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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Photo by Craig R.

Photo by Craig R.

On first appearance, R&D Kitchen was everything I didn’t want.  Placed on the affluent Montana St in Santa Monica the place was jammed with people on a Thursday night. Blow dried ladies in skyscraper heels were clutching onto the arms of their deeply suntanned dates wearing striped button down shirts that revealed too much chest hair. I was hoping for a nice quite place to eat a burger while desperately trying to  finish the Brothers Karamazov before my book club meets tomorrow (I am epically screwed on that front.) No such luck. After squeezing past the bar area, the harried looking hostess told me it would be awhile. So I perched on a brick wall next to some empty martini glasses, with spiky shrubbery poking me in the back, and eavesdropping on TV execs trying to impress one another. I swear there is nothing worse than a dick measuring contest. “I’m working on this project with Sam Jackson. Do you know, Sam?” or “Anna Faris is in my new pilot. She’s such a gem, so TALENTED.” Or my personal favorite, “There’s so much raw talent these days. It’s so actor rich. Anyone can get a job in this business who’s funny.” Really, dude? That’s weird. I have a lot of comedian friends who are currently waiting tables. A lot.

After half an hour of trying to shut out the cacophony of bullshit and focusing on Alyosha Karamazov’s familial problems, my name was finally called and I was ushered to a very nice booth.  All of the staff were dressed in white chef jackets, I’m not really sure why, but it had a very military effect, like they had just graduated from the academy of service. They may well have. The service was unbelievably punctual and friendly. Perhaps they’re too used to be screamed at by the monsters at the bar, but it was really nice.

photo (5)

The menu was chocked full of comfort food: deviled eggs, mushroom meatloaf, and crispy chicken sandwiches, but at the very top was the cheeseburger. On paper it’s listed as lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheddar on a house-made egg bun, but in person it’s so much more than that.  It arrived chopped in half with not one, but two wooden sticks trying to keep each half in place. Why was it chopped in half? To show off, just how clever they’ve been. Like the Grand Canyon walls, each layer of the burger told a story. At the bottom a rich layer of BBQ sauce which cradles the burger and gives it a rich sweetness that is complimented by the cheddar melted on top of it. Above the cheese are shards of raw onion and dill pickle duking each other out for supremacy in a war between sweet and sour. On top of that was a thinly sliced ripe tomato (I cannot emphasize enough how beautifully ripe those were. They were not half frozen, mealy things you usually get) covered by freshly shredded lettuce covered in just a hint of creamy mayonnaise and a dab of mustard. It was beautifully built. You would think the mayonnaise and the BBQ sauce and the mustard would be a disaster together, but they were placed next to ingredients that made them thrive.

That is the genius of this burger. The decadently rich parts were kept separate from the fresh in such a way to make them both sing in your mouth. They didn’t become soggy or pollute each other’s flavors until they were supposed to.  Also, what a difference a freshly baked bun can make! The sesame egg bun was no slouch. Slightly sweet, it was strong enough that the whole sandwich didn’t collapse under the weight of so many ingredients.  On recommendation from my waitress, I got the coleslaw as a side. I was not disappointed. Although not as complicated as the burger, the cabbage was fresh and doused in sweet poppy dressing with green onions sprinkled over it that was not heavy at all. So if you’re on Montana St and you don’t feel like elbowing people for a table at Father’s Office, walk down to R&D Kitchen and grab a gourmet burger for the same price.

r&d kitchen

The Cash Burger

If you find yourself to be among those individuals who have never wandered into a beach adjacent liquor store and ordered a mind bogglingly delicious Korean-fusion western bacon cheeseburger that you were made to eat in the parking lot (don’t be shy, I was among you until very recently), you do not have to remain in this group any longer, should you desire to make the change. All you have to do is head to Redondo Beach, to The Standing Room; perhaps the most aptly named restaurant of all time.

Outside

Korean Fusion food is my jam. If you happen to not remember my espousing my very real man-crush on Kogi Godfather Roy Choi, allow me to share with you the fact that my next culinary goal is to build my own menu of Korean inspired Soul Food dishes, just to have in my catalog when entertaining guests at home. Korean BBQ is my favorite restaurant genre of all time. So when I showed up at The Standing Room without knowing that Korean flavors in the contexts of burgers and sandwiches was their shtick, you can imagine my stokedness upon this discovery.  Unfortunately I went alone, so I did not get a chance to taste more than one burger (they all have 8oz patties, I just couldn’t do two), but the one I got made me totally sure that I will return.

Design palate

As The Standing Room, like many others, does not have a signature burger, I just asked what their top sellers are and chose what sounded the most interesting. The “Cash” according to the menu comes dressed in: bacon, hoisin BBQ, shishito peppers, crispy pepper onion, and cheddar- and is their version of the bacon western cheeseburger. Now I didn’t grab a to-go menu, and my phone ate my notes, but I swear mine also had American cheese and “Korean aioli” which looked and tasted like Siracha mayo but it wasn’t spicy at all somehow. Rich and messy, in 2 words, but boy was it great. The patty was pretty well seasoned but that got a little lost under the salt of the bacon and that gigantic magical onion ring. I would bet good money that the batter they make those onion rings out of starts with chili cheese Fritos in a food processor. If not, that is EXACTLY what they taste like, and in the best possible way. The bacon was chunks rather than strips, held in place by lots of melted cheddar and American. The shishitos were hardly cooked at all and maintained a freshness and texture that really stood out. Non-spicy Siracha aioli can go on everything I ever eat as soon as someone besides these guys figures out how to make it, and that sweet hoisin BBQ sauce very well may be my new favorite condiment.  Pretty much the only catch is- it’s a liquor store, and you eat in the parking lot- so there is nowhere to wash those sticky fingers once you’re all done.

Cash open face

Redondo Beach is virtually uncharted territory to me other than my most recent burger adventure, which would have never happened had I not stumbled across a gorgeous photo of the Standing Room’s wares while perusing for burger porn on Instagram. (Follow us if you don’t, by the way). I wouldn’t make much of an ambassador to the area, but I can say with much confidence, if you need to grab a bottle of liquor and lunch, there is only one place you should be considering.

-Geoff Sawyer

Pickup window

The whole place Welcome

rustic canyon burgerNestled between a fancy antique car dealership and a medical building, Rustic Canyon manages to be cozy despite being placed on the extremely busy Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica.  Once inside you have two options: lie and say you have a reservation to get into the main dining room or snuggle up to the bartender and order from a stool in the lounge. If you’re like me and betting on the fact you bother reading this blog I’m guessing you are, you are never dressed for a chic restaurant in Santa Monica.  Dressing up to eat a burger and fries just seems ludicrous.

Perched on a bar stool next to a wall of tastefully placed candles, I got asked whether I preferred complimentary still or sparkling water, which immediately tipped me off that this was going to be expensive. Asking for tap water, I perused the menu and was horrified to discover the burger wasn’t on it.  Was this some kind of joke? All I had ever heard about this place was how wonderful their burger was. I knew they had gotten a new chef, but this was ridiculous. Why on earth would you bench your star player? It was like if the Heat showed up to a playoff game with Lebron James in a suit, not because he was injured, but because he didn’t feel like playing.  Indignant I asked the waiter if the burger was still available and he gave me a long pained look, “Yes, it is. It’s just not on the menu.” The poor thing must have been answering this question all week.  So it’s still there, it’s just become a secret.

When the burger arrived, I saw why people had been upset. It was magnificent. Glistening upon a brioche bun was a huge 80/20 Niman Ranch beef patty covered in sharp cheddar cheese, a five onion fondue (leek, Bermuda, Spanish, spring, and brown), housemade bread and butter pickles and creamy homemade herb remoulade with a side of golden hand cut French fries.  It is a slippery beast. The thing requires two hands and all of your concentration.

outside

Now, I didn’t spring for the extra fried egg and bacon that you can order on top. Why? Because I’m too cheap.  At $18 I think a burger is pricey enough. (Honestly dudes, you don’t need five kinds of onion. One would be fine.) The extras jack the price up to a whopping $25, which is absolutely crazy.  After the first couple bites, I knew I had made a good decision. The burger is incredibly rich.  Fingers dripping with greasy and remoulade, I could barely finish half of it before calling it quits. My eyelids drooped and it took all of my willpower not to curl up on the sticky floor for a quick nap.  It was like a meat sleeping pill.

If you find yourself in Santa Monica, this is a perfect burger to share. If you’re going with a buddy, hole up in the bar, split the burger, and spend the money you would have spent on the fried egg and bacon on a beer. Trust me. Half a burger is enough. Or if you’ve acquired a sugar daddy/mama this is a great place to have them prove just how much they love you. Nothing says love like a $25 burger. Although why stop there? Take them to the antique car shop next door and have them buy you a ride.

rustic canyon car

piehole2

Before beginning I should admit bias, I love this place.  The Pie Hole is one of the shining lights of baking in Los Angeles, a city that is so anti-carb and gluten-free that it makes me want to cry. Through the power of their handmade buttery crusts alone, this place makes LA a better place to live. However, it is their combination of old fashioned filling classics from apple to banana cream to more adventurous Mexican hot chocolate and Earl Grey tea is what makes me want to tattoo their shop sign on my right buttock.

So when I heard that they had created a cheeseburger pie, I freaked out.  That golden crust wrapped around a burger? I couldn’t get down there fast enough.  Tucked away in the Arts District, the tiny shop is bare bones, but glows with warmth.  Wooden tables and aluminum chairs line the dining room, a glass display case with white ceramic plates displaying the specials, and the menu is written in brown butcher paper on the walls.  They serve only pie and coffee, nothing else, which is fine by me.  It’s always humming with customers doing work or getting dessert after a fancy meal elsewhere.

piehole

The cheeseburger pie turns out to be visually unlovely.  It’s a brown Cornish pasty sized half moon of pastry with fillings of mysterious origins, with a side of salsa. Why the salsa is included is beyond me.  But bite into it, and all the flavors of a cheeseburger show up in hot tempting glory: ground beef, cheddar cheese, onion, and a little bit of pickle. It is incredibly satisfying. The one gripe I had was the addition of the salsa side.  Why? Ketchup or mustard would have been much more appropriate. Also there were no gooey strands of cheese that poured forth, which I had looked forward to wiping from my chin. So, stuff that thing with fromage and douse it in ketchup and I would have been one happy camper.

Bear in mind, the cheeseburger pie is not a meal. It’s much too small, but fear not. You can save all of that room that you would have spent on a burger to indulge yourself on one of their massive slices of pie. I chose Earl Grey cream and was not disappointed. Who knew that Earl Grey would lend itself so well to pudding? The delicate tea flavor combined with the layer of salty chocolate on the bottom really made it stand out.  So if you’ve had a rough week, I would pop over and get a slice of something warm and filling. Also, their cheeseburger pie is a special, so if you want to try it for yourself, you will need to get over there soon.

piehole1

Firehouse Burger

This week’s review is purely the product of social media. Powerful stuff, that hand held internet. These guys followed our Instagram, and after seeing a few gorgeous photos of my favorite food (and never otherwise hearing of Eden Burger Bar in my life) I had all the evidence I needed to justify a meal with them. Subsequently, they will definitely join my list of pleasant finds.

Truffle Fries

On Verdugo Road, just south of the 134 overpass, there is a very unassuming (and generally pretty busted) little strip mall, featuring the usual fare for the area: a tobacco shop, a liquor store, a cheap Chinese restaurant, a nail salon, a dentist, etc. and none of these businesses really look like anywhere you’d be thrilled to go. However, a lone island of building in the parking lot bears secrets worth discovering. Eden Burger Bar is not significantly more impressive than its neighbors from the outside, but the inside is an entirely different story. The interior design looks like a bottle service Night Club owned by the Tao Group more than a hamburger restaurant. You probably wouldn’t bat an eye if you to walked into this establishment on the Vegas Strip, but being in a totally unimpressive pocket of Glendale makes it almost seem like a  film set that you can enter and order a hamburger, and a delicious hamburger at that.

Baller booth

Since Eden doesn’t have a namesake on the menu which is always my move when I know nothing about a place- I just got the first thing that looked intriguing, which happened to be the very first thing I saw. The “Firehouse” is described as: 35 day dry aged 8oz. beef patty, house spicy bacon, habanero jack cheese, giardiniera (which I had never heard of by name but have eaten over and over; it’s pickled jalapenos, carrots and cauliflower), tomato, and avocado mayonnaise, on a brioche. The whole time I was eating it, all I could think about was “Umami on steroids.” The burgers at Eden are probably 30% larger than at Umami, the same price, and though the menus of these 2 restaurants share virtually no parallels in terms of burger topping combinations, the grind and bread are strikingly similar in both cases, and neither are short on originality. The Firehouse patty could have been a little more seasoned, but otherwise there is not a thing I would change. It’s spicy but nowhere close to overwhelming as long as you like spicy food, while being just cheesy enough, just messy enough, and cooked perfectly rare. The bread is chewy, the aioli is mild, the bacon is thick, salty and cooked dark, the tomato gets lost but is probably helping cool your tongue off and not getting credit for role it plays, and before you know it, the burger is gone and you’re stuffed. Mine was accompanied by truffle fries, which, size, shape, and texture-wise are also very similar to Umami, though rather than cheese on them there is a healthy toss of parsley and truffle oil.  A delightful meal over all, and delivered by a very cheery bartender.

Inside the Firehouse

I am already looking forward to my next visit to Eden. The rest of the specialty burger menu looks swell (they have 10) a few of which feature exotic meats. I have never tried boar or duck in burger form, and Eden Bar offers both. The more innovative beef options include the “Rehab” which boasts spicy bacon, swiss cheese, sweet potato/sausage hash, maple-mustard/mayo, and a fried egg (a hangover cure if I’ve ever seen one) and the “Fig” which is dressed in fresh figs, lemon basil aioli, smoked gouda, sundried tomato, crispy prosciutto, and fig & olive tapenade. You can build your own as well, if you prefer a more traditional presentation, and their beer and wine selections are surprisingly comprehensive. So hats off to Instagram, for leading me to burger salvation. The food is sinful, but my guess is you’re going to eat it anyway. I certainly plan to.

-Geoff Sawyer

Fries close

Purple rain

Ceiling

This is 15 feet wide and it sparkles.

Firehouse Guts