Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tom's Super Burger -- Los Angeles, CA

1710 S Robertson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

I had driven past Tom's Super Burger on a number of occasions, and it was simply impossible to pass up a burger place with the word "super" in its name for even one more day. Yelpers were generous with praise, so the siren's call was nearly deafening. Fat Bruce Lee, Chi Burger, Special Guest, and myself piled into Fat Bruce Lee's ride and made the short trip to Tom's Super Burger. The sign indicated that the name may have really been Tom's Super Burger II, but I couldn't find any reference to the original. Parking was free in the small strip mall, which also housed a barber shop, a defunct florist, a health food store, and a dry cleaner. Chi Burger was delighted that the restaurant also served teriyaki chicken over rice, and he did his thing. The rest of us dutifully ordered an assortment of cheeseburgers. The patties were nearly thin enough to read through, so I ordered a Double Cheeseburger combo ($6.59 before tax). Our meals were ready within 5 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The thin beef patties had arrived at Tom's Super Burger pre-formed and frozen. Each patty weighed in at about 3.5 ounces, and the fat content was around 20%. This was generic burger meat, so it was Chuck. The patties were moderately beefy. They were salty, but I did not witness salt being applied as the burgers cooked, so I assumed that this was done well in advance. The burgers were also a little chewy. They somehow managed to avoid dryness. There was no trace of aging, but the burger meat did pick up a whiff of carbon from the grill flare-ups. The beef was average.

The Seasoning: I'm not sure where it came from, but the burgers were salty. This was not overbearing--it was a level comparable to what one tastes at In 'n' Out.

The Sear: The sear was nominal. The burgers lost a lot of fat on the grill, and they were thin enough that a good sear would have been nearly impossible to develop without using a flat-top or a broiler.

The Preparation: The burgers were cooked to Well-Done on a smoky gas grill. The grill was in a perpetual state of untended flare-up, but somehow the burgers were not ruined. The burger meat was finely ground. There was little going on by way of preparation at Tom's Super Burger. This was a simple burger joint, which assembled simple burgers.

The Cheese: My Double Cheeseburger came with two slices of nicely melted American cheese. The cheese was satisfying and familiar. It added just the right amount of moisture to the dish.

The Bun: Tom's Super Burger served the cheeseburger on a big, flat, floppy, seeded, generic, white burger bun. The bun was moist, fresh, barely toasted, and neutral. The bun was perfectly adequate.

The Meat To Bun Ratio:  Flawless.

The Fries and Rings: The fries at Tom's Super Burger were far from super. The fries were peel-off, nicely seasoned, but under-cooked. The thickish fries ended up being mealy and bland. The onion rings were far crisper. Sadly, the staff put the HOT rings on a styrofoam plate, and this melted the plate, leaving me to wonder about the safety of eating the rings.  OK, they were delicious and sweet.

The Toppings: I ordered my cheeseburger plain, but the Iceberg lettuce was shredded, and I didn't see any tomatoes.

The Value: All in, my Double Cheeseburger Combo came to $7.19 with tax. That was a little steep for an average burger, sub-par fries, and a soft drink, but it was not egregious. Chi Burger ordered a little of everything, and his bill was $11.20. This caused us to speculate that he had spent more than any other customer had in the history of Tom's Super Burger.

There was nothing super about Tom's Super Burger. It was OK. The burgers were average and quite pleasant.

Burger Review : An entirely edible and average burger.

Rating...3 Bites

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fraiche -- Culver City, CA

9411 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 

I had a Groupon for Fraiche, and it was burning a hole in my pocket. Fat Bruce Lee, Chi Burger, and I noted that Fraiche had a location near our world headquarters, AND there was a burger on the menu.  Sold!  We found free parking at the public garage about 1/2 block from the restaurant. In spite of it being a relatively light day in terms of business (25% full), the service was very spotty and slow. We ordered three of the the Truffle Burgers ($14 each), and we settled in for a 15-minute wait.

The Burger Breakdown:

The Beef: The beef blend in the burgers at Fraiche was composed of Chuck and Short Rib. The Short Rib contributed a firm, steak-like texture along with some aged funk. The Chuck lent beefiness to the flavor profile. The beef was loosely packed, and it seemed to be relatively lean. The low fat content coupled with some over-cooking on the edges lent a dry and crumbly texture to the outer third of the burger patty. The interior was juicy and firm. The beef was flavorful, but the over-cooking created an off texture for too much of the dish.

The Sear: The sear was phenomenal. It was positively crunchy! This was accomplished by cooking the burgers on a very hot flat-top.

The Seasoning: The burger patties at Fraiche were lightly salted while on the griddle. The seasoning was perfect when coupled with the strongly-flavored cheese.

The Preparation: We were unable to learn anything about the preparation of the beef or fries. No one could tell us much about the food at Fraiche. The burger beef was loosely packed into irregular patties, and those patties were cooked on a mightily hot flat-top. The beef tasted like the Chuck was fresh, and the Short Rib had been dry-aged. It seemed safe to assume that the beef was not ground in-house. The strong sear came at the cost of over-cooking the edges of the burger patties.

The Cheese: The cheese, which topped the burgers at Fraiche, was a Boschetto. Boschetto is a cheese made from sheep and cow milk with bits of white truffle. The semi-soft cheese was tender, sharp, tangy, and buttery. A little Boschetto went a long way, and it was superb on this burger. The truffle flavor was mild, and that was fine.

The Bun: Sadly, the bun was a poor match for the beef in terms of sheer size. The voluminous brioche was  fresh, sweet, and springy. Due to its large size in comparison to the 8-ounce beef patty, the brioche served to dry out the bite. Additionally, there were a fair amount of beefless bites.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The bun was way too much for the over-cooked burger patty.

The Fries: The peel-on fries were properly browned and crisp. The oil was the star of the show, a bad way. The fries were greasy and they tasted of burnt/stale oil. Fat Bruce Lee tasted one and relented. Also, the fries came out completely unseasoned.

The Toppings: The garlic aoili was delicate and complemented the strongly-flavored carmelized onion fondue perfectly. The burgers at Fraiche were also accompanied by an arugula salad. The arugula was wonderfully fresh and nutty.

The Value: The Truffle Burger at Fraiche was $14. The beef and cheese were quite good. The bun and fries were not. The value at Fraiche was sub-par considering the meal as a whole.

Fraiche seemed like it needed to work out some kinks in terms of service and ingredients. It was the best burger that we had reviewed in Culver City, CA. Its neighbors were Ford's Filling Station and Rush Street, both of which served non-excellent burgers.

Rating...3 Bites  This would have been 4 Bites had it not been for the bun, fries, and crumbly beef. However, the flavors of the beef and cheese were terrific.

Racks and Tails -- Fort Myers, FL

4451 Veronica Shoemaker Blvd
Fort Myers, FL 33916

Between working 16 hours per day on an oil rig, and training for three triathlons in the next month, I tend to work up an appetite. So, I felt a burger lunch was in order. Racks and Tails, a barbecue joint popular among my co-workers, was the chosen destination. After enjoying several of their barbecue offerings -- the pulled pork, brisket, and chicken were all quite delicious -- I wagered that Racks and Tails would also make a good burger. I am happy to report I was not wrong in my initial assessment.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: It would have been a fool's errand to inquire about the source of the beef, or the cuts used in the burgers. This was an establishment built on slinging barbecue and beer, not catering to burgerphiles. So we'll take their menu's word for it: "hand-formed, fresh ground Angus beef." Do not be deterred from the rather generic description, gentle reader. This was a half-pound patty of pretty flavorful beef, probably Chuck, Brisket, or some combination of the two. It had strong iron notes with a pleasant, beefy finish. The patty was a medium grind, and the burger was fairly tightly packed. This provided the right amount of chewy texture to the meat. It was a very tasty piece of beef.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the patty was hit with generous amounts of salt and pepper. This worked well with the beef and the open-flame grill.

The Sear: Racks and Tails really nailed the sear, in spite of the fact that their burgers were grilled and not griddle-cooked. Strong grill marks were present on the patty, and the remainder of the patty's exterior was beautiful in color, taste, and texture.

The Preparation: I ordered the burger Medium, and it came out just right. When cooking over open flame, flare-ups are your greatest enemy. There was no evidence of the dried out portions of meat, which pointed to a high level of attention being paid at the grill.

The Cheese: I ordered American cheese. I got American cheese. It was fine.

The Bun: The bun was a standard, sesame-seeded bun, common to any food service provider. It was lightly grilled and dense enough to hold up well to the rather hefty patty. My lone criticism was that the bun could have stood up a little better to the moisture (perhaps a little heavier toasting would have done the trick), but it certainly was not enough to detract from the meal.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: It was good. The bun was a little bigger than the patty but only by enough to keep the condiments from falling out, but not so large as to leave me with a large serving of meatless bread to finish.

The Fries: The fries were OK. Thin-cut, and previously frozen-- they could have been a little crisper.

The Value: I had a half-pound burger, fries, and a soft drink for around 10 bucks, plus tip. Not an outstanding value, but good enough for the burger I got out of the deal.

Burger Review: Racks and Tails proved that barbecue wasn't the only thing they did well. It was a very good burger, which I have had again since doing this review.

Rating: 4 Bites

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bachi Burger -- Las Vegas, NV

470 E Windmill Ln
Ste 100

Las Vegas, NV 89123


I finally had an opportunity to try the much-lauded Bachi Burger. The restaurant had been garnering Top Ten List spots and other awards for a few years, and I was eagerly looking forward to having a fantastic burger. Accordingly, I got together 4 friends, and we hungrily descended on Bachi Burger with high expectations.

There was no wait at 6:00 PM on that Thursday evening, and there was ample parking in the lot of the out-of -the-way strip mall, which housed Bachi Burger. I did find it surprising that the staff at Bachi Burger, in spite of the name of the place, knew very little about the burgers themselves. Most of my questions were met with puzzled looks. I was finally handed the chef's card, but I had left several messages for the chef over the past several weeks, and I had not heard back. I didn't like my chances any better of getting a call back after visiting the establishment. After this scathing review, the likelihood was further diminished.

We ordered 4 various beef burgers and one veggie burger. I ordered the simplest burger possible. The menu listed this as the BBQ Bachi Burger 7 oz Angus Beef. Others were more adventurous and ordered the Wagyu Patty and the Ronin. Our burgers arrived in about 20 minutes, and we snacked on an assortment of pickled vegetables while we eagerly awaited our burgers. The pickle assortment ($3.00) was inventive, fresh, and flavorful. The colors were a treat, as well. If only the burgers and fries had been as good as the pickled vegetables.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Here is where the disappointing burger experience began. I asked several of the staffers what cuts of beef were in the standard burger, but no one could tell me anything that wasn't printed on the menu. The manager was finally called over, and he informed me that the burgers were  made of Rib Eye and Rib Eye only. He indicated that the beef was ground in-house, and that the various types of beef were sourced from a variety of vendors. Beyond that, details were not forthcoming. The fat content was a mystery, so I will guess that it was about 20%. Expecting a flavorful and firm-textured Rib Eye, I ordered my burger Med-Rare as did the rest of the table.

The beef was finely ground, mushy, and bland. The beef (both standard burger and Wagyu) was completely lacking in terms of any sort of beef, steak, mineral, blood, or other flavors generally associated with....quality beef. There was a mild note of aging, but other than that, the burger meat was devoid of flavor. The Med-Rare requests were ignored, and the burgers were delivered pretty darn Rare. Rare Rib Eye should have delivered some flavor, but instead we got nothing. The texture was downright off-putting. It was warm, wet, raw, tastless beef in baby food form. I didn't notice a single newborn or geriatric in the restaurant, so the texture of the beef seemed to serve no functional purpose.

The Seasoning: My burger was brushed with a mild and sweet BBQ sauce. The sweet sauce on the insipid beef was a dull combination.

The Sear: Don't let the photos fool you--the dark coloration of the burger patty was from the BBQ sauce. The sear was barely present in the form of thin grill marks. Not that it mattered. Well-seared mush would have tasted the same as unseared mush.

The Preparation: The person who was in charge of grinding the beef managed to destroy said beef. The beef was ground to the point of utterly lacking texture. The burgers were grilled to a bloody Rare on gas-fired grill. Perhaps the beef was simply an insipid Chuck and not Rib Eye. Perhaps the beef was pre-ground and shipped frozen by the purveyor. Perhaps the beef was ground several days in advance. Regardless, something went terribly wrong, and the burgers were unpleasant in  terms of texture, and the burgers were notably lacking int the flavor department.

The Cheese: I ordered my $7.50 burger with the $2 Pleasant Ridge Reserve American Cheese. I thought that I would be getting a fancy American-style cheese. I asked my server, "Do you have American cheese?" He pointed out the Pleasant Ridge offering. Sadly, what actually arrived on my burger was a double slice of an aged white cheese. The cheese tasted like a Swiss/Gruyere hybrid. It was delicious...on its own. This cheese delivered  savory flavors in the form of tiny salt crystals in its flesh. It also had notes of umami and iron. Sadly, this was not a cheese that melted well in the hands of the kitchen staff at Bachi Burger. Rather than melting, the firm, aged cheese was warmed just to the point that it sweated out copious amounts of oil. The oil, which the cheese exuded, coated the lips in an unpleasant way. The resultant texture of the cheese was leathery. That tough texture was even more jarring when it was mixed into the pablum that was my burger patty.

The Bun: The bun was terrific. It was a Hawaiian-style sweet bun. It compressed nicely, and its sweetness complemented the BBQ sauce on my burger. The source?  That was also mystery to the front-of-house staff. The sugary bun retained its crispness from the toasting very impressively. The texture was wonderful. The bun was sweet and moist. It contained the juices of the burger and toppings with ease.

Note the unmelted, stiff cheese on the raw burger
The Fries: We ordered several types of fries, and the potato varieties were utterly bland, uninteresting, and quite greasy. We were told that the fries were cut in-house. Maybe they were, but I was more curious how Bachi Burger managed to remove the flavor. The fries lacked any real potato character. They were devoid of the earthy notes that would have reminded one that they were consuming a tuber harvested from the soil. The fries were cooked to a reasonable, but pale, crisp finish in what was described as "vegetable oil." The various types of fries that we ordered were finished in a variety of interesting seasonings. The seasonings were competent, but the fries themselves were bland to the point of being inedible. The sweet potato fries were fine. Nothing to write home about, but they were far superior to their bland, potato-based cousins.

The Toppings: The toppings on the various burgers were inventive and strongly flavored. However, these only served to mask the bland beef upon which they were sitting.

The Value: The value was impressively weak at Bachi Burger. The quality of the beef and fries was shameful in terms of flavor.

Many will disagree with this review, based upon the press that Bachi Burger has garnered. Nonetheless, I can attest to the fact that 4 men walked in hungry, and 4 men walked out hungry. Not one of us ate more than 50% of our bland, mushy burgers. Our fries were barely touched. The front-of-house staff failed to notice our grim dissatisfaction and our half-eaten burgers. Standards were exceedingly low at Bachi Burger. In fairness, the member of our party that ordered the veggie burger was happy with her meal.

Burger Review : Bachi Burger delivered impressively bland burgers and fries with interesting and strongly flavored toppings. It was all flash and no fundamentals. This was all Dennis Rodman tats, garb, and 'tude with no actual basketball skills. The staff was clueless (both front and back of house).

Rating...2 Bites 

LBS: A Burger Joint -- Las Vegas, NV

Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa
11011 Charleston Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89135

LBS: A Burger Joint at the Red Rock Casino was on the list of Las Vegas burgers that I wanted to try. Granted, LBS was also a Chef Anthony Meidenbauer creation. Holsteins was the other Meidenbauer burger in Las Vegas, which I had previously reviewed. Sadly, at Holsteins, quality was spotty. Still, LBS was close to my hotel, and I wanted to taste a burger from the original spot. Secure in the knowledge that LBS had been in operation since September of  2008, I guessed that any quality control issues would have been addressed long ago.

What struck me, immediately, was the fact that the menu at LBS was a near duplicate of the menu at Holsteins. The LBS menu was less comprehensive, but I recognized nearly every item on that smaller menu from its sister restaurant at The Cosmopolitan.

I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Tim Kocher. The young chef was Paul Smith's College trained, and he had a genuine passion for his craft and the burgers that he was creating at LBS. I ordered the Plain Jane burger with American cheese, and settled in for 10-minute wait.

The LBS Extreme Burger
While I was awaiting my humble single burger patty, a small group arrived and ordered two of the LBS Extreme Burgers. Each started with a daunting 6 burger patties (3 pounds), which were interspersed with American cheese, bacon, and a Ghost Chili (Indian Bhut Jolokia peppers) sauce. The peppers were hot enough, that I was denied my request to taste the sauce, since a waiver was required...gulp. Beyond that, the burgers were topped with some vegetation...the assembled burgers each came in at just over 14 inches tall. They were accompanied by a full pound of fries. If a diner was able to clean their plate within 60 minutes, the meal was free at LBS. Otherwise, it came with a price tag of about 30 bucks. Both challengers that I encountered on the day of this review were well on their way to paying for their burgers. The record for downing the 4 pounds of chow that comprised the LBS Extreme Burger Challenge was just under 14 minutes. The same man that performed that feat also took down the ridiculous 6-pound burger with a pound of fries at LBS in 34 minutes. That burger was known as The Grave Digger.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef at LBS came from Premier Meat Company. My burger was made from a pre-ground, custom blend  of Chuck, Rib Eye, and Strip. The fat content was kept down to 20%.  About 15% of the beef content was dry-aged, and the rest was a secret. The buger blend at LBS and, presumably Holsteins, was bespoke. Premiere Meat Company was not permitted to provide the same blend to other restaurants. The patties were delivered pre-formed.

The beef was quite good. The Chuck delivered strong and sustained beef notes. The Brisket provided the perfect, long-grained mouth feel, and the Rib Eye delivered  mineral notes and steak texture to round out the bite. I assumed that the Reb Eye component was dry aged. The dry aging brought just the right amount of mild funk to the palate. The burgers were toothsome and juicy. No greasiness was noted. The beef was spot on.

The Seasoning: The blend was unseasoned, but the flat surfaces of the burger patties at LBS were perfectly seasoned as they cooked. The salt and pepper served to substantially enhance the beefiness already present in the juicy burgers.

The Sear: The sear on the unevenly formed patties was predictably uneven, but it was highly satisfying in the spots where it had fully developed. A slightly hotter flat-top would have created a perfect sear, but this one was in the right neighborhood.

The Preparation: The cheeseburger at LBS just came together splendidly, and I attributed most of this to good preparation. All of the components of the burger blended seamlessly in the bite with no jarring exceptions. All of the ingredients were solid and solidly prepared. The beef was ground to a medium coarse, and it was cooked on the griddle/flat-top a little past the Med-Rare, which I had requested. This was a fine trade off. The sear was better developed, and more of the colagen from the Chuck melted to generate additional beef flavors.

The Cheese: There were numerous choices at LBS, but I opted for the American cheese on my Plain Jane burger. Chef Kocher must have read my mind when he applied two slices to my burger. The cheese was thick, gooey, and enormously satisfying. This burger was difficult to put down. The melted American cheese bridged the gap between bun and beef with savory creaminess. 

The Bun: Like Holsteins, LBS also used the Bon Breads products. The brioche-style bun was fresh, moist, springy, and mildly sweet. It served as an ideal foil to the firm, savory beef. The bun was nicely toasted around the edges to deliver some crunch.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was just right.

The Sides: The Lamb Wesson fries were skinny cut and cooked in a properly hot canola oil. This resulted in fries, which were golden and crisp. The fries arrived par-cooked and frozen, and the par-cooking yielded a fry, which was creamy in the center. The fries were also brined, so they were satisfyingly salty throughout. Like Holsteins, LBS battered the fries prior to cooking them. As a result the fries were especially crisp, and they held the seasoning effectively.  I also sampled the Fried Cheese Curds. These were a nice twist on fried cheese. The cheese curds had a firm and springy texture. The frying process served to exctract a little of their moisture and enhance their alreadly hearty texture. The Fried Cheese Curds were delicious.

The Toppings: The Iceberg lettuce and tomato slices were both wonderfully fresh and flavorful.

The Shakes: I sampled the Chunky Monkey shake, and it was a lot like a banana split in a glass. That is to say, it was completely decadent and delicious.

Fried Cheese Curds
The Value. The Plain Jane burger with fries was about $10. This was a 1/2 pound burger with a generous portion of fries, and everything on the plate was of high quality. The burger value at LBS was STRONG.

LBS served up a solid, well-prepared, high-quality burger. It didn't have much of a wow factor, but it was highly satisfying, and it just felt good to eat it. It was a very comforting burger.

Burger Review : LBS was worth the 10-mile trek from the strip. It was a strong burger at a strong value.

Rating...4 Bites

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lemon Moon -- Los Angeles, CA

12200 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Chi Burger discovered that Lemon Moon had received a nice review in the LA Weekly. That particular review noted that Lemon Moon's Prime Burger was one of the best in LA. We wheedled Fat Bruce Lee into abandoning his family so that he could join us for lunch. Lemon Moon was a combination of the translated surnames of the chefs behind the restaurant, Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta.

This from the Lemon Moon website:  Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta, the chef team who opened JiRaffe in Santa Monica (Citrin left after a few years to open Melisse), are joining forces again. Lemon Moon Cafe, due in March, will be an upscale take-out-heavy spot geared to the West L.A. office crowd. All of this spoke to the intent of a restaurant, which was about to open. This was still on the site even though the establishment had been operating for several years. I suppose this lack of attention to detail should have raised a flag.

The metered street parking was convenient, and the crowd was light when we arrived at noon. We ordered and paid at the counter and settled in to wait for about 10 minutes for our burgers.....sort of. I requested a Medium burger with American cheese.
  • First Try: Well-Done with Cheddar. When I returned this burger, I was informed that there was no American cheese....sigh. I had to wonder if the person at the counter even listened to my order. I tasted a bit of the Cheddar before I returned the burger, and it was oily and bland. I asked them to try again but with the Gruyere.
  • Second Try: Cheddar again. I returned this burger with some exasperation.
  • Third Try: Med-Rare (I ordered Medium), but at least it had the Gruyere...close enough, since my companions were nearly done with their meals. In retrospect, I should have given up on the first try. Some things are not worth trying too hard on. The cheeseburger at Lemon Moon was not worth the effort.
The Burger Breakdown...
The Beef: The wet-aged Chuck was a bit of a disaster. The $12 burger weighed in at about 5.5 ounces, so it was a miserly portion of beef. That was a bit of a blessing, however. The wet-aged Chuck arrived pre-ground, and it was aged to the point of passing funky and well into the territory that I defined as skanky. It was unpleasantly gamey, and that gaminess lingered on the palate long after I departed Lemon Moon. Otherwise, the burger patty was only moderately beefy in flavor, and that was it. It was not juicy in the least. The thin patty was also overly firm and chewy. The beef was simply not good. I choked down half of my burger and gave up.

The Seasoning: Only the exterior of the burger patties were seasoned. The application of salt was on the heavy-handed side. I brought 1/2 of my burger back to the minions, and they all shared a similar opinion as to the amount of seasoning on the burger.
The Sear: Meh. The burgers were cooked on a too-cool flat-top, and the resultant sear was weak, rubbery, and spotty.

The Preparation: The burger patties at Lemon Moon were prepped in the morning. In spite of a light crowd and at least three cooks manning the kitchen, the quality of the food and preparation was poor. Chi Burger requested Med-Rare and received Med-Well. Fat Bruce Lee requested Medium and received Well Done.

The Cheese: The Cheddar was oily and bland, but the Gruyere, which Lemon Moon managed to get on top of my burger on the third attempt, was very nice. It was savory and nutty. The Gruyere was the best thing about this over-priced, poorly prepared cheeseburger.

The Bun: The brioche bun was sourced from Rockenwagner Bakery. This bun was two sizes too large for the wee, beef patty. The brioche had a leathery skin, and the interior, while sweet, was very spongy and on the dry side. This, when coupled with the chewy dryish beef, served to create a moisture sapping bite. Even after removing the bottom bun, the dish was still overly dry.  Additionally, the bun was only nominally toasted, so it provided nothing by way of crunch, and this further reinforced the rubbery mouth feel of the beef.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The over-sized bun overwhelmed the small, thin burger patty.

The Sides: The fries arrived at Lemon Moon in a frozen state. The thick-cut fries were peel-off, and they were cooked to a crisp golden brown in very hot soy oil. Chi Burger remarked that the fries were nearly identical to the ones that were found in cafeterias in grade school and middle school when he was a youngster. The fries were mealy in the center and they set up into a thick paste as we tried to chew them. Since my burger required repeated re-fires the original batch of fries were nearly at room temperature by the time the kitchen delivered the third burger. This was a weak move--they should have made fresh fries. They were nicely seasoned, though. On another positive note, the mixed vegetable slaw, which accompanied the cheeseburgers, was fresh and flavorful. This side was the best thing on the plate.

The Toppings: Sigh....the shredded Iceberg lettuce was limp and lukewarm, and the tomato slices were under-ripe. The sauce for the burgers was nice. It was essentially a Thousand Island dressing, but it was a savory version with notes of tarragon and dill. Finally, the caramelized onions were tasty.

The Value: The value was exceedingly poor. It was $12 for a burger, which was was lacking in every area. The burger patty was undersized. The quality of the ingredients did not warrant the price point. Additionally, in spite of numerous blundering attempts to deliver an acceptable dish, not one person checked in with us to ascertain if the final attempt was satisfactory.

Lemon Moon was founded by two well-regarded chefs, but none of that culinary horsepower was evident on the day that TheBurgerBusters came to call. The burgers were over-priced and sloppily/incompetently prepared using weak ingredients and no apparent regard to customer satisfaction. As a result, this was a wholly unsatisfying dining experience.

Burger Review : No! No! No! This was one of the worst burger experiences that we have had in Los Angeles.

Rating...One Bite One truly unfortunate bite.

Monday, July 18, 2011

El Nopal -- Culver City, CA

10426 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Neighborhood: Palms
(310) 559-4732

On this particular day, I was completely ravenous. In the morning, I had run 88 flights of stairs (equivalent to the Empire State Building) in Santa Monica. I had a couple of protein shakes under my belt, but I needed to replenish. Happy Meal and I had settled on Chinese food. Luckily, I overshot the parking lot of our destination. We circled the block, and we found some free street parking on Motor Avenue. As luck would have it, we came upon El Nopal on the way to Kung Pao. My nutrient depleted self suddenly wanted a burrito, and I started working to convince Happy Meal that he also wanted Mexican food. Then we noticed that the specials board was promoting something in the cheeseburger genre. Sold!

El Nopal was about half full at 6:30 on a Sunday evening. We ordered a couple of the Tijuana Torpedoes--each consisted of 2 Angus patties, Pepper Jack cheese, Chipotle sauce, roasted Poblano chiles, and onions (we skipped the Poblanos and onions). As we waited, Happy Meal experienced his first run-in with Serrano chiles in the form of a salsa. He was convinced that he would never feel normal again until our waiter, Adam, kindly brought some sour cream to salve the lad's tongue. El Nopal's real claim to fame was the pregnant burrito, and they had even trademarked the use of the word PREGNANT in connection with the word BURRITO. The pregnant burrito was what I was craving, but the siren's call of a cheeseburger lured me away.

Our burgers arrived in about 15 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef consisted of two patties of pre-formed, previously-frozen, Angus Chuck. The burger patties each weighed in at about 4 ounces, so this was a hefty cheeseburger. The ground Chuck patty was on the rubbery side, but it had a strong beef flavor. Additionally, the patties were thin enough that they weren't a chore to chew. The burger patties at El Nopal were fine.

The Seasoning: This tasted much like a fajita seasoning blend with a little extra salt. Additionally, the burger patties were cooked on the same griddle as everything else at El Nopal, so the the various spice blends insinuated themselves into the beef. The seasoning was a winner.

The Sear: The sear from the hot griddle was perfect. It was even, dark, and  crisp--it served to add character to the otherwise one-dimensional beef.

The Preparation: The burgers at El Nopal were cooked to Well-Done on a very hot griddle.

The Cheese:  The Pepper Jack Cheddar, which I expected, appeared to have been replaced with a mild, yellow Cheddar. In spite of the less flavorful substitution, the Chipotle sauce added just the right creaminess and savory notes to compensate. I imagine that the Pepper Jack Cheddar would have been superior in both flavor and texture. Still, the Cheddar was plentiful and well-melted. It did add some welcome moisture to the dish.

The Bun: The buns used by El Nopal were Bolillos (Mexican baguettes). The Bolillos were sourced from Venice Bakery. Even though we came in on a Sunday, the bread was fresh and moist. The bun was mildly savory, tender on the inside, and the crust was firm enough to hold everything together. This was an excellent choice for a bun. The bun was not toasted.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The bun, due to its oblong dimensions, only slightly edged out the beef in this torta cum cheeseburger.

The Fries: El Nopal served up a generous portion of fajita-seasoned fries. These were food-service fries, so they had been delivered frozen. Still, the skinny, peel-off fries were seasoned well and cooked properly. I had no complaints with the fries.

The Toppings:The shredded Iceberg lettuce and the Roma tomato slices were both very fresh.

The Value: The cheeseburger torta (Tijuana Torpedo) at El Nopal was $8.99. This was for a 1/2 pound cheeseburger with a generous side of fries, and the preceding chips and salsa. Neither Happy Meal or myself were able to finish our food. The value was good.

We blundered into El Nopal, and we were glad that we did. The Chipotle-sauced torta burgers were satisfying. Additionally, this burger was relatively close to our home, so we may have found another convenient go-to burger in LA. Keep in mind that this cheeseburger has never been on the official menu, so it you don't see it, ask for the Tijuana Torpedo.

Burger Review : The Tijuana Torpedo was a pleasant surprise. I will be trying this one again.

18JUL11...I returned to El Nopal with Fat Bruce Lee on the day after the initial review. Far Bruce Lee had earned a caloric reward. He had bet me 200 push-ups that the USA women's soccer team would beat Japan in the 2011 Women's World Cup, and Japan won in overtime on penalty kicks. On this occasion, I asked them to toast the roll and to use American cheese. Boom!  This was an improved burger. Those little tweaks bumped it up to a solid 3.5 bites, and that rounded to a 4.
The Tijuana Torpedo Burger with Pregnant Burrito in the background

The Pregnant Burrito: Delicious! This was a very large tortilla stuffed with pulled, spiced chicken, avocado, and onions. It was smothered in enchilada sauce and melted cheese. Fat Bruce Lee declared, "If anyone decides to eat me after I die, I hope they cover me in that sauce and cheese." It was that good. If you find yourself at El Nopal, get both the Tijuana Torpedo and the Pregnant Burrito and split them with a friend. You will be happy that you did.

Rating...4 Bites

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Salt's Cure -- Los Angeles, CA

7494 Santa Monica Blvd # A
West Hollywood, CA 90046-5657

Fat Bruce Lee was busy on this particular day, so to make up for his prodigious appetite, I gathered three volunteers to accompany me to Salt’s Cure in West Hollywood. Salt’s Cure was on the corner of a burger-heavy intersection. Astroburger was located diagonally, and Fatburger was across the street. There was free parking just past Astroburger, which was nice.  The 30-seat restaurant was spotless, and the open kitchen was gleaming.

This was excerpted from their site: Salt's Cure is a West Hollywood restaurant. Every meal at Salt's Cure proudly sources ingredients grown and raised in California, all of which are carefully butchered and crafted in house.

Salt’s Cure was all about taking local and localish ingredients and turning them into a small but very adequate menu. On the day that we visited, the daily menu posted on the chalkboard consisted of just 7 entrées. One of those entrées was a $15 Bacon Cheeseburger. We ordered 4 of them and settled in for a 15-minute wait.

The Burger Breakdown…

The Beef: The beef was sourced from a farm/producer near Santa Barbara, CA. The cattle were grass-fed, and the Chuck from which the burgers were created was dry-aged. The funky gaminess of the dry aging really came through in the Salt’s Cure burgers—this was particularly satisfying. The Chuck was freshly coarsely ground in-house, and it boasted a fat content of 30%.  As I watched Chef Chris Phelps form our burgers to order,  I was struck by the light pink color of the rich, ground beef. We ordered our burgers Medium so that the collagen in the Chuck would be sufficiently melted to develop a beefy flavor, and we were rewarded with a very strong note of satisfying beef. This,coupled with some iron and the strong funk delivered a well-rounded bite, which was absolutely delicious. The high fat content did cause the burger to be oilier than I was comfortable with. My companions all finished their burgers, and they all fell into immediate food comas as their digestive systems went to work on processing 2.5 ounces of beef fat from the 8 ounce burger patties. I found it difficult to set half of my burger aside, since it was so flavorful.

The Seasoning: The burger patties were PERFECTLY salted on the exterior. This served to amplify the already booming beef flavors. It also served to dry out the sear and caused it to develop a satisfying crispness.

The Sear: The burgers at Salt's Cure were cooked on a wickedly hot gas grill. The seared layer on the burgers was reminiscent of bacon due to its crisp, oily, and salty nature. The sear was ideal. As our burgers cooked, the small space became a little smoky--this actually served to make us feel more in tune with the cooking process.

The Preparation: I looked on with some concern as Chef Phelps manipulated the fresh burger patties for what seemed like an undue amount of time. However, the resultant burgers were perfectly tender and toothsome in texture. It occurred to me later that burgers with a high fat content would need that extra manipulation to form tighter protein bonds, which would in turn impart a texture firm enough to stand up to the fats in the beef. Our requests for Medium all came out Med-Rare, but this was fine, since the beef was inherently flavorful. The grill was so hot that getting the interiors of the thick burgers to Medium would have been a challenge without over-searing the exteriors. It was a fine trade-off.

The Cheese: The cheese du jour was Wagon Wheel from Cowgirl Creamery. This was an American Swiss cheese. It was nicely melted. The cheese had a mild tang, and it was pleasantly nutty. The mild cheese was an ideal topping for the savory burgers. This was very similar to the Cheddar cheese used by Fish & Farm in San Francisco.

The Bun: The house-baked brioche-style bun was fresh, yeasty, moist, springy, creamy, and densely topped with crunchy poppy seeds. The buns were buttered and toasted on the grill, and they provided some crunch around the edges. The poppy seeds were a genius touch. Since the burgers were very juicy, the seeds ensured that every bite was rewarded with a crunchy texture in spite of the moisture that flooded from the beef.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: It was perfect.

The Fries: The fries were cut in-house. These were flat, skinny cut, peel-on fries. They were cooked to a perfect and crisp finish in plain old vegetable oil. The fries were well-seasoned with coarse salt. The fries were a winner, and they did not last long on the plates of my fellow diners.

The Toppings: The Romaine lettuce and red onion were both crisp and fresh. The house-made ketchup was strongly seasoned with coriander, and it was approaching the territory of barbeque sauce...I like barbeque sauce, and I was a fan of the ketchup.  The bacon--ridiculous! The bacon was thick, smoky, and had a texture like brisket. The bacon was excellent.

The Value: This was a $15 cheeseburger with fries. This was a delicious, locally/regionally-sourced cheeseburger made with intensely fresh ingredients of exquisite quality. Considering the high quality of the burgers, at this price point the value was average. 

The cheeseburger at Salt's Cure was a savory revelation. The beef was intense, and the bun and cheese complemented it perfectly. The fat content was higher that I was comfortable with, and it certainly knocked the wind out of my dining companions. That said, I would gladly return to Salt's Cure for more burger goodness. I would split a burger and another entrée, however.

Burger Review : Fresh, local, and delicious. This was the sort of burger that will renew your faith in Chuck.

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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Le Burger Brasserie -- Las Vegas, NV

At Paris Resort and Casino

3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

It was our final day in Las Vegas, and Happy Meal. The Marinater, and I made the trek to Bachi Burger only to discover a sign on the door, which stated that they were closed on that particular Tuesday. I had called the previous day, and the phone message made no mention of that teensy detail. No matter, we had a backup plan, and that plan was Le Burger Brasserie at Paris Resort and Casino. I cursed Bachi Burger under my breath and turned the car back towards the strip from where we had just driven.

Le Burger Brasserie was touted as a sports bar. They had plenty of TVs on the walls, but they were playing canned music, and the theme was not remotely sporty. This was fine, since I was not looking forward to the din, which is generally associated with sports bars.  This was how their website described the burgersAt Paris Las Vegas, Le Burger Brasserie is a French interpretation of an American classic: a lively meat-and-potatoes Sports Grille featuring the world’s most creative burgers.

I was unable to discover the most creative burger in the world on the menu, but I blamed this on over-zealous marketing hype. I did locate a burger that was exceedingly costly...the 777 Burger ($777) This was a Kobe beef burger with Maine lobster, caramelized onions, imported Brie, 100-year aged balsamic vinegar, and crispy pancetta. The price included a bottle of Rose Dom Perignon Champagne. Even though Happy Meal can hold his liquor, neither of us were in the mood for pancetta, so we ordered a couple of the Le Classique burgers with American cheese ($11.99 each), an order of french fries ($4.50), and a couple of soft drinks.

Our wait was just over 20 minutes. My burger was overcooked on the first try, and I sent it back. Within 5 minutes a properly cooked (Medium) replacement arrived.  Chef Carlos Martin checked in with us to make certain that the re-fire was properly cooked.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Meat: The beef at Le Burger Brasserie was 25% fat, 100%, Black Angus Chuck. It was freshly ground by the on-site butcher and delivered pre-pattied every morning. They offered other freshly ground meats. These were chicken, lamb, turkey, Kobe beef, and salmon. The 8-ounce, Chuck patty was very juicy, and tasted quite strongly of beef. The beef was not aged, but it did carry a mild funk, which was pleasant. The beef had a simple flavor profile near the edges, but it grew more complex near the center where the beef was rare. It was only here that the iron from the fresh blood came through to round out the bite.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the burger patties were perfectly salted on the grill.

The Sear: The flat, uniform patties were grilled, and they picked up a pleasing diamond sear pattern. The sear was not sufficiently deep, crisp, or thorough to bring out any heartiness in the texture or the flavor of the burger. However, this was a relatively thin burger patty, and a really strong sear would have been difficult to pull off with out dramatically overcooking the beef.

The Preparation: I was impressed at the evenness of the cooking. The cooked layer of beef was nearly identical in depth on both sides of the burger meat. In spite of being flipped 3 times on the gas grill, the cheeseburger retained its juiciness. This spoke to the freshness of the beef.

The Cheese: We had 11 types of cheese to choose from, and we went with the American. Le Burger Brasserie applied 2 slices of the savory cheese to the burger patties and then melted that under a broiler. Like the cheeseburger at Create, this was delicious. The broiler lightly browned the cheese to bring out even more flavor.

The Bun: There were 6 bun choices, and we ordered our cheeseburgers on the white, sesame-seeded buns. All of the buns at Le Burger Brasserie were baked daily on-site. The relatively neutral bun carried light notes of savory and yeast. The bun was moist and tender, but it held up well against the juices of the burger.  The bun was toasted, and there was a nice crunch around the edges.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was perfect.

The Fries and Rings: Both were Lamb Wesson products. Le Burger Brasserie did improve upon the already solid fries by dipping them in a batter prior to frying. The fries and rings were both perfectly crisp and golden from the canola oil. The seasoning was spot on.

The Toppings: The tomato slices were juicy and sweet. The slab of Iceberg lettuce had brown mottling on the underside--this was inedible and had no business being on a plate. The sour pickle spear was quite good--it reminded me of the pickle that I had recently enjoyed at BLT Burgers.

The Value: 12 bucks was a lot for Chuck, but this was a cheeseburger on the Las Vegas Strip. The value was comparable to other burgers in the same class. Accordingly, the value was average. $4.50 for an order of fries was on the high side, though.

Le Burger Brasserie was a fine way to finish off our father and son Las Vegas trip. The burgers were hearty and satisfying, and the fries were delicious.

Burger Review : Le Burger Brasserie served up a better than average burger for an average (Las Vegas Strip) price.

Rating...4 Bites

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stripburger -- Las Vegas, NV

at Fashion Show Mall
3200 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

This was the second day of the Las Vegas adventure with Happy Meal. We made our way to Stripburger for lunch. It was across the street from The Palazzo, where we had plans to have Happy Meal try the Birthday Shake at I Love Burgers at The Palazzo Shops. Stripburger offered mostly outdoor seating, and on this day the temperature was a brutal 108. Fortunately, the mist cooling system was working, so we enjoyed the pleasant and surprisingly effective luxury of evaporative cooling while enjoying an afternoon view of the Las Vegas strip. Our server,  Nick, was a burger lover, and he was highly knowledgeable and conversant about the various burgers in Las Vegas. He was confident that we were about to enjoy one of the finer burgers in the city. The executive chef of Stripburger, Terry Lynch, also headed up things at Mon Ami Gabi over at Paris Resort and Casino. Both Stripburger and Mon Ami Gabi were part of the Lettuce Entertain You group.

We ordered two of the Cheeseburgers ($9.95), an order of the Fresh-Cut Fries ($3.95), and a couple of soft drinks. Our cheeseburgers arrived in about 15 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef was delicious. It arrived, pre-ground from Brandt Beef. The burger was a blend of Brisket, Chuck, and Chuck Roll. The burger blend was ground coarsely, so each bite kept one mindful of the grain of the Brisket, which one was chewing.  The fat content was about 20%--the fat in the burgers seemed to be right at the edge of acceptable without pushing past. The beef was quite juicy, and it quickly soaked the bottom bun. The bite was complex with strong beef and steak notes. There was also a faint taste of aging--the beef was wet-aged for 7 days. The beef was a solid win. Chef Lynch was a stickler for beef quality and sanitation. He chose Brandt Beef, since they had an impeccable reputation and delivered a quality product. We had encountered Brandt Beef previously, and it was a really fine choice in most cases.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the burgers at Stripburger were seasoned with salt and pepper as they were cooked on the grill. Happy Meal proclaimed that the pepper was what made the burgers exceptionally good--he was correct. The pepper rounded out the flavor nicely.

The Sear: The sear was weak. There were light grill marks on the burger patties, but the grill did not develop a proper sear. A good sear would have taken this burger to a higher level.

The Preparation: The beef was custom ground by Brandt Beef and delivered to Stripburger. The burger patties at Stripburger were loosely packed and handled perfectly. These patties were formed once or twice per day, depending upon demand. The burgers were turned once on the gas grill, so they retained a lot of juices.

The Cheese: There were 6 cheese choices. We went with the American. The standard American cheese, was perfectly melted over the burger patty, and it fused the top bun its surface. The cheese worked its way nicely into the interstitial spaces in the loosely packed, coarse grind. This served to bind the dish together.

The Bun: The standard, sweet, moist, yeasty, burger buns were sourced from More Than Bread. The buns were a custom creation for Executive Chef, Terry Lynch.  The gentle sweetness of the bun worked well with the savoriness of the burger and cheese. The bun was warm but barely toasted. As a result, it offered no crunch and little resistance to saturation of the bottom bun. The bun was firm enough to stand up to the burger.

The Meat To Bun Ratio:  Perfect. The last bite was identical to the first.

The Toppings: The lettuce was shredded Iceberg, and it was fresh. The tomato slices were sweet and juicy. Since the bun was lacking texture, these toppings were best left off to avoid saturating the bun.

The Fries: CRISP!  These house-cut, peel-on, par-cooked fries were what Five Guys Burgers and Fries should have been serving. The fries were earthy, golden brown, and hot. They were also well-seasoned with granulated salt. The canola used to cook the fries was fresh and at the perfect temperature to create a proper french fry. The fries were flawless.

The Value: 2 Cheeseburgers, a huge order of fries, and two soft drinks set us back about $32. Considering the strong quality of the beef, the value was average.

I generally try to only 50% of each of the burgers that I sample, but in this case I wanted to eat the whole thing. Happy Meal polished off his burger and commandeered half of the burger that I had set aside. Happy Meal was wildly enthusiastic about the Stripburger fare. This burger really appealed to his tastes. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and flavor of my burger, as well. A proper sear on the beef and toasted bun would have put this quality burger over the top.

Burger Review : A high-quality and very tasty burger was served up at Stripburger. It pleased palates both young and grown-up.

Rating...4 Bites

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