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Killer burger

Salts cure open faceMeat. I like it. Given that you’re reading this article, you probably do too. Unbeknownst to me until the day that the first post on this site was created, it does not have to be beef. Any meat at all as long as it’s ground, can be the star of a burger. The single defining characteristic that can take a sandwich to burger status, is the patty of ground meat. Variety of animal options aside, it would stand to reason then, that true burger heads place extreme value on the quality of that particular ingredient in their burgers, and that the same value be placed by those making said burgers. The phrase “all about the meat” has been thrown around a bit here at hoodburger over the course of our journey, and that is because some burger makers (though sadly not all) truly do recognize that the quality of their meat is of the utmost importance. Salt’s Cure, is one of those places.

Restaurants that source as much of their food locally as possible and change their menus according to seasonal availability are rapidly growing in number, which rules. Salt’s Cure finds itself not only among them but progressive among the progressives, in that they often purchase the animals they serve nearly whole and break them down in house. Just read their mission statement:

“We believe in sourcing better products. We buy our animals whole and directly from farmers and ranchers in California. Our seafood is caught in the Pacific Ocean by local fishermen who exercise sustainable practices. Our produce is sourced from farmers’ markets around the Los Angeles-area. Our award-winning wine list is 100% Californian, and produced biodynamically and/or organically by small producers. We carefully select each wine on our list to pair with our food. We make everything ourselves, from the ketchup to the bacon. We find complexity in simplicity, and showcase flavor through simple preparation.”

Salts cure burger Clearly the dedication to quality does not stop at the meat, but at least in the context of their burger, the meat is where it shows the most. Salt’s Cure’s dinner menu changes daily, and is written on a chalkboard- a photo of which is posted to facebook. The burger is rarely seen on it, but usually (though not always) they can make you one and though according to the definition it doesn’t have to be, this burger is most certainly beef. The toppings are not complex: butter or gem lettuce, red onion, mayonnaise, a mild Swiss cheese (tasted like alpine lace), and house cured bacon. As you should have guessed, it’s all about the meat. To my surprise, the bacon was less salty than any I have ever had, which allowed for its natural flavor to shine. It was like a thinly sliced pig steak perched atop a delicious course ground patty of perfectly seasoned beef. They don’t say this about it, but the richness and character of the patty’s flavor were that of dry aged. All of the burger’s modest dressings casually compliment the featured meats despite raw onion and Swiss cheese having power of their own (though to be fair, I did remove about half the onion from my burger). The pseudo-brioche (white bread bun with pretty/shiny outside) on which it is served is also merely a vehicle by which an amazing celebration of meat travels to one’s mouth.

Salts burger cross section Though the burger was fantastic, my meal was not without fault. My co-diner and I both ordered glasses of a totally mediocre tempranillo, and the pound cake we ended on was a bummer. Even still, the approach that these guys take to their position as food-makers makes my heart sing, and their burger is a delectable exercise in the art of ground beef sandwich construction. A hint: it’s all about the meat.

– Geoff Sawyer

ps I keep eating these burgers after dark, so again, if I stole your photos from the internet, thanks.

photo (15)Granted,  not the most inspired name for a restaurant, but I need to confess to you something right off the bat, I love this place. I’ve been eating here ever since I moved to LA in 2008. All of their food is fresh and homemade. I love their soups. I love their salads. I love their pies. I love their sandwiches. Jesus, even their butterscotch pudding is wonderful. (Fans of Mozza’s butterscotch budino take note.)  The staff knows me by name. I get all of our office lunches catered here. I buy people birthday presents like Noble’s bourbon maple syrup or Sqirl jam or some of their homemade candy  from their display cases.  What I’m saying is, Food LA is my boyfriend.

So when I showed up on a rainy Tuesday evening right before they closed, I was nervous. Why? I had never had their burger before. Yeah, that’s right. Never. We’ve been together for almost six years and I’ve never had a burger there. Why? Honestly, I never have had the time. I usually rush in there and rush out without the time to wait for a burger.  Or maybe I was scared.

Photo by Ed K.

Photo by Ed K.

What if it was terrible? What if I then had to report that to the internet? How could I look them in the eye and say something like “You do everything perfectly, except for the burger, my favorite food in the whole world.” It could get awkward. However I started to relax when I was asked whether I wanted my cheese to be cheddar, blue, or Gruyere. All three of those cheese are statement cheeses. You don’t put those on there unless you’re confident in your burger. (In case you’re curious, the most insecure cheese of all is white American cheese. If they put that on your burger, you’re in trouble.  It’s got no taste. What is the point?)

When it arrived, though, I got really excited. On a brioche bun lay a hand crafted 4oz beef patty with gruyere cheese melted on top, sautéed onions, a thick slice of tomato and arugula. Next to it were five golden spicy potatoes covered in aioli.  One bite and I knew, all of my fears were completely unwarranted. The herbs and spices that were lovingly folded into that burger was something that I had only had in someone’s mother’s kitchen. There was no need for sauce or any kind of condiment. The herbs, cheese, and onions were enough to compliment the burger’s juicy flavor. I’m thinking about proposing to this place at New Years. Maybe a June wedding? Maybe August? Who knows. All I know is I’m going to put a ring on it.

 

– Molly Bergen

Barnburger

Apparently, you don’t have to have a cancerous tan, steroid induced bicep bloat, dreadlocks, the ability to juggle, an iguana on a leash, or any of the other numerous stereotypical attributes that I associated with this place, to hang out at Venice Beach. While finding one or many individuals in possession of any of the aforementioned qualities is not a tall order, there are plenty of plain-old, happy, boring folks such as myself, who like a good drink and a good meal. The other thing that I did not know is that Venice is very much a home to both.

Pacific Ave. and its beach front tributaries have a short but densely packed pocket of purveyors of vittles and libations, and if they are all as good or even comparable to my first Venice Beach dining experience, then what a lovely little pocket it is. Barnyard was opened in February of this year by Jesse Barber (the opening chef of Tasting Kitchen) and his wife Celia, and is by no means a burger restaurant, but they do however, like many of their contemporaries (Comme Ca, Rustic Canyon), have a damn good one. The menu is primarily local and seasonally driven, because the chefs who get it, know that the best food is made with those ingredients. Its offerings are rustic and fairly eclectic though not necessarily inspired by a particular culture’s cuisine, and the short list of small plates and mains hits all the necessary marks. They also have a great and affordable wine selection if that’s your bag. It’s certainly mine.

pretty grilled breads barnyard olives

My meal began with grilled breads, a meat plate (soppressata, picante, and wild boar), and warm castelvetrano olives- which were the closest thing to butter that I have ever eaten that was actually not in any way, butter. Who knew, all you have to do is make them hot? Next up was a panzanella salad, with prepared arugula, candied nuts, white raisins and monstrous semi-soft croutons, which, though are this dishes namesake ingredient, were sparse enough that it still felt like a salad. Oh and burrata. A huge, beautiful wad of creamy, mild mozzarella. I enjoyed all of this over the better part of a bottle of Bielsa Garnacha, which is a medium-full bodied Spanish wine not unlike a Tempranillo, and before I knew it I had already been drinking and nibbling for over an hour. Entrance of a time vortex is a pretty sure sign of a solid meal. Time for that burger.

Barnyard’s burger is, in a word, tart. Now don’t go thinking that that adjective is chosen critically, because it is absolutely delightful, but among those restaurants in the same lane in terms of price and quality, they all seem to strive for richness. Fatty grinds, high fat content cheeses, and an assortment of aiolis are standard fare when it comes to the $17 burgers of Los Angeles. Barnyard chose a different path and I salute them. This wonderfully seasoned, medium rare, coarsely and loosely ground patty came adorned with butter lettuce, house made pickles, stone ground mustard, aged sharp cheddar cheese, and a small smear of pickled pepper spread (the pepper type I am not sure but it wasn’t spicy at all), which all add up to one loudly flavorful burger. Buttered and grilled brioche housed all the acidic accoutrements, and in tandem with the richness of the beef was just enough to reign in all those sour elements.

Barnyard burger

A brief recap of things I learned this week: my sense that Venice is lame is just as wrong as my sense that you need fatty/salty things on your burger for it to be delicious. Both biases were undone in one spectacular evening, of which I expect to have many more. Barnyard is a place that you should just go. The burger is stellar but if you don’t get it, that’s fine. This is a great restaurant, period. Take friends, order a bottle of wine, course your meal out and be prepared for time to pass at an alarmingly brisk rate, as it is known to do when you’re having fun.

– Geoff Sawyer

p.s. It was too dark to take a decent photo by the time any of my food came, so if I stole your pics from Yelp, thanks.

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

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.

The Bistro Burger

Since Hoodburger began there has been a process of steady revelation for us that there is a frequently recurring style of burger in Southern California, which I have (for lack of a more clever name) dubbed SoCal style. Made famous by In n’ Out, who appear to have just added tomato to the toppings of a Big Mac, SoCal style is lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, American cheese (usually), and Thousand Island dressing. Several places employ this formula, and some of them are excellent (see Oinkster’s Classic Burger). What I did not realize though until this week, is that there is a second formula at work in this region’s burger scene, and it is responsible for some of the best and also most famed burgers around. I am not sure who did it first though I would not be surprised to find out that Father’s Office can claim the fame. Los Angeles’ second burger archetype is as follows: Patty with 1 or 2 kinds of melted cheese (usually a blue and sharp cheddar), strong bouillon flavored caramelized onions, arugula, and some sort of aioli (in most cases, though Father’s Office uses no condiment). This week, I went to 6th St. Tavern in DTLA, who just so happens to have both of Southern California’s burgers on its menu.

The Classic Burger

Catty-cornered from the Standard Hotel, 6th St. Tavern invites any passerby who might find joy in its modern décor and craft cocktails. On a Saturday afternoon they were busy but not crowded, and the vibe was mellow without being fully subdued. You order at the bar, and in my case the food came very quickly. As mentioned, these guys make 2 burgers, and each accurately represents a very similar list of ingredients to those of its competitors. The “Classic Burger” (it’s even named the same as the one at The Oinkster), is classic indeed: double patty, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, American cheese, 1000 Island and pickles (though they came on the side). Perfectly good in every way you’d imagine, and feel free to openly refer to it as Animal Style, because it is. I mean, if it ain’t broke…

Inside the Bistro Burger

The other Burger 6th St. offers is the “Bistro Burger” featuring a collective group of components that I have yet to nick-name, but much like Father’s Office and King’s Row, this burger comes dressed in Port Salut cheese (like a higher fat muenster- melty and mild), Worcestershire onion compote, arugula, and aioli. For my taste, this was a clear winner of the two, but in that the burger is constructed in the image of the King’s Burger at King’s Row (my favorite in LA), The Bistro Burger wearing the 6th St. Tavern burger crown comes as no surprise. The strength of the flavor of the onions and the excellent seasoning of the meat made this one the standout, bite after bite. And did I mention they have duck fat fries? The have duck fat fries.

Duck Fat Fries(!!!)

So the steady revelation continues. A talented few have thus far determined two failsafe means of assembling a burger, and intelligent burger peddlers are following suit. The good folks at 6th St. are doing at least as good a job as any one else in the same lane. If you’re looking for something amazingly unique or culinarily challenging you may want to look elsewhere, but if you’re in the market for superb quality pub food, be sure to add 6th St. Tavern to your list. As if the eats weren’t enough, the beer and whiskey selections are stellar too. Definite hoodburger green light.

-Geoff Sawyer

Classic Burger Guts

The Bistro Burger

The Rosewood Burger

The Rosewood Burger

I’m pretty sure this situation happens quite a lot. You find someone who makes the perfect latte or martini or cuts your hair exactly the way you like it, and then one day you walk in to that establishment and they’re gone. Poof! No warning. Just gone. And because you never expressed your admiration for their work, you have no earthly idea where they disappeared to, but you would move heaven and earth just to find them again. You ask your friends if they’ve seen them. You start scouring local similar businesses in hopes that they were hired somewhere near. And if by some lucky chance you find them again, the overwhelming flood of joy reaches down into your finger tips. That rush is what my friend was looking for.

So we sallied forth to see if her bartender was at the Rosewood Tavern. It turns out he wasn’t working that day, but he does work there! Hooray for minor victories. Rosewood Tavern is just down the street from two burger giants Animal and Golden State, so it had never appeared on my radar, but on entering the place, I realized that it should have. With incredibly high wooden ceilings and exposed iron beams, the tavern had the feeling of a Wild West saloon. It was dark and cool on a hot summer’s day and by the liquor menu it was clear that they took their drinking very seriously.  All of the whiskeys were divided up by region and the beer list went on for days.

rosewood3

Their pub menu was equally well thought out. It was typical pub food with gourmet twists.  They had everything from candied bacon to tandoori spiced chicken wings to spicy fried green tomatoes with burrata. Their burgers were no different. The Rosewood Tavern burger had house made Thousand Island dressing with a great kick to it, melted cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce, and tomato on a pretzel bun. It was a very beautiful burger to look at and tasted pretty much the way you would expect it to. The flavors were balanced and the quality of ingredients was good, but it wasn’t anything to write home about.

Their second burger the Seoul Man Burger, was not a glamorous thing to behold.  The bun flopped sadly on the plate and everything seemed to droop. However, one bite and you instantly knew that this ugly duckling was actually a swan. Layered with bulgogi, spicy aioli, and daikon and Napa cabbage kimchi slaw this burger was the perfect fusion of Korean bbq and a hamburger. The crunch tartness of the kimchi was perfectly balanced against the sweetness of the bulgogi, but the flavors didn’t overwhelm the gorgeous flavors of the beef patty. It was absolutely unforgettable. So if you’re on Fairfax and you want to do some hard drinking, but are in the mood for a spicy burger, the Seoul Man has your back.

The Seoul Man Burger

The Seoul Man Burger