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

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