at Fish & Farm was a welcome change. This was a burger, which flirted with excellence. The ingredients and the execution would have benefited from a few tweaks, but it was a fine burger.

Burger Review : Close to excellent.

Rating...4 Bites

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Islands -- Los Angeles (Rancho Park), CA

10948 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

(310) 474-1144

We had just finished watching an early showing of Hop--the best live action/CGI Easter Bunny film ever--and it was Happy Meal's turn to choose. He went with Islands, because he liked the chicken strips there--I should have followed his lead. Instead, I ordered the Kevorkian (Assisted Suicide) burger. On the menu, this was known as the Big Wave w/Cheese. It was the basic cheeseburger--it was $9.69, and it weighed in at 1,230 calories.  I vowed to only eat half, and Islands made that decision easy by not serving up a n unpleasantly greasy burger. 

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  This was some greasy Chuck. It was mildly beefy with a faint taste of aging.  Mostly it was brutally greasy--this gave it a creamy texture, which was unwelcome when combined with the other textures in the dish.  The beef was juicy, but the grease overwhelmed that.

The Seasoning: Islands barely dusted any seasoning on the insipid patty.

The Sear: The sear looked to be phenomenal on the half of the patty that was covered in cheese, but the side to which I had access was not seared--just wet and gray.

The Preparation: The patties were cooked to a perfect Medium on a large, gas-fired griddle. The beef was formed into uniform, thin 7 ounce patties. The grind was medium. Aside from delivering half of a sear, the preparation was adequate.

The Cheese: This was the highlight of the dish. The thick slice of wonderfully melted American cheese provided the only true goodness in the dish. The cheese was gooey, salty, and flavorful. It dominated the flavor of the weak beef.

The Bun: The standard hamburger bun was ridiculously greasy. They brushed a copious amount of butter onto the top and bottom bun prior to griddle toasting. The result was a mouthful of buttery grease. It was very unpleasant.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: This was fine. It just did not matter.

The Fries: The fries were nicely cooked. They were crisp, golden, and par-cooked. The oil was fresh, and the fries retained their crispness as they cooled. However, they received no seasoning, so they were boring.
Note the depth of butter on the bottom bun.

The Value: 10 bucks for a bland, greasy cheeseburger with bland fries was a very poor deal.

The tagline on the Islands marquee was "Fine Burgers and Drinks".  I assure you, the burgers were pretty freaking far from fine. This is a burger to be avoided. A single burger came in at well over a thousand calories, and most of those calories were from fat.

Burger Review : Pretty of the greasiest things that I have ever tried. 50% of it left me with stomach pangs. The chicken strips were OK.

Rating...1 Bite

Friday, April 8, 2011

Will Five Guys overtake In-N-Out?

Will Five Guys overtake In-N-Out?

I found this excerpt from the LA Times article to be particularly telling:

...In-N-Out Executive Vice President Carl Van Fleet said the company was not planning to make changes to meet the Five Guys expansion.

"We've been focusing on the same thing for 62 years," Van Fleet said. "Freshness, quality and cleanliness in our restaurants. We're just going to continue doing what we do."...

I am looking forward to really good burger in Culver City.  Five Guys will be opening up a location in the Westfield Culver City in April of 2011.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Golden State Cafe -- Los Angeles, CA

426 N Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 60306

It had been about a year since the last visit to The Golden State Cafe. On this occasion, Fat Bruce Lee and I brought 3 co-workers to join the fun. I am pleased to announce that the burger was better than the first time that I had sampled it.

Co-owner Jason Bernstein was on hand to answer questions and keep a lid on things. It was a real pleasure speaking with someone as knowledgeable about burgers as Jason. He truly understood the importance of starting with the best possible ingredients and letting those ingredients do the work. Price...10 bucks for a burger and fries. Our food was at the table within about 10 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: They took delivery of Harris Ranch beef from Huntington Meats once or twice a day. The custom beef blend was ground to medium at Huntington Meats, which was about a block away. I observed the kitchen staff form the patties by hand, and I was impressed by the bright redness (freshness) of the product. The Golden State Cafe used a blend of Chuck, Rib-eye, and Rib-eye fat. The beef was wet aged, so it was a little light on the funk. What it was strong on was beef, blood, and mineral notes. The beef was delicious and very satisfying. While the fat content was right around 80%, what we really noticed was the juiciness of the burgers.

The Seasoning: The seasoning was dead on. They hit the patties with a generous amount of something salty, and that savoriness carried through the entire bite. It complemented the beef perfectly.

The Sear: This was the weak point of the burger. It was delicious, but I really wanted a crunchy sear to deliver a little extra flavor and texture. The lack of sear did not detract from the dish. The burger was damn good without it.

The Preparation: The patties were loosely formed by hand and allowed to rest for a few hours, which allowed the proteins to get together just enough to provide a firm bite. The patties were grilled on a moderately hot, gas grill to a very juicy Med-Rare. Note: Med-Rare was how they prefer to serve cheeseburgers at The Golden State Cafe, and that was just right.

The Cheese: This was a salty Fiscalini Farms White Cheddar. It was freshly sliced as we walked in. The cheese provided just a little umami and some additional savory notes to the dish.

The Bun: They sourced the sweet, buttery brioche buns from Rockenwagner. This bun was excellent. It was just sweet enough to balance out the saltiness of the dish, and just firm enough to save our fingers from being drenched in burger juice. The buns were clearly very fresh, and they were toasted lightly on the griddle adjacent to the small grill.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: Dead on.

The Fries: The fries were like a thicker version of In-N-Out fries. They did not appear to be par-cooked, so while they were very flavorful, they were not particularly crisp or browned. Still they were nicely seasoned and quite good.

The Value: 10 bucks for a nearly perfect burger seemed perfectly reasonable.

The Golden State Cafe served up a very nearly perfect burger. It was a hit with 5 out of 5 of our dining party.  I asked around the table, and everyone agreed that they would recommend this burger to their friends.

Burger Review : A nearly perfect cheeseburger.

Rating...4.5 Bites...that rounds to 5 Bites.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Macy's Signature Kitchen / Marc Burger -- Costa Mesa, CA

Macy's Home Store
3333 Bear Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Happy Meal and I were still a little gun shy about eating pricey burgers by well-regarded chefs at upscale Orange County malls after our DG Burger experience. Still, Marc Burger (part of Macy's Signature Kitchen) at the South Coast Mall was both Zagat and Gayot rated.  Besides, the signage promised "mouth watering bursts of flavor". Chef Marcus Samuelsson put his name on this joint and another one at a Macy's in Chicago. He had already enjoyed success in NYC with Aquavit, Red Rooster, and Ringo (Japanese-influenced American food).

It would have been super cool had Chef Samuelsson taken an active interest in the establishment that he lent his name to in Orange County, CA, because this joint was a disaster. Chefs Cat Cora and Nancy Silverton (the other two contributors to Macy's Signature Kitchen) would do well to look in and make certain that their personal brands are not being diluted by the culinary output of this establishment.

Macy's Signature Kitchen was 1/3 Marc Burger. It should have been a no-brainer that the staff knew what cut of beef was in their burgers. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to glean this minor detail, the manager was kind enough to bring out one of the boxes of 80:20, pre-formed patties from Gelsinger's Meats. The box did not reveal the cut of the beef either. It was safe to assume that this was Chuck. This truly was our queue to leave, and go somewhere else. We had walked past 4 places that also served burgers in this mall on our way to Marc Burger. Curiosity and stubbornness got the best of me, and we stayed the course. We ordered a couple of $8.95 cheeseburgers with fries and a couple of drinks. Yep, $8.95 for pre-formed patties from a cardboard box--and they charged that with a straight face. Total: $23.38 for the two of us.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  The beef was greasy not juicy. Upon taking the first bite, clear liquid fat dripped over my fingers. The salt on the patty was pretty overwhelming, but it was still apparent that the beef was quite bland. It was also on the chewy side. There was no trace of aging in the bite. The claims on the website and signage was that we could expect 100% grass fed, all natural, Angus beef from local, artisinal farms and ranches. That sounded great--it was not reflected in the food.

Untoasted bottom bun
The Seasoning: The guy at the grill must have assumed that we were sodium deficient, because he was heavy-handed with the salt dredge. That was the sole seasoning I could taste, and there was way too much of it.

The Sear: They got a decent grilled sear on the fatty beef...on the first attempt.  The second time, my burger was cooked at too high of a temperature, and the patty contracted before the sear could properly develop.

The Preparation: The beef was ground to a little finer than medium and mechanically formed into thinnish, uniform (5-6) ounce patties. This handling resulted in a chewy mouth feel. Since it arrived in a box, it caused me to wonder if it had been frozen and for how long. It certainly had the taste and feel of previously frozen ground beef. The patties were grilled on a very hot gas grill. The flames, which burned a hint of char onto the patty flared up around the patties as they cooked. This would have been fine had there been flavors other than salt in the dish. The burgers were cooked to the desired temps. Medium for Happy Meal, and Med-Rare for me. I would have gone with Medium, but I was persuaded by the opinion on the nice lady at the cash register to order mine Med-Rare. She indicated that, in her estimation, the burgers lost flavor at hotter degrees of cooking. This should have raised flag, but I was already committed to stay the course.

The stale bun is very apparent in the cross section.
The Cheese: We had a choice of cheeses, and we went with the White Cheddar. The Cheddar was almost good. It took several seconds to develop flavor on the palate, because it was both oily and on the bland side. Still, the cheese was better than the beef.

The Bun: This was where the dish went from boring to insulting. The buns were hard, stale, and barely toasted. I sent mine back, but Happy Meal was very hungry, so he sort of gnawed on his. One can note the degree of staleness in the below photo...the upper 2/3rds of the top bun did not compress as I sawed through it.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The stale bun clearly overwhelmed the greasy beef.

The Fries: The fries were really darn good on the first attempt. They were crisp, perfectly seasoned, and golden brown. On the second attempt, the fries were far less crisp, pallid, and barely seasoned.  The fries were a crap shoot.

The Toppings: The tomatoes were under-ripe and had no business being served...if they couldn't find ripe tomatoes, they shouldn't have been serving tomatoes.  The burgers came with a small serving of homemade pickles...the claim was that the pickles were the Chef's Swedish grandmother’s recipe (isn't that sweet?). His Swedish grandmother must have been Japanese, because the sickly sweet pickles were identical in texture and flavor to sunomono. There is a reason that sunomono is not served on top of savory sushi would be jarring and awful.That would have been the outcome had we placed these flimsy, sugary pickles on our burgers. Maybe these pickles played well at Ringo in NYC. On a positive note, the spicy ketchup was pretty fantastic.
Second try: note the over-cooked burger and the undercooked fries

The Value: WEAK

They did re-fire my burger.  The version with a fresher bun came back without cheese, and on this attempt there were deep creases in the patty, and it was bowed from the intense heat of a too hot grill. The creases demonstrated that the burger had been pressed on the grill to speed the cooking (press out any juices). The bun felt fine, though. By that point, I was in no mood for a third try at an over-priced, pre-formed, oily, Chuck disc/  Besides, Happy Meal was already itching to leave since he already ate a fistful of fries and as much of his burger that he could tolerate. Happy Meal skipped breakfast, and he did not get through more than a 1/3 of his cheeseburger. In the face of this nonsense, the manager was a champ. She comped the meal upon discovering what we were trying to choke down. She noted some additional issues, which she wanted to address with the kitchen. Keep in mind that we were the only customers, and we arrived at 11:30 AM. This was not due to the kitchen being "in the weeds." This was just alarming sloppy. Looking back, it was not surprising that we were the only people foolish enough to attempt a meal at Macy's Signature Kitchen.

"...mouth watering bursts of flavor..." No, dry, stale, salty, chewy, and greasy did not combine to become that.

Burger Review : This burger was prepared like mystery meat at a mall, and this burger tasted like mystery meat at a mall. Never again. Save your money, and go anywhere else.

Rating...2 Bites

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