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Rush Street is smack dab in the middle of Culver City where Washington and Culver Boulevards have a brief fling as one street for a few blocks before parting ways just as quickly. Named after the famous bar heavy street in Chicago, Rush Street describes itself as having a “Chi-Town Vibe.” Now I believe it’s true regardless of where you’re from, that when a place describes itself as an homage to your hometown it is impossible not to arch your eyebrow and utter the words “We’ll see about that.”  It’s weird. It’s like a nervous tic. For some reason we’re obsessed with authenticity even though we know we will be disappointed. A Chicago bar in Los Angeles will not feel like Chicago. It just won’t. I know this. And yet, I’m going to offer a few suggestions about how to make it better anyway. (Yes, I know. This is a burger blog. I’m getting to that. I promise.)

Let me start off by saying the place is lovely. Huge open ceilings lined with metal beams, exposed brick walls, and dark wood tables. Over the gigantic bar are flat screen TVs showing sports and there’s a party loft where people can schmooze freely. They have drink specials nearly every night of the week and any time there’s a Chicago team playing, it’s a party.

That being said, they could have put a little more effort into Chicago-izing the menu.  They have something called Tataki Nachos as an appetizer which is seared ahi, avocado, sambal aioli, unagi sauce, asian slaw, and wonton chips. It’s the most Californian thing I’ve ever heard of. If you ate nachos at a bar in Chicago with seared ahi and unagi sauce, I can promise you will be staring at the bottom of a toilet all night.  Where are the salutes to Polish, German, and Italian culture? Where are the pierogis? The Vienna Beef Chicago style hotdogs? Forget the avocado fries dude, make some schnitzel instead.

Where Rush Street excels is its burgers.  They’ve got a variety of options all around twelve bucks: The Mesquite Turkey Burger, the Moroccan Lamb Burger, the Shrimp, Crab, and Scallop Burger, the Ragin’ Cajun Salmon Burger, but the one that reigns supreme in my mind is their signature Rush Street Dry-Aged Burger. Most restaurants will offer you the ingredients on this burger as a side for extra money. You know a dollar extra for bacon or onions. This baby gives you everything you’re too sheepish or too broke to order on your own. This beef patty is nestled next to crispy applewood bacon, Tillamook Sharp cheddar, shoestring onions (aka crispy onion rings), arugula, and confire sauce (BBQ sauce) on a brioche bun. It’s one satisfying mess. The smoky sweetness of the confire sauce goes perfectly with the saltiness of the bacon and the onion crispies, and the medium rare dry-aged burger will drip down your hands no matter how you hold it. It is lovely.


Word to the wise, they will offer you many kinds of alternatives to the fries for extra money: sweet potato fries, truffle asiago fries, or a salad. Hold firm. The Rush Street shoestring fries are in a class all their own. They are crunchy little strips of golden perfection that feel like you’re eating nothing.  These spuds don’t get eaten…they get inhaled. Rush Street is one of the few establishments where I insist on a box for my fries if I don’t finish them. They’re just as delicious the next day with a side of eggs.

-Molly Bergen

 

As I suspect will eventually become a theme and possibly even mantra here at hoodburger, quality need not be complex. I’m not saying that smoked foie gras and exotic crossbred microgreens cannot be skillfully applied to a burger mind you, I’m simply saying that it is possible to really nail it in the quality department without the aid of a gimmick, and this week’s west side super star does just that.

The Golden State Café is not a burger spot, but rather a proper yet informal restaurant, with a full menu of good looking hearty sandwiches, sides, a solid beer selection and even scratch made ice cream from Scoops (which, if you don’t know about you are doing yourself a great disservice). Located just across the street from Canter’s Deli, Golden State enjoys a nice plot right in the middle of the hip drag of South Fairfax. Their burger is but one of many choices available, but I implore you to find any diner in that place eating anything else. Seriously, when you go, have a look around and what the other patrons are eating. In my experience, a pretty dependable 80% of the entire restaurant will be eating cheeseburgers, and with good cause.

As alluded to initially, the burger at Golden State is pretty simple, topped only with apple-wood smoked bacon, white cheddar cheese, arugula, aioli and ketchup. Seems too simple to be amazing right? WRONG. The beauty is in the execution. I have had this burger several times and the bacon is always perfectly crisped, the patty always skillfully seasoned and medium rare, the brioche bun always fresh, moist and sweet. The greens provide a nice complimentary sharpness and are plentiful but never overpowering, while the sweet familiar tang of ketchup functions just as it should on any burger. The proportions of each ingredient to the others is spectacular, as if these burgers are constructed with each component exactly measured to the fraction of a gram.

The difference between a nearly perfect burger and a nearly perfect meal is all about the accompaniment, and The Golden State delivers in this department as well. Their French Fries and sweet potato fries are both delicious though predictably so, and the jalepeno cole slaw is out of this world. Everything about the slaw is so subtle, with the exception of how fresh it is. Either I always get lucky and show up right when the it has just been made, or they make it twice a day everyday, because it always tastes like it was grown let alone prepped only hours before. Not too much mayo, not too much vinegar, sugar or salt, just fresh mild flavors and a little spice from the raw peppers. It almost eats like a salad. I recommend it highly not only because it is a joy to consume, but also because the slaw sticks out as (what at least feels like) a responsible dietary decision among many choices that are less so.

The Golden State is a favorite spot of mine and generally my default for a quick meal if I’m in the neighborhood and I am not alone. Upon eating there recently for the purpose of this review, I showed up at noon right when the doors opened, and watched the place fill up entirely in 15 minutes. Despite the secret being out, the wait is never long and the service always good. Ask questions too- every staff member with whom I have interacted is not only knowledgeable but obviously really into food. So, next time you’re shopping for streetwear, or the prospect of a swarm of adorable 12-year old skater kids whizzing past you at way-too-fast-to-be-on-the-sidewalk speeds sounds appealing, make sure to pop into Golden State for what really is one of the best burgers in Los Angeles. Until further notice this place is definitely on my personal top 5. They have instant iced tea, which to me is a sin, but I have never eaten a bite prepared by the Golden State that I would describe as anything less than scrumptious. They even have a veggie burger that’s not half bad if your date happens to not understand that deep down, all cows truly desire to be eaten.

– Geoff Sawyer

p.s. On this visit they were playing Outkast: “Aquemini” (one of the greatest rap records of all time) from start to finish, further solidifying my opinion that these guys FULLY get it.

Let’s get one thing out of the way before launching into this review. Hole in the Wall Burger Joint is not on Santa Monica Blvd. Google, Yelp, and all the other maps will say that it is at 11058 Santa Monica Blvd in West LA, which turns out to be total and utter fiction. It is in fact around the corner on S. Bentley Ave tucked behind a Winchell Donuts and unless you have X-ray vision there is absolutely no chance you will see it from Santa Monica Blvd.  You have been warned.

That being said, this place is totally worth finding. The Hole in the Wall Burger Joint (or as it will be known from here on out as the Joint because my fingers are lazy) is my favorite kind of burger place: unpretentious, no frills, cheap and gourmet.  The restaurant itself looks like the kind of place you could catch a disease just by sitting down. Tiny metal chairs are sprawled under tarps in the parking lot which counts as their patio and the inside is bright orange and filled with uncomfortable chairs. Does it matter? Not one bit. Because the money they saved on décor, they passed on to you. They don’t call themselves “The Working Man’s Gourmet Burger” for nothing.

The Joint is the kind of place where you can design your own burger.  For $8.95 you get a giant list of toppings, homemade sauces, and cheese. Unlike their expensive competition (cough, the Counter) they actually pay attention to the burger. They use grass-fed Angus beef without antibiotics or hormones. The burger is thick and juicy and grease will run down your chin. It is rich and satisfying and never overcooked. Don’t eat beef? No worries. They’ve got spicy chicken, homemade veggie, and turkey. Allergic to gluten? No problem, they also do burgers in a bowl. Don’t want to make a decision? That’s cool, they’ve always got a special burger of the day.  And all of it can be ordered online before you even get there and it’ll be ready in 10 minutes. All ready to go wrapped lovingly in wax paper and a brown paper bag.  It is one of those shining fast food lights in the shadowy world of strip mall burger joints.

I often sneak over there for lunch, and yesterday I got a beef burger on fresh pretzel bread with onion jam, cheddar, red onions (you can never have too many onions), sautéed mushrooms, and lettuce (You know, for health. Hi, Mom.) The man who took my order at the counter was a tall, sweaty behemoth of goodwill. His burgers are good and he is tremendously proud of them. Calling me darling, he told me to check out the sauces. The sauce counter is probably the only snobby part of the Joint, but it’s also my favorite. They have three options labeled: Their Ketchup, Our Ketchup, and Our Ranch. Below each title is a list of ingredients, including all of the chemicals included in Their Ketchup. Both Our Ketchup and Our Ranch contain the ingredient Love. Consequently, Their Ketchup contains “No Love.” It makes me wonder if anyone has ever chosen Their Ketchup and if so, how old the ketchup in that bottle is. These are not healthy things to wonder.

It’s hard not to like a place that focuses all of its energy on making good affordable food and doesn’t much care about anything else.  The only real downside is that they’re cash only, so come prepared.

– Molly Bergen

Pasadena has always felt a little too grown up for me. Whenever I find myself in the area, my inevitable criticism of my activities is that the vibe is too upper-middleclass-personality-void for my taste. That being said, there are some GREAT restaurants there, and my beef with Pasadena in general may have more to do with the fact that I actually enjoy it almost every time that I end up in some conservative, grown-and-sexy eatery and feel guilty for loving it. Perhaps it’s time to admit my passage into real adulthood, and embrace the guilt. Here goes: I had a very grown up burger experience recently, at Noir.

Upon arriving, I was escorted through a small and very cozy yet sophisticated bar area and into an open-air back patio. I was sat right next to the water feature, which felt like something you might find in the lobby of an excessively nice Beverly Hills Yoga studio. Noir is sort of a fail-safe date place, because if you like serious dates and are impressed by elements like the soothing sounds of an outdoor fountain and piped in saxophone music, they have them and you win. However, if you think that stuff is hilarious, they still have those things and you still win. In this case I was a member of the latter camp, and fortunately for me so was the friend I drug along. Despite my apparent smugness about the ambiance, from the time we were seated until we left, the food and the service were nearly impeccable.

Noir is more a wine bar than anything else, if you had to peg them for a specialty. The list of both Old World and local selections is long, and generally pretty affordable though you can certainly drop several hundred dollars on a single bottle if that’s your style. One of the greatest parts about the wine menu (particularly if you, such as myself, are not extremely educated about wine but thoroughly enjoy it) is that they offer flights of various types. Meaning you get three supposedly 2.5 ounce pours (mine were definitely bigger) of mid ranged wines from your selected group: Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays etc. for about $15 give or take a buck. The pours hardly look short of a proper glass of wine, so I found this to be a great deal and easy way to spare oneself the struggle of rationalizing the purchase of multiple drinks. You’ll be half drunk after a tasting.

Noir’s dinner menu is not large but rather skips straight to the main events. As a wine bar, the selections of charcuterie and fancy cheeses is vast, and the actual entrees are few but look like a greatest hits of food compilation. Lamb Chops, Steak, Seared Scallops, Crab cakes, and of course, a burger all can be found on the focused menu, with sides such as bacon fried rice, frittes, and truffled cauliflower. Naturally, I had the burger, which is referred to on the menu as “The Farewell Burger” though I managed to leave without thinking to ask our sever why the heck they call it that. Perhaps because I was drunk on 3 types of pinot noir… Anyhow, this is not a typical burger. The Farewell is heavily seasoned with Tarragon, and topped with caramelized onions, remoulade, and emmenthal cheese on a bread that most closely resembled ciabatta. Oh my dear lord the flavors. What a delight. Wonderfully seasoned beef, served extremely rare. I never thought I would say this but it actually could have been more cooked, though the burger certainly did not suffer for the lack of time on the grill. The onions were sweet, the remoulade tangy and plentiful, cutting down the funk of the emmenthal. The proportions were perfect, despite the burger being very saucy. It should be just as it was. The only problem and my singular criticism of the burger was the texture of the bread. Its flavor was spectacular, but it was so chewy, there was no hope for keeping this thing together as a sandwich. With all the other components being soft and slippery, every time I tried to take a bite everything on the bun squished out in every direction. I gave up early on and ate the whole thing with a knife and fork, and the bread was so tough event that was a challenge. I would still totally recommend Noir’s Farewell Burger, just plan on eating it like a steak.

Though all the food I tried was excellent, the real reason to go is for the wine. The selection was fierce, there are many affordable options, and my server was immeasurably knowledgeable about their offerings (as I should hope the entire staff is). Should I find myself there again it will probably be for an actual date, on which we indulge in many affordable wines, an impressive selection of French cheeses (so I look sophisticated), and hopefully with someone who finds humor in a smooth jazz aural backdrop.

-Geoff Sawyer

p.s. the lighting was so moody that I could not take a single decent photo. Fortunately the good folks at Noir were kind enough to provide the only photo of the Farewell Burger.

The portion of Venice Blvd that runs through Mar Vista is festooned with stores selling all kinds of things: organic soaps, thrift store duds, pet store goods, donuts and haircuts.  Like most of Los Angeles, if you don’t know what you’re looking for it gets damned confusing. However just east of Centinela on Venice is a tiny shop called Earl’s Gourmet Grub.  The sign on the front  proclaims something new every day. Today’s mantra is “Earl says, Eat Lunch and Drop Trou.” Now it’s unclear whether you should drop your trousers because you’re so full after eating at Earls or you should drop them to give the Earl some loving after such a good meal. Hard to say. Both are probably a good idea.

Inside the tiny store front the room is divided in two. Half for the kitchen and half for you to stand and make up your mind about what you want to eat. The ceilings are decorated with what looks like fanned balsa wood with geometric shapes carved into the walls, and benches are stacked with vintage sodas and fancy chips.  The handsome cooks will smile and try and rush you into a decision. Stand your ground. Take your time. There is a lot to consider. Earl’s makes great sandwiches. (Also, do not worry about finding a spot in the front, the backyard is spacious.)

Earl’s has three burgers: The Earl’s Burger, The Red Fang Bison Burger, and the Cowciutto. Both the Earl’s Burger and the Red Fang Bison Burger contain the same ingredients: homemade bun, half pound patties, lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheddar, and Earl’s sauce. Now, I’m not sure what Earl’s sauce is, but I know this much, it’s pretty damn close to Thousand Island dressing (Is it Thousand Island dressing, Earl? Please let me know.) Now the Earl’s Burger is a fine, respectable burger. It does its job quite well. It’s juicy and tender and flavorful, but it comes nowhere near the bison burger in terms of star power.  That Red Fang Burger kept me up and night researching why we don’t have more bison in our diet.

Seriously, why don’t we eat more bison? They are a native species that are absolutely delicious. Are they hard to herd? Are they expensive? Are cows just easier to kill? Do you need more space for bison? Is it because they’re fuzzy? What is it? I will have to do more research on this because the Red Fang Bison Burger was scrumptious. It was hearty and fulfilling and made the rest of the condiments sing. (Fair warning: after a half pound of bison, you will need a nap. Plan accordingly.) Another star on the plate was the mint coleslaw and salad that comes with every sandwich. Usually when a restaurant gives you no choice in the matter, their sides are pretty good. The mint coleslaw was especially crisp and refreshing.

Then we came to the Cowciutto Burger. Oh man.  Let me just start out by saying, I wanted to love this burger. I did. This is what happens when a place tries to Frankenstein their menu. I’ll explain. Earl’s has a magnificent sandwich called The Pig and Fig, which has Prosciutto di Parma, Maytag Blue Cheese, fig hash (which as it turns out is code for jam),  arugula,  and aioli on three season bread. It’s shockingly good. The Cowciutto is the Earl Burger and the Pig and Fig’s unholy lovechild. It’s got the entire Pig and Fig on top of a half pound burger patty, and I wish I could tell you it worked. Unfortunately the salty prosciutto and the seasoned burger’s flavors fight each other in a brutal battle for supremacy. Like beauty queens vying for the judges’ attention, both of them resort to brutal tactics leaving both sides tarnished. It just doesn’t work, but Earl’s definitely gets points for trying. New burgers are always worth creating even if they miss the mark.

PS. After lunch if you need a cup of coffee, stop by at Venice Grind next door. They carry Stumptown coffee and are very kind people.

– Molly Bergen