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Monthly Archives: February 2013

public school lamb burger

Colorado Lamb Burger

Sometimes you go into a place and it’s got strikes against it by just BEING new. It’s not fair. It’s not rational. Public School 310’s only crime was that it replaced Fraiche which had my favorite spaghetti in all of Los Angeles. So I hated it immediately. Just like I always hate the new Dr. Who initially or the new Golden State Warriors uniform. I just hate it because it’s new and unfamiliar and replaced something I liked. The line out the door for lunch on Tuesday didn’t help it much either. If you plan on going here, just grab a seat at the bar and forego the whole waiting in line entirely.

Once I figured out that the bar was open, I scuttled past the well coifed hostesses and grabbed a seat. The inside of the place pays homage superficially to public school. They’ve got globes, textbooks, and pencil sharpeners balanced decoratively on shelves alongside giant bowls of shiny red apples. The menus are printed in test notebooks. It’s all very adorable, but they didn’t push the theme as far as they could have. They missed the opportunity of turning it into what people actually remember about public school lunch rooms. There could have been long wooden benches with very little elbow room, a wait staff that all wore hairnets, and they could have labeled the tables things like “The Geeks,” “The Football Team,” and “Mean Girls.” Or if they were feeling really cheeky they could have made you bribe the waiters to buy you beer.

The menu, however, is very appropriate. They have hotdogs, hamburgers, and fries alongside more grownup offerings like the roasted poblano with quinoa and a Tuscan chopped salad.  They have four different burgers and over the course of four weeks, I ate every single one.  Here’s the weird part. I’m not going to even talk about the beef burgers.  Well okay, that’s not entirely true. I will say this: they are perfectly respectable and utterly unremarkable things. They both have the things one would expect from a cheeseburger: cheese, burger, lettuce, and tomato. The main difference between the two is one has Huntsman cheese and balsamic grilled onions and is dully dubbed The Huntsman, and the other one has pickles and American cheese and therefore called, you guessed it, the American.  It’s one of the few times in my life when I could feel the boredom of the chef radiate out of the burger. He/she couldn’t give two figs about whether you enjoyed yourself or not.

C.C.B.

C.C.B.

How do I know this? Because the chicken and lamb burgers are spectacular.  It reminds me of my own high school career, where I excelled at only the classes that interested me and the others I just barely squeaked by because they bored me to tears.  This chef is bored to tears by beef. Why? I don’t know.  I’ll start with the lamb burger.  Complimenting the earthy flavor of the patty, it’s paired with a really tangy barnyard brie, sharply peppery arugula, and a sweet tomato and cranberry jam. The combination of these flavors is really satisfying and homey.

But this is nothing compared to the chicken burger. This chicken burger is the new standard for all other chicken burgers. Why? Because it’s a fusion of two of my two favorite foods: a burger and a Cobb salad. I didn’t think such a thing was possible and am a little sad I didn’t think of it first. Named the C.C. B. (Chicken Cobb Burger) it is the true star of this menu. It’s a ground chicken patty with a fried egg, avocado, house made tomato jam, three strips of bacon, lettuce, and a good slathering of blue cheese. Just one word of caution: you cannot eat this thing wearing sleeves or a white shirt, the yolk and blue cheese goes everywhere.  It is a glorious mess.

Brown Bag Fries

Brown Bag Fries

TB American Kobe burger

So last week, at the end of a workday, probably about 6:00pm, the C.F.O. of the company for which I slave pops into my office to ask if I “like Tommy Bahama.” For those of you unfamiliar, click that link, or picture your dad’s most tan friend who was always talking about golf. He probably worked in finance or real estate. Now remember his shirt. That flowy silk & linen blend that managed to never wrinkle but did bear some appalling Hawaiian pattern and wooden buttons. Remember? Tommy Bahama is the brand that makes those, and not only is their clothing a far cry from anything I’d hope to be caught in, but the shit is expensive. Had this question come from ANYONE else, my obvious answer would have been a firmly unconditional “NO” but given that I know for a fact that a Tommy Bahama tag is peeking out of 80% of the things hanging in this dude’s closet (and he signs my paychecks) I squeaked a pekid “sure.” I happen to have a similar build to this guy (husky long-since football player type), which is probably why he thought of me and exactly why I should have seen it coming that he desired to aid me in the updating of my wardrobe. He handed me a $50 gift card that expired that day. I had about 3 hours to spend it, and I was looking at coming out of pocket an additional $50 for some awful shirt I don’t want because as I said, their shit isn’t cheap. “I hate to give it away but I gotta go pick up my boy” he said. Me: “Great, thanks. Hey how bummed will you be if I don’t use this? I might be here kinda late.” He looked at me as if I had just lit his Fifty Dollar bill on fire with an American Flag that I already happened to be burning. “Oh what am I talking about? I’ll just go now. This work can wait till tomorrow.” I could feel his blood pressure return to normal. Crisis averted, sort of. Now I just have to find the cheapest thing they have and wear it to work at least once.

Following a brief trip in the wrong direction, tacking another 20 minutes onto my already nightmarish commute, I found myself in Newport at some fancy strip-mall that functioned as a suburb to a huge mall, which is where google told me the Tommy Bahama store is. What google did not tell me is that THEY HAVE A RESTAURANT!!! Tommy Bahama has an “Island Grille” in Newport Beach, adjoined to its clothing store. Oh how my little heart sang when the hostess replied “yes, you can use that gift card here.” I had just gone from having to spend 50 of my own dollars on what would unquestionably be my least loved article of clothing, to being treated to a piggishly huge dinner alone (which is one of my favorite treats ever). Things were looking up.

$17 poke stack with capers, guacamole and mustard aioli. Sounds weird but it was great.

$17 poke stack with capers, guacamole and mustard aioli. Sounds weird but it was great.

I followed a young host who couldn’t have been a day over 15 through a bar where Joan Osborne’s twin who never made it sang 90’s radio rock covers to a crowd of drinkers and diners who could not have cared less. I would have felt bad for her except she glowed nearly as much as I did, still elated that I got food instead of terrible golf-wear. My server was prompt to bring me a menu and I was equally prompt at finding the burger on it, which actually sounded good. My head and the clouds were irreparably intertwined.

To be fair, this burger probably got graded very leniently not only due to the fact that I didn’t have the experience of paying retail price for it (it’s $16, and my appetizer was $17), but as I said, the joy of being able to report that I used the gift card while not adding any geriatric beachwear to my closet was not yet close to dissipating. That being said, it was pretty darn good. Tommy Bahama’s has 2 burgers, of which I opted for the American Kobe, which seemed the simpler of them. Rare Wagyu Beef, Aged Jack, tomato jam, watercress, guacamole and mustard aioli all came together on a surprisingly fluffy brioche, and aside from the beef not being particularly seasoned each ingredient was very complimentary of the others. The jack was very sharp (I’m guessing it was at least 2 years old) and they obviously broil it on the patty so it’s all warm and burnt. Yum. Tomato jam was more like a compote and not so sweet, guacamole was predictable (but who doesn’t like guacamole?) and the aioli’s flavor was delicate enough that it could be slathered on. These are not toppings that I necessarily would have combined but it really worked.

kobe burger guts

So: Tommy Bahama not only has shops where over-priced and overly horrendous casualwear can be acquired, they also have a small chain of over-priced restaurants that are totally decent. Does it feel like a chain restaurant? Absolutely. Like the Cheesecake Factory’s fancy big brother. Is the décor that which would be appreciated by a patron of their clothing stores? Duh. Will it be populated by those very same folks when you go (speaking of tan post-middle-agers who though have obviously made a good bit of money have unquestionably not spent any of it on some good taste)? Of course. The Island Grille does not have a shot at making my list of top picks, but they do have a solid burger, should you ever find yourself in possession of a gift card that you cannot fathom a use for.

– Geoff Sawyer

kobe burger close

By Michael G.

By Michael G.

Is there anything better than a secret? Having someone pull you aside and say “I need to tell you something, but you can’t tell anyone else,” is a delicious moment. The possibilities could be endless. At that second they have chosen you as a confidant (the fools) and the secret could be anything from “I am the King of Brunei” to “I killed a man in cold blood in the jungles of Brazil” to “I have three children out of wedlock in three different states”  to “that’s not really chicken.” I mean, usually it’s something boring like “that soup isn’t really vegetarian,” but a secret  is always thrilling no matter how mundane. Which is why when my buddy Chris told me about a super secret burger that wasn’t on the menu at the bar at Café Stella, I headed over there immediately.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the popularity of the bar at Café Stella. Located in the belly of Sunset Junction, the café is warm and inviting and exceptionally classy. The restaurant is the kind of place that I don’t frequent very often because I’m usually not dressed for the occasion and rarely have the money to spend on chic French bistro food.  The bar, however, is very romantic with low lighting and Ella Fitzgerald playing on the speakers. Perfect for a low key date. Something everyone else knew but me,  so the first time I tried to get a burger, a waifish teenager in a giant floppy hat who guards the door to the establishment informed me that there was simply no room for me at the bar. Fighting my instincts to take her hat and throw it into the street, I planned my return much more carefully.

By Michael G.

By Michael G.

At the stroke of six pm I arrived yesterday with my friend Marisa and barreled past the indignant texting guard, and we had the whole bar to ourselves. It was lovely. The bartender, Vincent, seemed even happier that we knew about the secret burger than we were. Glowing with conspiratorial glee, he delivered our meal on slabs of wood. It was well worth the trouble.  The Café Stella burger is wedged between a brioche bun, covered in confit tomatoes, fennel onion jam, and absurdly large leaves of butter lettuce, but what makes it great is the blue cheese inside the burger.  The blue cheese is actually inside the ground beef giving it a satisfying earthly tang that blended with the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes perfectly.  There was clearly a lot of time and love spent figuring out how much blue cheese to put in the burger. Too much and it would overwhelm the flavor of the beef. Too little and it wouldn’t matter that it was there at all. The burger also comes with a cone of golden shoestring fries that were perfectly crisp.

So if you’re in Sunset Junction in the early evening, Café Stella is a great place to get a burger. However, if you have no patience to wrestle other patrons for a seat at the bar, they have the burger in the main restaurant on their weekend brunch menu as well. However, I would imagine without the secret knowledge, the brunch burger doesn’t taste quite as good.

By W. L.

By W. L.