Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Yard -- Santa Monica, CA

119 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401

A few years ago, Fat Bruce Lee went to The Yard in Santa Monica, and he declared it to be an excellent burger.. This was back when Chris Jacobsen of  Top Chef fame was running things. The Yard's website was next to useless. It was less than reassuring to note that the site promised that a new site was coming soon...in November of 2011. I do not think that "soon" meant what they thought it meant.

Fast forward to to 2012, and I had a Groupon for The Yard. I bribed a guard and smuggled The Marinater out of the supermax prison where he was serving 12 consecutive life sentences for running moonshine in Utah and making illegal modifications to Frisbees. The great state of Utah and Wham-O, Inc. take that stuff more seriously than you might have imagined. The freshly tatted-up Marinater and I easily found $5 parking in one of the nearby public garages.We were seated promptly, and we ordered our $16 burgers. After a 25-minute wait, our cheeseburgers arrived.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef in the cheeseburgers at The Yard was a combination of house-ground Wagyu...Brisket and Eye Round (both wet-aged). Eye Round was an interesting choice for burger meat. Eye Round is a very lean and quite tough cut of beef. It is often used in cube steak. Eye Round is a cut, which requires braising or other tenderization techniques to make it less chewy. The combination of ground Eye Round and Brisket fell flat at The Yard. The texture was slick on the palate. The burgers were undercooked . to a barely warm Rare. However, cooking that Eye Round past that would have turned the bite into a mouthful of rubber bands. The fat from the Brisket simply coated the chewy bits of nearly raw Eye Round. This created a mouth feel akin to biting into oily, warm, firm, chopped, Jello that was seasoned with mild beef broth. Putting aside the alien texture, the flavor was mildly beefy, and there were so pleasant notes of iron and steak. There was also a faint note of funk  The fat content seemed higher than it probably was, because the fat was not absorbed by the lean, dense Eye Round. The bite was oily. The choice of beef for this burger was interesting...in a bad way.

The Seasoning: There was a faint dusting of salt on the exterior of the burger patty.

The Sear: The sear looked quite nice, but it was no match for the bait shop that comprised the interior of the burger.

The Preparation: Meh. The beef came from Vernon Meats. This was according to our server, but I couldn't locate any such business during a cursory web search. Not that this mattered. This was not the sort of dish that I had any interest in seeking out twice. The burger patties at The Yard were about 6 ounces. I assumed that they were formed during the prep cycle. The pressure with which they were formed?  The Yard could have used an industrial hydraulic press, and it wouldn't have mattered. The burgers would have come out the same as if they were gently formed by blind monks in a cave behind a waterfall.

The Cheese: The Yard employed a stout Gruyere. The Gruyere added tartness, umami, salt, and some nuttiness to the dish. Sadly, Gruyere is not the best of melting cheeses, to this only added to the rubberiness of the bite.

The Bun: The burger bun at The Yard came to us courtesy of Bread Bar. Bread Bar has always provided a fantastic product, and this was no exception. The Brioche was mildly sweet and perfectly tender and fresh. The bun was moderately toasted, but the beef was so wet and slick that the texture of the bun was lost in the bite.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: Perfect.

The Toppings: The burger was much improved when fully dressed with the accompanying arugula, crisp pancetta, and oven-roasted tomatoes. All of these elements lent firmness to the otherwise flaccid bite. The peppery, crisp pancetta was the star.

The Fries: The peel-on, hand-cut, shoestring fries at The Yard were perfectly crisped in fresh canola oil. Further, the fries were perfectly seasoned. The fries were the clear winner on the plate.

The Value: NO! 16 bucks for 6 ounces of chewiness was about 10 bucks too much. Without the Groupon, we would have paid $42 for 2 cheeseburgers and 2 soft drinks....OUCH.

Fat Bruce Lee may or may not have been high when he first tried the burger at The Yard and pronounced it to be good. When The Marinater and I sampled the cheeseburger in 2012, it was an over-priced and ill-considered dish. Within 10 minutes of completing our meals, we both had stomach aches from these gut bombs.

Burger Review : Leave this one to the tourists. This spendy burger will not have you running to The Yard.

Rating...2 Bites


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Seven tips for the perfect burger

I obsessively research burgers/cheeseburgers so that you don't have to.  I found this article at the Sierra Sun website.  I couldn't have said it better myself, so here is the article in its entirety, and here is a  Link to the source.

Foodie news | Seven tips for the perfect burger

A perfecty cooked Tex-Mex burger is a great grilled entree for barbecue season.
Summer brings late nights, days at the pool, and of course firing up the grill. America's favorite food, hamburgers, are a grilling staple! While burgers and outdoor barbecues go together, well like, burgers and fries, mastering the perfect burger requires some useful knowledge.

Below are grill master tips to achieve the ultimate burger.

1. The meat: Most burger enthusiasts claim grinding your own meat is the only way to go, but for many this is not an option. However, purchasing good quality ground meat is important. Generic ground beef can be a combination of several cuts of beef, which tends to be higher in fat and will make a greasy burger. Choosing ground sirloin, at 15 percent fat, is the best burger option.

2. Don't over work the meat: When adding seasonings, avoid over mixing the meat; which will cause burgers to be tough.

3. Chill the meat: Before forming the patties, chill the meat for 20-30 minutes. This step is crucial, since warm fat will easily melt while shaping the patties, thus causing a dry burger.

4. Form the perfect patty: After the meat has rested and chilled, divide each pound of beef into four equal patties. Wet hands with cold water and shape beef into 3/4-inch thick patties. While shaping the patties, gently form a small dimple in the center. This prevents the burger from “puffing up” while it cooks, making for an even burger.

5. Season: Salt and pepper will bring out the natural flavors of the beef. However, do not season with salt until after forming the patties and right before cooking. Salt dissolves muscle proteins and if added too early will make the burger tough.

6. Grill it up: Proper grilling techniques are crucial to cooking the perfect burger. Make sure the grill is extremely hot. Never press down on the burger patties, as this releases the natural juices in the burger. Let the burger cook for five minutes before flipping. Flipping only once prevents the burger from falling apart and sticking to the grill.

7. Perfectly melted cheese: After flipping, let the burger cook for three minutes and then top with cheese while the burger is still on the grill.

With grilling season here, and your new-found burger knowledge, impress your friends at your next barbecue by making the perfect burger!

— Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was 9-years-old in her mother's kitchen. She knows how to get food on the table in a pinch while sticking to a budget. Currently, Chef Heather serves as a writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Square 1 Burgers & Bar -- Fort Myers, FL

5031 South Cleveland Avenue
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Having read that it had just recently opened, and confident that the salad that I had brought into work for lunch would not even come close to satisfying my hunger, I set off to Square 1 Burgers & Bar. It is a small Tampa-based chain, which I had been interested in sampling, so I was very pleased to find out they were expanding into my area.

The restaurant's ambiance belied its food offerings a bit. It was a sit-down establishment, with a full bar, tablecloths, and cloth napkins. I arrived at the end of the lunch rush, and was seated immediately. Besides a full array of burger options, the menu offered a large selection of appetizers, sandwiches, milkshakes, and several alternatives for those who prefered to not eat meat.

I ordered the All-American Burger, described as "100% Meyer’s Angus burger on a sesame seed bun with American cheese, curly leaf lettuce, beefsteak tomato, red onion and mayonnaise." It took approximately 20 minutes for my order to arrive. While this was somewhat perturbing, they did get a pass on this visit, as they had only been open a couple of days.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Square 1 sourced their beef from Meyer Farms, and described it as Natural Red Angus, acquired from free-range cattle that were fed natural grass and grain diets. The beef did live up to its extended billing. It was very flavorful with strong mineral notes and a healthy, beefy funk. It was 80/20 Chuck, and it was juicy, (mostly--more on that below) tender, and not at all greasy.

The Seasoning: The patty was seasoned with a fair amount of salt and a small amount of pepper. It ended up being just right. Anything more would have overshadowed the beef.

The Sear: The kitchen achieved a solid sear on the patty, though a little unbalanced (one half had heavy sear, while the other had a lesser sear). It added some interesting textures and flavors to an already good cheeseburger.

The Preparation: The odd shape was a dead giveaway that the patties were hand-formed. The grind of the beef was OK, but I detected signs of too much manipulation in a small portion of the patty that left that part of it a bit too chewy. I ordered a Medium burger. It came out Medium-Well. I would have asked for a re-fire, but I had already waited 20 minutes for my meal, and I was hungry. Nonetheless, the cheeseburger at  Square 1 remained juicy in spite of being overcooked.

The Cheese: A thick slice of American cheese topped this burger, and its creamy flavor and texture provided a nice counterbalance to the powerful beef.

The Bun: My burger was served with a sesame seeded, Kaiser roll...source unknown. The insides were lightly buttered and grilled. It had an airy texture, but it was still firm enough to hold up to a half pound of meat and cheese. It tasted very fresh and a little yeasty. It was good, and it would have been as good without the buttering and grilling.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: The meat covered the bun, but did not extend beyond the edges. There was no chance of bread overtaking meat on this burger.

The Fries: The fries were delicious. They were fresh-cut, hot, crisp, and sprinkled with very coarse sea salt.

Side Note: When I saw a plate of onion rings being delivered to another table, I immediately kicked myself (ouch) for not sampling them. I will not make that mistake again on my next visit.

The Toppings: As always, I removed the lettuce, tomato, and onion that were served atop the burger. However, let it be known that they were fresh and of high quality. The Romaine lettuce was a healthy shade of green, and completely unwilted despite the moisture from the burger it accompanied. The red onion was crisp and fresh. Finally, the tomato was beautiful: red, juicy, and with perfectly-textured flesh. It would have made for a great salad, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Value: $8.50 for a cheeseburger and fries was pushing it. However, it was quality beef, and the portions were large, so I was not displeased when the bill arrived.

Burger Review: Square 1 used some top ingredients, which translated to a tasty product. They were teetering on the brink of excellence. Hopefully, they will work out some of the deficiencies that are common in a fledgling restaurant, which should push them over the line.

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Planet Dailies -- Los Angeles, CA

6333 West 3rd Street #020
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Facebook friend of The Burger Busters, former Miss Utah, and Master Popcorn Stringer, Joseph Bacon requested that I check out Planet Dailies at the LA Farmer's Market. I was not about to say no to Mr. Bacon, because A. he can bench a Volkswagen Tuareg and B. his name is Bacon, fer gawd's sake. I dutifully made my was to Planet Dailies on a Sunday afternoon in hopes of avoiding a heavy crowd at the recently-opened establishment. I have to admit, as I walked past the stalls selling fresh produce at the Farmer's Market, my hopes for a solid burger were buoyed. I imagined that it would be hard to mess up a simple burger when surrounded, actually surrounded by fresh, quality produce.

I found quick seating in the bar area, and that was the last quick thing that happened at Planet Dailies. After a 10-minute wait, a staffer approached me and took my beverage order. Shortly after that, I was handed a flat soda. We managed to sort that out, and I ordered The Dailies Burger ($13.99). About 20 minutes, my cheeseburger arrived.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef in the burger at Planet Dailies was certified Angus Chuck, which was peppered with connective tissue. It arrived pre-ground , and I assumed that it had not been frozen...it was not rubbery. The 7-ounce Chuck patty was moderately beefy, and it had a nice funk from wet-aging. Since it was all Chuck, there were no mineral or steak notes to round out the flavor profile. The bite was loose and very juicy. The staff informed me that the fat content was 20%. I did not inquire as to the source of the beef, because the beef was merely average, and I had no interest in seeking it out again.

The Seasoning: I tasted only a faint amount of salt on the exterior of the burger patty. This burger would have benefited greatly from a generous hit of salt and pepper.

The Sear: Yawn! The sear on the cheeseburger at Planet Dailies was exceedingly weak. The burger was turned three times, and that was twice too many. This frequent fiddling with the burger did not allow the surface to reach a temperature where a sear could occur. That was unfortunate, because a decent sear would have done wonders for this burger.

The Preparation: The burger patties were formed during the prep cycle. The looseness of the bite indicated that a light hand was employed when forming the Chuck pucks.

The Cheese: The Cheddar on my cheeseburger was nominally melted, and it was sweating a fair amount of oil. This suggested and goodly portion of my 20-minute wait was squandered as my burger sat under a heat lamp. The lank Bibb lettuce served to further confirm this guess. The Cheddar was moderately sharp, and it lent some much-needed salt to the dish.

The Bun: Planet Dailies served The Daily Burger on a potato bun. The bun was perfectly toasted. The bun was also punishingly bland. It was the starchy equivalent of water. The bun was completely neutral and dry.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: WAY too much bun. For fear of desiccation, I ate the second half of the burger with no bun. This also allowed me to avoid having Bedouins set up camp in my mouth. I hate the way camels taste.

The Fries: Planet Dailies was located in the LA Farmers Market, but the fries arrived frozen, peeled, and pre-cut. The lightly-battered fries were pretty darned good. The fries were crisp, perfectly salted, and tender. The fries were far better than the burger.

The Toppings: Again, Planet Dailies was in the LA Farmers Market, but the vegetation was weak. The tomato slice was flavorless. The Bibb lettuce was partially wilted, and it had dirt on it. Clearly, I did not taste the lettuce.

The Value: The Daily Burger (with fries), and a soft drink came out to about $19 bucks before the tip. Planet Dailies banged me for a twenty spot for some really average eats. The value was poor.

Planet Dailies had a decidedly off day, but even had they been completely on their game, it did not appear that the cheeseburger would have been worth the visit. The Golden State was just down the street, and they have never failed to be excellent.

Burger Review : Joseph Bacon, you can safely pass on Planet Dailies.

Rating...2 Bites (2.5 with a deduction for service, value, and dirty lettuce)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Burger Lounge -- West Hollywood, CA

8539 West Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

This from the Burger Lounge website: "...Burger Lounge grew out of the idea that a hamburger should not only taste great, it should also utilize healthy ingredients produced in a sustainable environment. We provide a simple premium quality menu that appeals to health conscious diners, vegetarians, salad lovers and diners simply "hankering for a great hamburger.

Our beef comes from one farm, grown by a small company where the animals are well treated and never spend time in a corporate "feed-lot". Their diet consists of tall green grass from beautiful Kansas prairie land. This is what nature intended cows to eat and nothing more. No hormones, no antibiotics, no grain, no corn, just beautiful green grass. These conditions produce a beef that is delicious and far better for you than conventionally grown beef.

Our business model represents the bridge between bloated corporate "fast food" culture and the "less is more, quality is everything" approach. Success is to do a common thing, uncommonly well. It is the people in our organization that make this possible.

At Burger Lounge, our "guest first" philosophy, premium quality products and our environmentally responsible approach, all represent the future of the fast-casual market sector. As we grow, we continue to seek partners with like-minded ideas..."

Wow, right?  These guys really seemed dedicated to nailing a simple, American classic. I walked into Burger Lounge with high hopes. I walked out feeling much differently.

Parking was free in the underground lot. I popped by on a Sunday afternoon, and there was no issue finding a table. I ordered The Lounge Burger ($7.95), a fries/rings combo, and a beverage. For two, this came to $33.57 (with tip). A little steep, but if Burger Lounge even approached the promise of the website verbiage, it would have been well worth it.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Gone was the grass-fed beef from my native Kansas. It was replaced with beef from another source. At the time of my visit, the beef was sourced from Rain Crow Ranch. It was still grass-fed. The flavor was beefy enough, but the burgers were also cooked well past the requested cooking temperature of Medium. The burger patty was 100% Chuck. The Chuck had a moderate funk to it. The fat content was at least 20%. Even so, the burger was on the oily side. There was no trace of blood or mineral notes. The patty weighed in at about 6 ounces. The beef at Burger Lounge was fine, but it was by no means remarkable.

The Seasoning: The exterior of the burger patty at Burger Lounge was lightly salted.

The Sear: This was frustrating to me. There appeared to be a decent sear under the cheese. However, that sear was made soggy after it absorbed the steam that was trapped beneath that cheese. The flip-side of the burger had a so-so sear from the gas-fired flat-top.

The Preparation: I ordered Medium, and I received Med-Well. The burger patties at Burger Lounge were formed during the prep cycle. The beef arrived pre-ground...but not frozen. As a result, the cheeseburger was tender and not chewy.

The Cheese: I went with American cheese for my burger, and it was fine. The cheese was properly melted. It provided pleasant notes of iron and salt. The cheese also served to add creaminess to the bite.

The Bun: The buns at Burger Lounge were sourced from Puritan Bakery. The burger buns were a recipe developed specifically for Burger Lounge. The bun was a whole wheat affair with a sturdy front note of molasses, and that was about it. The bun was otherwise neutral and uninteresting. Sadly, it was also on the stale side. That's what I got for going on a Sunday.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: Too much bun. I ate mine topless to avoid desiccating my tongue.

The Fries and Rings: The peel-off, house-cut fries were prepared Belgian-style--twice fried.  The fries were both crisp and creamy. The onion rings were crisp and nicely browned. Both fries and rings were properly seasoned.

The Toppings: The tomato slice was ripe and juicy. The Iceberg lettuce was wilted and nearly rotten along the edges. I was shocked to see this arrive alongside my cheeseburger. The house-made BBQ sauce was satisfying and rich with onion flavors.

The Value: Meh. 8 bucks for an average tasting burger on a semi-stale bun was not exciting.

Burger Lounge had been open long enough to work out the kinks. It seemed that Burger Lounge had been open long enough to become complacent. The quality of preparation was lacking.

Burger Review : Burger Lounge served up some tasty fries and rings. The burgers were merely average.

Rating...3 Bites

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