Monday, December 31, 2012

Melody Bar & Grill -- Westchester, CA

9132 South Sepulveda Blvd
Westchester, CA, 90045

This from the Melody Bar and Grill website, "...As Westchester's premier local Bar and Grill we offer up some of the best fare around. We pride ourselves with serving fresh local produce and premium natural meats. Chef de cuisine owner Christian Warren has created a menu that has been coined “Gastrodive”..." These were tall words coming from the former biker bar, across from the In 'n' Out, on the way to the airport. Still, The Marinater had a Groupon, and I truly had nothing else to do on that particular afternoon. Besides, The Marinater can be good company if you can get past the fact the he keeps change for the parking meter behind his eye patch.

We walked into a bustling establishment at around 2 in the afternoon. It wasn't the usual bar crowd, either. This was a dining room full of diners....not a bad sign. We ordered a couple of burgers, and our meals arrived in about 12 minutes. During our meal Mr. Warren came out and discussed the food with us. We were refreshed to talk burgers with a chef so passionate about quality, variety, and innovation when it came to American Comfort food. 7 kinds of Mac and Cheese...Cheeseburger Potstickers...onions caramelized in peach syrup. The atmosphere was very kid friendly, and Mr. Warren's young daughter detached herself from his hip to snag a few fries from my plate--she was adorable.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Hooray!  The burger beef at Melody Bar and Grill was sourced from Rocker Brothers. The custom blend of NY Strip, Short Rib, and Sirloin was ground and blended by the purveyor. The fat content in the 7 ounce burger patties was 20%. The burgers just tasted like steak. They were strongly beefy. There was a medium note of aged funk. There were strong notes of blood and some other subtle mineral notes. The grind was coarse, so one was kept mindful that one was masticating a mouthful of quality steak cuts. The bite was loose, but the components were firm, and this struck a perfect and juicy balance. The beef bordered on perfection.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the burgers at Melody Bar and Grill were hit with just enough salt to make the flavors of the beef pop.

The Sear: The sear on the cheeseburger came courtesy of a properly hot, cast-iron grated, gas-fired grill. The sear wasn't amazing but it was adequate to impart the expected flavors and textures.

The Preparation: We ordered Med-Rare burgers, and we were handed Med-Rare burgers. The burger patties were formed, by hand, during the prep cycle. The high-quality ingredients were treated with care and respect. There was no sign of over-manipulation of the patties. The burgers were turned 3 times during the cooking process. I would have preferred a single flip to allow a better sear to develop, but the burgers turned out really well, nonetheless.

The Cheese: The cheese choices at Melody Bar and Grill were Swiss, Goat, Gorgonzola, Cheddar, and American. My burger was draped in a perfectly melted slice of American cheese. The cheese provided just the right amount of creaminess and richness to round out the bite.

The Bun: The bun was a Pretzel bun from Rockenwagner Bakery. The bun worked. It was fresh, soft, savory, and properly toasted to deliver some crunch with every bite. Pretzel buns can work, but they have to be fresh. Otherwise the chewiness can detract from the dish.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: Perfection.

The Toppings: The Iceberg lettuce was sweet and crisp. The tomato slices were on the mealy side, but that was forgivable in the light of the excellent quality experienced throughout the meal. The bacon on the burger was thick, crisp, and smokey.

The Fries: The hand-cut, peel-on, par-cooked fries were reminiscent of what I have come to enjoy at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The fries were crisp, well-cooked, creamy in the centers, and properly seasoned with salt and oregano. The fries were a winner.

The Value: At 10 bucks for two burgers (Groupon), the value was stunning. At 10 bucks for a high-quality burger and a pile of fries, the cheeseburger value was good at Melody Bar and Grill.

Melody Bar and Grill was first opened in 1952. It had a long history...Elvis and his mother once had lunch in the booth next to mine. Later, the establishment became a windowless biker bar. More recently, the former owners of Ma'Kai in Santa Monica transformed the restaurant into something better than it had to be. There would have been plenty of patrons at the establishment killing time before flights at nearby LAX. Still, Chef Warren brought his A-game and served up thoughtfully innovative versions of American Comfort food at great prices. P.S. since Ma'Kai Lounge traded hands, the wheels have fallen of in terms of customer experience.

Burger Review : An excellent cheeseburger at a fair price. I will return to try those Cheeseburger Potstickers, though.

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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Standing Room -- Redondo Beach, CA

144 North Catalina Ave.
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Chi Burger suggested that we try The Standing Room. His good friend lived a few minutes away, and he had a great experience there. I set off for Redondo Beach and put my faith in my GPS. That was a good thing, because I would have driven by The Standing Room repeatedly, otherwise. The tiny burger joint was tucked away in a liquor store, and there was a cluster of tables outside. We arrived at the end of a Sunday lunch rush, so things were humming. The menu was a series of Hawaiian and Korean inspired dishes, and burger figured prominently. On Sundays, the menu was burgers only. That seemed like a good sign. The tiny kitchen held 4 staffers, and I happened upon a member of the staff that had close to zero knowledge about the it goes. We ordered our burgers and fries. We took our order slips and then beverages from the various drink cases in the liquor store and paid at the front counter. We then settled in (outside) for a lengthy 20-minute wait for our burgers. I ordered the Naked burger ($7.00) and regular fries ($3.50).  My meal, including soft drink came to $13.17...there was no way to tip, and, looking back, I was grateful for that.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The burger meat at The Standing Room was a mystery to the counter staffer that I interacted with. The half-pound patty was front loaded with funk. The funk was ferocious. I assumed that this was the result of dry-aging and a generous amount of Short Rib in the blend. The burger was funky to the point of having organ meat notes. While I was led to believe that the burger would arrive Med Rare, it was actually quite Well Done. Only one of our three burgers came out at Med Rare. I was not willing to wait an additional 20 minutes. The high fat content of the beef blend (25%?) kept the burger from becoming rubbery. At first I guessed the blend was Sirloin, Short Rib, and Chuck. The lack of chewiness, combined with the firm bite led me to swap out my guess of Sirloin for Brisket. The grind was medium. Aside from the heavy funk, the thick burger carried a mild beef note. The beef was good, but it would have been better had it been properly cooked.

The Seasoning: My burger at The Standing Room was properly seasoned with salt and pepper.

The Sear: The bottom of my burger patty had a dark sear. Sadly, that sear was not crisp. The kitchen employed both griddle weights and a metal dome. That dome steamed the burger patty to cook it faster, but that also saturated the seared layer with steam. This robbed it of texture--pity. The top of the patty was the same greyish color as the interior of my over-cooked patty.

The Preparation: Sloppy. The burger was over-cooked. The burger was cooked in a way that ruined the sear. After I surveyed the tiny kitchen, I surmised that the meat was delivered pre-ground and blended. The thick, irregular patties were formed by hand and with enough pressure to keep them together but so much that the burgers became rubbery.

The Cheese: Meh. The thin slice of Cheddar was an afterthought. It was not noticeable in the face of the mighty funk, heavy fat content, and buttery brioche. The cheese was a waste of calories. It brought no joy to the party in terms of flavor or texture.

The Bun: BreadBar provided the hefty brioche that encased my cheeseburger. The bun was scarcely toasted, so the butter in the bun was too cool  to provide the tender bite that the bun was designed to deliver. The bun was soft, yeasty, moderately sweet, and fresh. The bun was what we have come to expect of BreadBar, and a little more heat would have allowed the bun to truly shine. Some crispness would have been deeply appreciated--this would have compensated for the sodden sear on the beef.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was perfect.
The Toppings: The mixed greens were at least a day past their prime. The mix clearly came from a bag, and the leaves were beginning to blacken around the edges...yuck. The Roma tomato slices were pink and on the mealy side.

The Fries: The peel-off fries were crisp, well-salted, and golden. Sadly, the fryer oil was either rancid or had been used to cook fish. The oil imparted an off taste to the fries, and this was off putting after I had dropped $3.50 for potato sticks. I didn't notice any fry cutting appliance in the kitchen, so I assumed that the fries arrived frozen in bags.

The Value: 7 bucks for a half-pound burger would have been a good value had the ingredients been treated with respect. $3.50 for fries cooked in off tasting oil was a thumb in the eye. The lack of standards in the kitchen of The Standing Room took the value down to something just below average. I was simply not interested in finishing any part of my meal.

I attributed the collapse of quality at The Standing Room to a perfect storm of "end of rush" fatigue, coasting on laurels, and poor quality control. The owner/chef ducked out before our burgers left the pass. One was Med Rare; mine was Well Done: Chi Burger's was a chewy Well Done.

Burger Review : Great ingredients barely kept the cheeseburger at The Standing Room from sinking beneath the waves of carelessness.

Rating: 3 Bites...the 4 Bites ingredients were muted by weak preparation and a lack of standards in the kitchen. I wanted this burger to be better than it was.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rascal -- Los Angeles, CA

801 South La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

First apologies for a month of no new reviews. I found myself unemployed, job searching, re-employed, and in the role of single, full-time dad in rapid succession. This was a perfect storm in terms of time and focus. Many thanks to those of you that reached out to see if all was well. All is well...I hated the old job (dreaded going in--even though I adored my co-workers)....I really like the new job (they let me do my job)...and I am pretty fond of my youngster (Happy Meal), so things turned out nicely.

I had tried the burger at Rascal in the past, and I found it to be of high quality but aggressively seasoned. I had high hopes for a gentler touch on the seasoning shaker on this outing. Rascal was a gastro pub, so the quality of the ingredients and preparation was not likely to be an issue. I spoke at some length with Chef Michael, and I learned that the ingredients were of even higher quality than I had anticipated.

I ordered the Rascal Burger ($11), and I asked that all of the toppings be delivered on the side. My cheeseburger arrived in about 10 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Wow!  This was a 21-day, dry-aged blend of Chuck, Rib Eye, and Sirloin from Harris Ranch. The 80:20 beef was delicious. The aging provided an appropriate level of funk to the bite. The Sirloin and Rib Eye provided complexity in terms of steak texture and a richness of mineral and beef notes. The bite was tender with the Sirloin providing exactly the right amount of resistance. The Sirloin lingered to remind the diner that this was a patty of ground steak. The beef at Rascal was most satisfying.

The Seasoning: The seasoning on my Rascal Burger was a hickory/mesquite-infused blend of salt and pepper. In a smaller dose (1/3), this would have been effective and delicious. However, the sheer amount of seasoning altered the taste of the dish to resemble meatloaf. It required some judicious wiping down to allow the beef to shine through that blast of seasoning.

The Sear: Rascal cooked their burgers on a gas-fired grill with cast iron grates. The sear was limited to thin grill marks. The sear was decidedly lacking, but this was countered by the truly excellent quality of the beef. Still, a crisp sear would have been nice.

The Preparation: The burgers were pattied up during the prep cycle and allowed to rest. The patties were formed with medium pressure to create firmness without chewiness. The ground beef was not over-manipulated. The irregular, 1/3 pound burgers were turned once during the cooking process to bring the temperature up to Med Rare, as requested.

The Cheese: Rascal employed a sliced of provolone to do the job better suited to a slice of Monterey Jack Cheddar. The mild Provolone was lost in the heavy seasoning and firm steak textures. The cheese was wasted in the dish and only served to provide calories.

The Bun: The burger bun at Rascal was a torta provided by La Brea Bakery. The torta was nominally toasted, but it was fresh and just chewy enough. The torta was savory, and this would have been very nice had the cheeseburger not been over-seasoned.

The Meat-To-Bun Ratio: This was just right.

The Toppings: The caramelized onions were nicely sweet and the greens that accompanied the burger were fresh and crisp.

The Fries: The fries at Rascal were hand-cut and par-cooked. The peel-on, shoestring fries were perfectly seasoned, and they remained crisp as they cooled. The fries were solid.

The Value: A Rascal Burger was 10 bucks.  A plate of fries was $3.50. The burger was properly priced when one considered the ingredients. The fries were a poor value. Altogether, the value was average.

Rascal served a burger worth checking out...I would suggest that the diner request light seasoning, since I have encountered an over-seasoned burger on both of my visits. The ingredients were terrific, and the burgers were formed and cooked with care and competence.

Burger Review : A very good, but over-seasoned burger. This one had great potential.

Rating....4 Bites

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mojo Grill -- Ocala, FL

506 South Pine Avenue
Ocala, FL 34471

Ocala, Florida is a small, somewhat rural town in the northern half of Florida, and home to a sizable horse breeding industry. It has also served as the location for several films, including the original Tarzan movies filmed in the 1930s and 1940s, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. So unless you are a horse person, or are the curator of the Johnny Weissmuller museum, you may think you would have little business visiting Ocala.

The Mojo Grill could be considered another reason to head to Ocala. It has been a standard waypoint anytime I drive up and down I-75 for several years now. A classic fat guy trap, the Mojo Grill serves up some of the best wings and sandwiches I've ever had. Recently, my concubine and I took our ritual detour to the Mojo Grill while on a road trip. She got her usual (Cuban, mojo sauce for dipping, side of grilled vegetables). I decided to inquire about the burger. Our server informed us that the meat is fresh-ground. Enough said. Game on.

The Burger Breakdown 

The Beef: Tasty. It was fresh-ground angus, cut unknown, hand-formed into a 10 ounce patty. The beef was full of the flavors I would expect from a good burger, with a slight funk from aging, and strong flavor of iron throughout the bite. It was not at all greasy, and fairly juicy.

The Seasoning: The patty was salted and peppered appropriately. I also tasted a hint of some other seasoning, but it was so subtle I could not identify it. It was just enough to add a more interesting flavor profile to an already good burger.

The Sear: The sear was fine, especially considering that it was flame-cooked. There were strong grill marks on the cheeseless side of the patty. The side that had the cheese actually had the more prominent sear, and the burger would have presented better had the cheese been reversed. There were some crispy bits on the edges of the patty that definitely added to the sandwich.

The Preparation: The burger was cooked on an appropriately-warm gas grill, flipped once, to the Medium Rare that I specified. I was pleased.

The Cheese: The burger was topped with a couple slices of Cheddar cheese. The top slice was melted well, the bottom, not quite as much. There was no sign of greasy runoff one normally sees with Cheddar, so that was one in the win column.

The Bun: The burger was served on a rustic bun of unknown origin. It was a little dense, but tasted good, and held up very well with a big hunk of meat in the middle.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: 1:1.

The Fries: The Mojo Grill serves waffle fries. They were hot and crisp. However, I would recommend one of their other fine sides. There was nothing wrong with the fries, but their grilled vegetables are delicious, and their black beans and rice are great.

The Toppings: The lettuce, tomato, and onion with which it was served were all fresh. The dill pickle chips were just fine.

The Value: $9.29 for a 10 oz. cheeseburger and a side of fries. It's not making the front page of Cheap Eats magazine, but it's not an insult to your wallet, either.

The beef was the star of the show with the Mojo Grill burger, as it should be. The only real misstep was that the cheese could have been melted a little better, and did not detract from the experience at all. I have eaten my way around their menu, and I find myself wishing I had tried the burger earlier.

Burger Review: The Mojo Grill's burger is a good representative of the fine food they serve.

Rating... 4 bites

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gold Star Hamburgers -- Glendale, CA

1623 South Brand Boulevard 
Glendale, CA 91204

I was in Glendale for all of the wrong reasons, but a good friend was gainfully employed in the vicinity, so we decided to grab a burger for lunch. Glendale boasted a paucity of well-reviewed burger joints, but Gold Star Hamburgers stood out on Yelp with a 4-Star rating. The Yelpers touted good burgers, and Damon Gambuto over at Serious Eats was bullish in his review from a few year ago. Metered parking was easy to find along the street. We ordered at the counter and waited for our cheeseburgers to arrive at the table...about 5 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Meh. The burger patties at Gold Star Hamburgers were typical, average, previously-frozen, thin, bland, chewy, Chuck discs. The beef wasn't bad, it was simply not interesting. It was moderately beefy. The only other note that it carried was a whiff of char from the grill. The beef was a bit dry and slightly rubbery, which was typical of a frozen product. Fat content--20%. Juiciness--none.

The Seasoning: The burgers were just barely seasoned with a moderately salty blend. Nothing special.

The Sear: Meh. What sear?

The Preparation: Our burgers were cooked on a too cool grill to Med-Well. The burger patties were clearly pre-formed and previously frozen.The burgers were only turned once, and this was a plus. The patties weighed in at about 4 ounces.

The Cheese: The slice of American cheese was properly melted. The paper-thin patty was wide enough that the cheese didn't quite make it to the edges, so the first bites of the burger were the worst bites of the burger. Once I reached the center, meat, bun, and cheese combined adequately.

The Bun: The Gold Star Hamburgers bun was a big, floppy, flat, fresh, sweet, yeasty, seeded, standard burger bun. The bun was not adequately toasted near the center, so it was a little cool. It appeared to have been wiped over a dirty flat top as an afterthought. If the bun had been  crisply toasted and hot, it would have done wonders in terms of texture. And, if a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump its butt when it hopped, broski. "If" didn't happen.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was fine.

The Fries: The peel-off, thick-cut, previously-frozen, par-cooked fries were fine. They were under-seasoned, but the fries were were hot and crisp.

The Toppings: The Iceberg lettuce and the tomato slice were both fresh.

The Value: It was tough to spend more than 6 bucks on lunch at Gold Star Hamburgers. Our combos--cheeseburger, fries, and a drink were about that. The value was fine.

I wasn't sure what others saw that was special about Gold Star Hamburgers, but I was confident that it shouldn't have been the cheeseburgers. The burgers were simply average.

Burger Review : Average burgers for a good price.

Rating...3 Bites

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Back Abbey--Claremont, CA

128 North Oberlin Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711

Ugly Bag Of Mostly Water and his concubine were in the region, and The Back Abbey was a convenient spot to convene. We had heard plenty of hype regarding this burger, and what better way to test the veracity of those claims but to show up in force. As I waited for my friend to arrive, I spoke at length with The Back Abbey's GM, Erik. Erik was very knowledgeable about the cheeseburger, and he was most helpful in helping me to understand the details associated with its preparation. One of the coolest things about The Back Abbey was that it served schnitzel in the guise of a salad. Fried pork with a smattering of greens--Magic! Natchy, we ordered this "salad" and some cheeseburgers (The Backyard). Our meals arrived in about ten minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Kaboom! The beef arrived pre-ground, courtesy of Premiere Meat Company. The beef was ground daily at 4:00 AM. The 6-ounce burgers were comprised of  a proprietary blend of Chuck and a selection of dry-aged cuts, which delivered a well-rounded bite. The burgers were potently beefy, moderately juicy, and they carried a medium level of dry-aged funk. This funk carried throughout the bite, and it was most satisfying. The grind was coarse, and this made for a hearty, steak-filled mouth feel. It was fun to chew on the coarse bits of flavorful steak that lingered on the tongue. The fat content hovered around 20%. The most notable mineral flavor that came through was iron. This was due to both the blood in the beef and the clean, cast iron grates upon which the burgers were grilled. All told, the burger meat was excellent and well-balanced at The Back Abbey.

The Seasoning: Salt and pepper were employed in just the right amounts. The seasoning perfectly enhanced the beef, funk, and steak flavors of the delicious burger meat.

The Sear: This was completely lacking. When I first saw this, I assumed that I would be sending my burger back. UBOMW had already taken a bite of his, and he urged me to not jump to conclusions. He was correct. While I remain convinced that a crisp sear would have put the excellent beef over the top, the sear was not missed as much as I thought it would have been. The burger meat was just that good.

The Preparation: The Back Abbey grilled our burger patties on a moderately hot, gas-fired grill. The burgers were turned only once during the cooking process, and this was appropriate. The uniform patties were formed during morning prep by gently pressing the freshly ground beef into circular molds. The burgers were cooked to Med-Rare as per our request.

The Cheese: YES!  The one-year aged, white cheddar was shredded and perfectly melted over the burger patty. The cheddar was fantastic. It was salty, creamy, tangy, and it contributed just enough umami to fill in the bite. The bite of the cheddar mostly compensated for the lack of sear.

The Bun: It was tricky to figure out where the bun came from--Erik was not forthcoming with that detail. However, as I waited for my friends, The Back Abbey took in a delivery of fresh buns. I caught the attention of the driver on the way out and discovered that the buns came in from the L' Artisan Vally Baking Company in Thousand Palms, CA. This was the only bakery that would prepare a brioche to the exacting standards of The Back Abbey. The brioche was fresh, sweet, and buttery. Really buttery...butter wafted from the bun as one bit into it. The bun was not toasted. A little crispness would have been nice, but it, like the sear, was not sorely missed.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was perfect.

The Toppings: The Roma tomato slices were ripe and rich. The Romaine lettuce leaf was a day past its prime with noticeable oxidation along the ribs and cut ends.

The Fries: The fries were an extra $8 for a full order, and they were sort of worth it. The house-cut, peel-off, standard fries were first cooked in duck fat. The fries were finished in soy oil. The result was a richly flavored, crisp, blonde french fry. The fries were crisp and perfectly seasoned.

The Value: The Backyard Burger at The Back Abbey was $11. Considering the quality of the meat, bun, and cheese. The burger was correctly priced.

Did The Back Abbey live up to the hype? Yes, yes it did. The Back Abbey delivered a pretty amazing burger. The meat and bun were both carefully crafted and guarded recipes. The cheese was spot on. The balance of flavors was perfect. The only thing that I found lacking was a shift in texture that should have come from the crispness from the sear or toasting of the bun.

Burger Review : The Back Abbey delivered a really remarkable burger composed of remarkable ingredients.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Omaha Steaks -- Everywhere

This will not be a standard review since this was not a restaurant experience, but I will strive to stick to the format.

A representative from Omaha Steaks recently contacted me to see if I would review their burgers. I jumped at the chance. Omaha Steaks graciously offered to send out a box of assorted meats, including 4 of their 4-ounce burgers. I was delighted to take them up on this offer. I you have never taken delivery of a box from Omaha Steaks, then you have not lived, brother. The shipment arrived in a thick, styrofoam cooler. The assorted meats were sealed in blister packs, boxed, and it were kept frozen with a sizable chunk of dry ice. The dry ice, naturally, was dropped (using tongs) into the toilet to turn Happy Meal's bathroom into a pre-Halloween haunted probably shouldn't do this. It was pretty cool, though.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: For this review, Omaha Steaks provided their standard, 4-ounce burgers. I assumed that the burger meat was Chuck. The beef was really quite flavorful, and that was surprising for a frozen product. The burger meat was beefy with notes of iron, funk, and minerals. It was nearly on par with the Niman Ranch beef that we had previously enjoyed at Super Duper in San Francisco, CA. The fat content was high, but much of that fat rendered off during the cooking process. I estimated that the fat netted out to about 20%. The beef was also very juicy. It must have been flash frozen, because the juices didn't leak out of the meat as it cooked. Beyond that, the bite was tender. Solid beef!

The Seasoning: I applied a 1:1 mixture (by volume) of kosher salt flakes and ground pepper. This was all that the beef required to amplify its well-balanced flavors.

The Sear: The sear was crisp and dark. It could have been a little deeper, but I was cooking in an apartment, and I didn't want to set off the smoke alarm. The salt and pepper combined nicely with the seared burger meat.

The Preparation: The coarsely ground beef arrived in pre-formed patties. The bite was tender enough to indicate that Omaha Steaks knew what they were doing when it came to burgers. I started the burgers in a toaster oven, which was set to broil at a temperature of 450 degrees. I let them cook for about 5 minutes to bring them up to Med-Rare. From there I transferred them to a cast-iron pan, which I had coated with peanut oil and brought up to the smoke point (also 450 degrees) over a gas flame. I let the burgers cook for about one minute on each side. The burgers came out to moist Medium.

The Cheese: I used standard American Cheese from Costco. The trick to melting cheese without over-cooking the burgers was to wait until the burgers had 30 seconds to go...apply the cheese slices...cover the pan with a lid...wait thirty seconds for the cheese to melt in the rapidly developing steam...uncover for 10 seconds...transfer to waiting, toasted bun. The cheese was perfectly melted and just right for the juicy burgers.

The Bun: Due to the small size of the Omaha Steaks burgers, I had limited choices in terms of burger buns. I went with small burger buns from Safeway Kitchens. These were fresh, sweet, a little yeasty, and they toasted up nicely.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The small bun was a perfect match for the 4-ounce burgers.

Value: At the time of this review, one could order 12 of these burger patties for $19.99 (plus shipping). That was about $1.67/for each burger patty, and that was a really good value.

Burger Review : Omaha Steaks provided a high-quality burger patty for a really good price. If you have some moderate kitchen skills, then this is a great burger to have on standby to impress you friends with. Happy Meal and The Marinater were both pleased.

Rating...4 Bites (Omaha Steaks also makes a higher end burger patty, which may rank even higher.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Plate 38--Pasadena, CA

2361 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107

I had the occasion to be in Pasadena to accompany fellow gastronaut to Plate 38 to sample that establishment's well-reviewed burger. Parking was a snap in the attached lot. We waited for only a moment to be seated, ordered a couple of Classic Burgers, and settled in for about a 10-minute wait. We also had the opportunity to speak at length with Chef/Owner Robert Humphreys. Chef Humphreys' enthusiasm for his business was refreshing.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Damn, that was some tasty burger meat. Plate 38 took regular delivery of Top Sirloin and Filet Mignon from Premiere Meat Company. Plate 38 cut in some of their own dry-aged trimmings to round out the beef. The fat content was right around 25%, but the burger was not overly greasy. The fat really seemed to stand out, because Filet is a dense, lean cut with little room to hold fat at a Medium Rare cooking temperature. The burgers were very juicy, and this was most satisfying. The patties carried strong and deep flavors of beef, and funk. Also present were firm notes of blood and minerals. The grind was coarse and the bite was just firm enough to hold together on the bun.

The Seasoning: The kitchen at Plate 38 applied the perfect amount of salt to the exterior of the burger patties. This seasoning perfectly complemented the sear and the beef.

The Sear: The sear was moderate, but Plate 38 provided just enough. The grill was properly hot, but but beef was so juicy that getting the surface of the patty up to the 300 plus degrees to trigger the Malliard Reaction would have been impossible without drying out the beef. The edges of the burger patties were crisp and seared, and since the burgers were small (1/3 pound), nearly every bite had some tasty sear in it.

The Preparation: The burgers at Plate 38 were formed by hand, and a portion of the beef was ground in house. The patties were formed gently, and this made them tender rather than chewy....Win!

The Cheese: Plate 38 used a sharp and finely shredded Cheddar. This worked surprisingly well. Cheddar tends to be rubbery and it can be difficult to melt evenly. The shredded, aged Cheddar was rich with umami, salt, tanginess, and iron. Beyond the sturdy flavor profile, the cheese melted evenly and became creamy.

The Bun: The Brioche bun was sourced from Melrose Baking Company. The bun fresh, buttery, sweet, yeasty, and toasted to a proper crunch.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was perfect. The crispness of the tender bun perfectly complemented the juicy beef.

The Fries: The hand-cut, shoestring fries were plentiful, properly seasoned, and perfectly crisp. The fries were a winner.

The Toppings: The Butter Leaf lettuce and the tomato were both fresh and ripe.

The Value: At $8.50 a pop, the 1/3 pound burgers may have seemed a little pricey, but the quality of the ingredients and stellar preparation balanced this out. All told, the value was good.

Chef Humpheys' kitchen at Plate 38 turned out a very strong burger. A monster sear from a grape seed oiled flat top or a smoldering cast-iron pan would have resulted in near perfection. Still, the cheeseburger was really, really good.

Burger Review : When in Pasadena, Plate 38 is the spot for a burger. Go, and go soon.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

MIRU 8691 Is No More

Yesterday was National Cheeseburger Day. I wanted to swing by and check out one of my favorite burgers on planet Earth at Miru 8691. I discovered that the establishment had closed.

National Cheeseburger Day became a day of cheeseburger mourning.

The mantle of Best Cheeseburger in America is now conferred to The Brindle Room in Manhattan, NY.

Miru 8691 is dead...long live Miru 8691

Duke's Malibu--Malibu, CA

21150 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265

The Marinater, Happy Meal, and I found ourselves critically low on cheeseburgers. The Marinater mentioned a cheeseburger happy hour in Malibu, so we all strapped on our jet packs and soared over the PCH traffic to the beachfront establishment. There was valet out front, but there was also free parking along the highway. Valet parking is for guys without jet packs.

The happy hour special on burgers was at the adjacent, but attached, Barefoot Bar. This excited Happy Meal, until I explained to him that he would be keeping his shoes on regardless of the name of the restaurant. This did not stop him from putting on a pre-meal, crabwalking clinic. .  The menu was more Cheesecake Factory meets Trader Vics than anything Hawaiian, but we were there for the burgers and just the burgers. We ordered two Charbroiled Cheeseburgers and one Mango BBQ Burger (The Marinater had a thing for the waitress--she suggested this burger). Our burgers were ready in about 15 minutes. In the meantime, we enjoyed a nice view of the ocean from the patio seating and reflected on the fact that living in Southern California did not suck.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Bah. The beef in the cheeseburgers at Duke's Malibu was completely average. The menu declared that the pre-ground burger meat was Certified Angus. The Well-Done, 1/2 pound patty tasted of previously frozen 80:20 Chuck. The flavor was mildly beefy and..............that was it...just mildly beefy. The flat, uniformly round burger patty was juicy, but it was also on the rubbery side. The beef was not awful, but there was nothing noteworthy about it.

The Seasoning: There was none. That was a grievous error. The burger meat at Duke's Malibu was in dire need of seasoning to give the mild flavors some much-needed help.

The Sear: Meh. The Charbroiled Cheeseburger patties were neither charred nor broiled. They were emblazoned with paltry, thin grill marks. This imparted no interesting texture or flavor to the bland beef.

The Preparation: It seemed safe to assume that the burger patties at Duke's Malibu arrived pre-formed. The preparation was simply frisbeeing the Chuck discs onto a grill and cooking them to a Well-Done.

The Cheese: The menu promised aged Cheddar. What we got on the Charbroiled Cheeseburgers was something more like Mozzarella. The cheese was completely dull and bland. It contributed nothing to the bite. There appeared to be some Cheddar on The Marinater's Mango BBQ Burger, but that was obscured by the cloyingly sweet BBQ sauce.

The Bun: Duke's Malibu prided itself on serving its burgers on King's Hawaiian Rolls. The bun was sweet, as expected. It compressed when handled. The flavor was sweet and moderately yeasty. The buns were not adequately toasted, so there was no crunch in the bite.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was fine.

The Fries: Duke's Malibu served  up previously-frozen, par-cooked, peel-on waffle fries. The fries were good. They were properly browned, crisped, and seasoned.

The Toppings: The Iceberg Lettuce on the Charbroiled Cheeseburgers had seen better days. It had already begun to oxidize and turn brown. The tomato slices were fresh and juicy.

The Value: Meh. I walked out of Duke's Malibu 40 bucks poorer for having purchased three burgers and three soft drinks. The happy hour burgers were $7.50. Even at that discounted price, they were over-priced considering the meager quality.

The burger experience at Duke's Malibu led me to further believe that there are no excellent burgers in Malibu, CA. One pays for the view rather than the quality of the food.

Burger Review : Great views and average chews at Duke's Malibu.

Rating...3 Bites (rounded up from 2.5)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Father's Office (again)--Los Angeles, CA

3229 Helms Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034

It had been nearly 3 years since Fat Bruce Lee and I last set foot in either of the Father's Office locations. We were enraged by that previous visit. We agreed that it was time for us to take a fresh look at the much-lauded, Los Angeles burger icon. We found free parking in the attached lot of the H.D. Buttercup complex. By 7:00 PM on a Tuesday, Father's Office was already filled to capacity, but we managed to score a table in the bar area. Fat Bruce Lee simply had to stare down a couple of patrons to free up the table. It was an uncomfortable scene, but it beat waiting.

We ordered a couple of  The Office Burgers and a single order of fries from  the bar. We settled in for 15-minute wait and chatted above the din of the dimly lit, bustling gastropub.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The ground beef in The Father's Office burgers was, according to a recipe posted on MSN, a half pound of ground Chuck. The beef was fresh, juicy, bloody, and oily. The fat content seemed to be in excess of 20%. The burger meat in the oblong patties was moderately beefy. The beef was relatively uninteresting. The flavor worthy of note beyond the mild beefiness was a little iron. The burger patties were fine along the edges where the beef had cooked to a firm state. The center bites were soft and bland. The beef in these half pound cheeseburgers was fresh and juicy, but it was on the bland side.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the burgers was mildly seasoned with something savory. This was more apparent around the edge of the patty. The seasoning was overwhelmed by a mass of cheese and onion jam in the center. It was only at the edges where the seasoning and beef were able to be savored.

The Sear: Meh. What sear? Father's Office cooked the burgers on a too cool surface, which did the mild beef no favors. This oily burger would have really benefited from a thorough, deep sear.

The Preparation: There wasn't much to get excited about in terms of preparation. The burger patties were hand-formed. The beef presented a loose mouth feel, and this demonstrated that the mild beef was not over-manipulated. Beyond that, the burger was cooked to a competent Med-Rare. Most worthy of note was the massive amount of onions and cheese on the burger. The toppings were heavy-handed.

The Cheese: The burger at Father's Office was nearly obscured by a thick layer of chopped Maytag Bleu cheese. The Bleu cheese was topped with a thick slice of Gruyere. The cheese layer was about 1/4 inch thick. The combination of Bleu and Gruyere was nice. It created a firm and slightly grainy mouth feel. The Gruyere bonded to the Bleu, and this served to keep it from sliding off of the burger patty. The flavor of the cheese was simply too big for the mild beef. The thickness of the cheese layer was a distraction from the beef. The Office Burgers were more like cheese sandwiches than cheeseburgers.

The Bun: The bun was a simple French Roll. It was savory and moderately yeasty. There was no need for a sweet element from the bun. The onions had that covered....abundantly. The bun was dry at the ends but fine once one got past that. There was no crispness, since the bun had only the scarcest hint of toasting. Perhaps the dryness of the bun played to the juiciness of the burger. The wet burger was mostly sopped  up by the bun. In spite of that, I found myself wiping my hands with great frequency.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The beef, when combined with the thick, wet toppings cancelled out the bun and then some. My hands were uncomfortably greasy.

The Toppings: The non-optional onion topping was, effectively, a marmalade of Vidalia onions and balsamic vinegar. This was overpowering. The sweetness and tartness of the onion topping was a distraction, which served to further obscure the mild flavors of the beef in this cheeseburger. In addition to the cheese and onions, Father's Office topped its eponymous burger with baby arugula. This was pleasant, mild, and nutty. The baby arugula resembled cress without the tanginess.

The Fries: The hand-cut, shoestring fries arrived far too long before the burgers. The fries were crisp, hot, golden, and perfectly seasoned. The fries were oilier than they needed to be, so that was a distraction. Beyond that, the fries were accompanied by an oily, garlicky aioli. It was well-documented that ketchup was verboten at Father's Office, so we didn't bother to ask.

The Value: Fat Bruce Lee picked up the tab on this one, so I missed the pricing. I seem to recall the the burger was in the 12 dollar range. The burger was not accompanied by fries. The value for this wet, strongly flavored sandwich was not great.

Father's Office had previously served up an inedible burger with awful service. In the past three years, it seemed that Father's Office had really ramped up their efforts. The burger went from awful to mediocre. Still, I can't, in good conscience, recommend this cheeseburger to anyone.

Burger Review : An over-dressed, burger with flavorful toppings but mild beef was what we had at Father's Office. While the burger was improved, it simply was not good enough.

Rating...3 Bites

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bashan--Glendale, CA

3453 North Verdugo Road
Glendale, CA 91208

It was one of those Sundays where the consumption of calories seemed to be the primary goal. Chef Hot Pepper and I had already taken down the best black bean burritos in Santa Monica, CA at Holy Guacamole on Main Street. Still, there was something missing. I had a Groupon for Bashan out in Glendale, CA. It turned out that Sunday night was burger night at Bashan. Chef Nadav Bashan was creating a limited number of high-end burgers on Sunday evenings. The 18 dollar price point was daunting, but the 2 for 1 $25 Groupon eased the sting. We made the 22 mile drive to Bashan to check out the much lauded gourmet burger. We were seated immediately (we had a reservation). We chatted with the server about the burger who pronounced it the best burger that she had ever tried. Our Bashan Gourmet Burgers were ready and in front of us in about 15 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The component cuts of beef in the Bashan cheeseburger were consistent with a gourmet/fine dining burger offering. The burger was a blend of house-ground Filet and Short Rib. The Filet was a risky choice considering the relative blandness and an intense leanness of that cut of beef. This gamble paid off, though. The Filet provided body, a smooth, potent beefy flavor, and sumptuous mouth feel. The Short Rib provided just the right amount of gaminess and mineral notes. The 8-ounce burger was dripping with juices, and there was an abundance of blood, which was consistent with steak. The beef was not aged, and this absence was noted and missed a little. For 18 bucks, I felt that dry-aged beef would have been appropriate. The fat content was closing in on 25%, so the kitchen must have cut some fat back into the mix. An aged Sirloin fat (The West Branch, NY, NY) or deckle (The Brindle Room, NY, NY) would have added some additional complexity to this burger. Still, the beef was excellent...nearly perfect. The seared exterior provided a delightful counterpoint to the high-quality, flavorful, bloody Rare beef within the burger patty.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the burger was seasoned with a subtle amount of salt. The light touch of salt was right on the mark, and it served to showcase the remarkable sear.

The Sear: The Bashan kitchen applied an intense and interesting sear to the burger patties. The sear was quite good near the middle of  the burger, but the sear was crisp, deep, and impressive around the full perimeter of the patty. This crisp and near-perfect sear provided a bacon-like crispness in nearly every bite. This spoke to some serious talent in the Bashan kitchen. I surmised that this delightful sear had been accomplished by allowing the burger patty to first cook in the pan to render off some of the copious fat. A high smoke point oil would have been added next to avoid creating a scorched flavor. Next, the pan would have been tilted 45 degrees to create a pool of hot oil. The edge of the burger would have been rotated with tongs through the hot pool of oil at the bottom of the slope. This would have accounted for both the crisp (fried) sear and the added depth of the sear along the edges of the patty. If this was the technique employed, then the Bashan kitchen was really putting time into each dish.

The Preparation: The beef was ground and blended in-house. It appeared that the Filet was hand-chopped. This would have explained the short bits of steak in the burger and the amount of blood that was retained prior to cooking. The burgers were seared off in a blazing hot and well-seasoned cast-iron pan. The burgers were cooked to an actual and accurate Med-Rare. This was appropriate considering the quality of the beef delivered by the Premier Meat Company. I had previously encountered Premier Meat Company meats at LBS: A Burger Joint at the Red Rock Casino and at Holsteins at The Cosmopolitan, both in Las Vegas, NV. Both of these burgers were terrific.

The Cheese: Bashan applied Gruyere cheese to the burger. The Gruyere was properly melted, and it was fine on its own.However, the cheese was simply lost in the sensory onslaught provided by the blood, the beef, and the sear. The Gruyere was along for the ride, but it didn't take a turn at the wheel, and it did not offer to chip in for gas. The cheese took a nap in the backseat. This burger required a potent, sharp, smokey cheese or none at all.

The Bun: This was a basic, fresh, nicely toasted, sweet, yeasty brioche from La Brea Bakery. The bun was buttered, and this added to the general oiliness of the dish. The brioche did  a competent job of delivering meat to face. It was also most adept at soaking up the copious juices that escaped the burger patty as it was compressed during the meal. The bun, like the cheese, was pretty much lost in the beefiness and crispness of the burger meat.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: This was teetering on the edge of being meat-heavy. The bun barely held the burger and juices. With the aioli and the onion, the bun would have been overwhelmed.

The Toppings: Meh. The garlic aioli was overly rich, and it lacked any acid to balance the overall richness of the dish. The MASSIVE roasted onion that topped Chef Hot Pepper's cheeseburger was semi-sweet, a little oily, and watery. The onion was quickly removed. The Bashan Gourmet Burger would have benefited greatly from a thick, cool slice of heirloom tomato and some crisp Bibb lettuce.

The Sides: No fries, but there was a helping of red cabbage coleslaw. This too was lacking in acid. The slaw was lukewarm and rich. It seemed to be nothing more than julienned cabbage and house-made mayonnaise . The slaw bordered on unpleasant, and it was left virtually untouched.

The Value: Bashan served up a burger for an unflinching $18. I chuckled when I noticed that for an extra $13, I could have added Foie Gras. Since I used a Groupon, the price was closer to $9. Including tip, I ended up paying $33 for 2 Bashan Gourmet Burgers and 2 soft drinks. That was about right. $18 for this burger was just too much considering the sides and toppings were poorly considered.

The Bashan Gourmet Burger and the attendant toppings were a study in richness. The burger meat was delicious and expertly prepared, but the total dish was overly indulgent and unbalanced. We ended up stopping off at Baskin Robbins for some Daquiri Ice to cleanse our palate.

Burger Review : Bashan served up excellent beef, excellent preparation, and an amazing sear. If richness is your thing, then Bashan could be your thing.

Rating...4 Bites (3.5 due to a half point deduction for value)

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