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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Chego: Exhibit A

Chego: Exhibit A

Roy Choi, I love you. I’ve said it before, and I still mean it even though you’re crazy. Perhaps that little bit of eccentricity is what makes your food so phenomenal. Perhaps it’s just me (and a few others), and your wares are just fitting to my taste rather than immeasurably exceptional. Either way, I went to Chego recently, and urge you to read on for the next chapter in my book of love letters to you.

Chego is not a burger spot, nor should it be. Tucked into the center of an outdoor mini-mall in China Town, its tininess and picnic table seating in an open air walkway do not suggest that should you stop, your mind will be blown. However, they make the most staggeringly delicious rice bowls that $9 will buy (in this country anyway), and far be it from me to wish a change to that mission. They do have a burger though as all of Roy’s properties do (each is different, too), and predictably, it’s delightful. The Chego Burger, also known as “Exhibit A” is not particularly fancy, but is both unique and scrumptious. A half pound of grass fed ground chuck comes cooked to order, topped with melted cojack, mayo, arugula, thai basil, red chili sauce (tasted like Kogi’s signature salsa roja [spoiler: it is]), and a heap of caramelized shallots that I swear tasted more like fennel than any onion’s cousin ever has. The bun is just your standard sesame seed bun, available at not-so-fine diners all across this great nation. It’s a hearty burger, and lends itself to a messy consumption process. Roy’s cooks tend to be a little sauce-happy, and they should because the condiments he makes define the flavors of his food. The beef was well seasoned and the proportions of each topping’s flavor to the others was nearly perfect. My singular complaint is that the bun can’t handle the job. This burger fell apart by the end because the bread was not strong enough to contain the force of its contents.

Chego Burger Guts

Chego Burger Guts

The only real rub about this particular review is that, despite the burger being excellent, so is everything else. I would highly recommend this burger in nearly any context- it was delicious- but if you go to Chego and DON’T order a pork belly bowl, you’re blowing it. Just go the website and watch one be built in the banner across the top. It makes my mouth water every time. So, Chego’s burger gets a HB cosign, but Roy Choi’s food gets my heart. What’s most important to note is, whatever you order, just go there. It’s going to be great.

-Geoff Sawyer

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Street's Cheeseburger

Street’s Cheeseburger

One of the best things about traveling is the food. (Well okay, one of the best things about life is the food.) But there’s an unreachable joy in finding a dumpling stuffed with ingredients you never thought would possibly go together or a type of chicken kebab that has been marinated in a sauce that you can’t identify, but now feel the uncontrollable need to research. Some of the best discoveries don’t come from fancy restaurants, but from tiny street carts. Susan Feniger has built an entire restaurant on this idea. She has stocked her menu with dumplings, noodles, pizzas, and curries from all over the world. The kind of dishes that you can buy on a moonlit night strolling down a boulevard in some far off city after imbibing too much to drink. And yes, they have a burger too.

Well actually, they have two burgers: one proper cheese burger and one vegan spicy black bean burger. One of the really lovely things about this restaurant is that they cater to everyone. Vegan? No problem. Gluten free? That’s fine. Allergic to nuts? Gotcha covered. And in Los Angeles, where there is a huge population of fussy eaters, this is a huge plus. So it’s no surprise that they always have two burgers on the menu. Naturally, we had to try both.

Spicy Black Bean Veggie "Burger"

Spicy Black Bean Veggie “Burger”

The Street cheeseburger is has all the properties of a respectable burger. It’s got an organic beef patty that is cooked to your desired degree of tenderness, white cheddar melted on top, a brioche bun, lettuce, slices of heirloom tomatoes, and yuzu kosho mayonnaise, which gave it a light citrusy flavor. On the side was a sprinkling of homemade pickles that are both sharply sweet and satisfying. It’s a very nice burger, but I was a little disappointed. Perhaps it was unfair of me. Actually, I’m sure it was. But if you have all of the spices on this earth to play with, why would you make your burger so boring? I can only suppose it’s on the menu for people who have been dragged to the restaurant by their friends and aren’t adventurous at all. They see the cheeseburger on the menu and feel safe.

The spicy black bean veggie burger had the opposite problem. To call it a burger in the first place seems a stretch. It had no burger like qualities, which is not to say it wasn’t delicious.  Placed on two slices of toasted sourdough bread the patty was covered in Singapore sauce, topped with mashed avocado and pea shoots. A more accurate description of the “burger” would be the Spicy Black Bean Sandwich. It was quite lovely. The spiciness of the black bean patty was set off quite nicely by the creaminess of the avocado and the tang of the sourdough. The pea shoots as far as I could tell were completely useless. They were not crunchy nor did they taste like much. They just seemed to get stuck in your teeth. The only thing I would add was a bottle of hot sauce to the table, so people could adjust the spice. I could have done with a little more heat.

Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast

For sides, I decided to get curried fries and kaya toast. The kaya toast is pretty much the best thing to happen to toast. Tiny sandwiches of white bread slathered with coconut jam are stacked next to a runny egg drenched in soy sauce. It’s sweet and rich and incredibly messy. Do not miss this, no matter how full you are.

When the fries arrived, I was taken aback. It turns out that when it says curried fries, they were not kidding. It was a curry made out of yucca fries. Niramish coconut curry sauce drenched the little golden fingers of yucca with little picked tomatoes perched on top. It was not a side dish. It was a meal.

Curry Fries

Curry Fries

Despite being stuffed, I unbuttoned my pants and ordered dessert. There are only a handful of desserts that are required eating in my book and Street’s Turkish doughnuts are one of them.  Hot golden globes of fried dough wobble invitingly when they’re brought out, stacked on top of sour cream and rose hip jam. The secret is the combination of the unusual sweetness of the jam, the creamy, cold tang of the sour cream, and the heat of the doughnut. It cannot be beat. Sadly I ate them too fast to take a photo, BUT I did find a recipe for them here.  Lord knows if I could recreate them at home, but I’m game to try.

-Molly Bergen

Well, if you insist.

Well, if you insist.

Grill em Art

Grill Em Art

If you build it, they will come. Sometimes the universe rewards crazy. In the case of one 1989 triumph of cinema starring a dreamboat-era Kevin Costner, he was crazy enough to build a baseball field on his farm land on the hope that the spirits of dead baseball stars would come a-running. Though the parallel might be a stretch, the boys of Grill ‘em All were crazy enough to think that they could build a restaurant in Alhambra that featured a far more comprehensive menu than what they serve on their truck (a menu that was already populated solely by crazy-ass burger concepts) and that people would flock to it. Well, fictitious late 80’s farm-boy stud and former Cleveland based heavy metal/burger gods collectively rejoice, because in both cases, they were right.

We’ve talked about Grill ‘em All before, not only in the context of their truck, but because they do a kitchen takeover day on Oinkster’s burger week, year after year. Everything they make is always not only head-scratchingly clever, but consistently delicious. The menu at the first brick and mortar location, located in the same quaint shopping center as Alhambra’s Edward’s Renaissance Imax theater, is made up of the truck menu’s greatest hits, a few retired specials that previously debuted at the truck, and a handful of gems that you can only get in the restaurant (I made it a point to try things only available at this location). You can probably guess that from here I’m simply going to gush about how good their burgers are, and you’re right, but what you might not know is that they have other foods that are also better than any other version that exists on this earth, namely chicken wings.

Duck fat chicken wings            At my insistence, Executive Chef Kenny Smith talked me through how these are made, after the first one I ate fell, literally fell, completely off the bone like a short rib that had been braised for 3 months. The wings are totally submerged in duck fat, and roasted at low temp. for 4 hours. They are then thrown in the fryer for just a few minutes to add color and crispness, and finally doused in a small lake of sweet, sweet chipotle sauce. House made blue cheese finishes them off, and if you’re a wing fan, don’t even waste time reading the rest of this- just go there right now. These dudes have changed the game. I never realized to what extent wings don’t like to come apart, until I found the ones that can’t stay together. I will never, NEVER go to this restaurant without ordering wings.

Trouble            Given that there were so many gorgeous things from which to choose on the menu, and being that I am an aspiring fat person, I got 2 perfectly seasoned burgers, each ½ lb 80/20 ground chuck lead out of the grinder and sliced so all the threads of beef run vertically (just like they do at Playground). The first, dubbed “Trouble” is a special of the month, so waste no time getting in there and eating this masterpiece- you’ve only got a couple weeks. It came adorned with Chicago style Italian thin sliced roast beef, grilled sweet Italian peppers, house made giardinera, and the most stunning jus imaginable. It’s a meaty, salty, warm drippy mess and it is pure joy. The locally sourced bun (from Wheatland bakery) gets soaked with the jus but the flavor is so luscious you will not care if even notice, and the giardinera provides the perfect amount of crunch, tartness and spice. I really hope they decide to make this one available until forever.

The Exciter            Burger number 2 was the “Exciter,” a full-time offering that tastes like everything you love about thanksgiving in a single burger bite. This one wore duck con fit, frise, arugula, truffled herby goat cheese and cranberry gastrique. The duck had the look and texture of perfectly smoked Carolina style pulled pork, but with the mild gamey richness of duck meat. The goat cheese was strong with rosemary, which when accenting the duck and complimented by the cranberry was truly so reminiscent of a traditional thanksgiving flavor palate it should easily be the meal of choice given an out of season craving for turkey and family drama. Saddled up next to an order of “high on fries” which are french-fries buried under buffalo chicken and blue cheese, the possibility of happily dying right then and there crossed my mind innumerable times.

High on Fries

Still got room to spare? Well you’re gross, but fret not, Grill ‘em All also has dessert. There is only one choice currently, but don’t be saddened by your lack of options, because if they had other choices and you ordered one of those instead of the deep fried rum/apple bread pudding with maple bacon glaze (I know. Just saying that feels like sex), then you’d have really screwed up. Bread pudding is never a thing that I feel like my life is missing. Or it wasn’t until I had this. So rich, so sweet. Every flavor present, none over powering. The bacon adds salt but is hardly recognizable as meat unless you get a big piece. The apple chunks are many but still feel like prizes. Perfect texture, perfect…everything. Perfect.

Bread pudding            At 3:30p.m. on a Sunday afternoon (a decidedly non-meal time in any western diet), I sat shoveling very modestly presented and priced gourmet food into my eager face, in a PACKED dinning room filled with unanimous agreement that Grill ‘em All is doing everything right. Each vegetable in the giardinera on the burger of the month is cooked and pickled individually, but you would never know that unless you cornered one of the busy cooks and asked them. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is, for what essentially serves as a condiment? Those chicken wings are slow roasted in duck fat for hours, but you can’t find that written anywhere either. The point is not to brag, it is to deliver a quality product, and these fellas do it impeccably. You built it, and they came. I recommend doing the same thing 1,000 more times all over the world, because they will keep coming.

-Geoff Sawyer

Notice how all the threads run vertically.

Notice how all the threads run vertically.

Trouble guts

A band or two...

Inside

Photo by Melissa S.

Photo by Melissa S.

One of my favorite things about Los Angeles’ burger scene is their ability to take traditional elements of any cuisine and create a gorgeous hybrid burger.  And I don’t mean sprinkle a little spice into an aioli and call it a day. I mean taking one of America’s beloved foods, breaking it into parts, and rebuilding it from the bun up.  The new Indian gastro pub, Badmaash (which means a person who is naughty or notorious in Hindi), has thrown its lamb burger into the ring and it’s a winner.

Located near City Hall in downtown Los Angeles on 2nd and Main, you can smell Badmaash before you can see it. As you walk down 2nd street, curried spices and sautéed onions beckon you into the restaurant.  It’s a tiny space that is awash in color. Bold stripes festoon the walls and the kitchen is so close you can hear the chefs yelling to one another.  As soon as you sit down and glance at the menu, you know you’re going to have a good time. Traditional Indian favorites with cheeky names line the bottom like Good Ol’ Saag Paneer and Ghost Chili Lamb Vindaloo. The more exciting pubby food is closer to the top with amazing creations like Chili Cheese Naan, Chicken Tikka Poutine, and samosas stuffed with short ribs, pineapple and cilantro.

Photo by Richard T.

Photo by Richard T.

The only item on the menu that is circled is the Spiced Lamb Burger. When a burger gets its own little section it’s usually a very good sign. It’s listed thusly “ground and spiced in house-with spiced mayo, onion, lettuce, tomato on a brioche bun.” However, when the burger was brought to the table, I quickly realized that the menu has done it a dreadful disservice. It was like having your friend describe their car as blue and then finding out it’s a Shelby Cobra. There were definitely details left out.  Like the beautiful tomato chutney on the side or the cilantro that gave it an extra punch.  The patty was delicately spiced but not so much so that you lost the earthiness of the lamb and was accompanied with a creamy curried aioli and the tomatoes were so red and ripe and luscious, they looked like they had just come out of the ground.

Was I disappointed it came on a brioche bun and not naan? A little, but I understood why that decision had been made as soon as I picked it up.  Juice ran from every crevice of that thing. Even on a traditional bun, that thing was impossible to put down and extremely hard to wield.  I could imagine that placing that sucker between two pieces of floppy naan would be disastrous.  As for fries, I played it safe and got the masala fries not the Chicken Tikka poutine. Epic mistake. The masala fries were not very exciting at all. They somehow managed to be both over spiced and under salted, which is odd. It was really strange that a place that had gotten all of the elements so right for something as complex as a burger, just failed at something as simple as French fries. BUT maybe their poutine is excellent and I just ordered the wrong thing. Maybe the chef put all of his love into the more complicated dishes and couldn’t be bothered with the less exciting ones. Totally possible. I will have to go back and find out.