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Fillet mignon burger

Let’s talk about show-offs; specifically those who strive to appear sophisticated. Generally, dedicating excessive effort to anything for the purpose of appearing as impressive as possible is misguided if not wasted entirely. I’m talking about people who name drop their favorite philosophers’ theses in otherwise modest conversation not because they actually have their heads around why Slavoj Žižek’s papers on false consciousness are the most brilliant shit ever (for example), but because they know that you’ll act like you know what that means and google it when you get home. I know I have. Forced intellectualism when paired with a distaste for simple (awesome) things is exponentially worse. People who universally  turn their noses up at things like bowling, dumb funny movies, and crummy domestic beer at a professional sporting event about which you actually care very little, tend to get the same smug “cool, bro”-themed reaction from me. Taking pride in your passion is one thing, but fancy for fancy’s sake is another, and it usually sucks. Usually. I am not sure who developed the recipe for the burger at the recently opened Los Feliz Scottish pub The Morrison, but that individual is most assuredly a show-off, and contrary to where the last several sentences seemed to be leading, one who deserves every praise soaked word of syrupy flattery that I am about to spew.

That busted little sushi place on Los Feliz blvd. just East of the L.A. River finally shut down. I never ate there, nor had I ever heard anyone speak of it. What replaced it however, immediately bore allure. Several friends made mention of the new phoenix of a Gastropub, risen from the sushi slums ashes before the paint dried it seemed. It still took me a few months to get there, mainly because no one managed to note that this new neighborhood watering hole had a burger. My suffered lag in discovering this place is of no consequence. What matters is this: I know about it, and now you will too.

Morrison Burger total package

The Morrison is fancy, and it’s no accident. The menu features Scottish themed cuisine and from what I am told some of it is pretty legit, though I wouldn’t claim to be able to grade the authenticity of Highland inspired dishes. They have a specialty cocktail menu that I did not fully explore but the apple wood smoked apple bourbon is definitely worth a go, which is not something I often say about an eleven dollar drink. The smoked salmon and scotch egg appetizers are good too: the first being huge sashimi sized hunks of house smoked salmon on grilled rye corners, and the latter a runny egg deep fried inside a sheath of lightly breaded venison sausage. Neither would have me writing home, though both are recommended. The burger however, has got me writing right now.

The Morrison Filet Mignon burger

The Fillet Mignon Burger at The Morrison is called that because (care to guess?) it has a steak on it. Predictably, this instantly flipped my skepticism switch on. Allow me to build this thing for you, from the bottom up: English Muffin, celeriac remoulade, ground sirloin patty, port salut cheese, a fucking steak, and marrow butter. Now allow me to elaborate on some of these ingredients in case they don’t sound snobby enough. Celeriac remoulade is a thin caper (and possibly anchovy) aioli with coarsely chopped celery root, which ended up being best described as sloppy, salty, cole slaw. Port Salut is very similar to muenster cheese but with a higher fat content so it’s extra creamy, and marrow butter is literally soft butter with roasted bone marrow folded in, because plain butter just isn’t rich enough (obviously). This burger’s description is the kind that makes me say “cool bro” and assume that their goal is more to create something impressive to discuss than delicious to eat. Well I sincerely hope that this is the only time I have ever been so completely wrong about anything. This burger is stunning. The distinctly different flavor and texture of the fillet vs. the patty was far more discernible than I expected, and the other 3 components add a TON of richness without any strong or competitive flavor, so you really taste the quality of the meat. The caper in the remoulade must come from the juice, you don’t see them in the “slaw” but the distinct flavor is in there and nearly the only thing offering any sharpness at all. Every other component is mild and as rich as can be. A side of heirloom pickles, which were also spectacular, perfectly contrasted the soft round flavors of the burger with cold crunch and acid. Butter and remoulade will run down your arm, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll look good eating this burger, but rest assured you will not care. Also, it’s small compared to what L.A. restaurants have trained us to expect, which works out perfectly because if it were significantly larger it would be overwhelming. When I say it’s rich, we’re talking RICH. I’ve never had anything quite like this burger, and I went back 2 days later to eat it again just to make sure that I hadn’t gotten lucky the first time.

PICKLES!

Apparently sometimes fanciness is genuine. The Morrison definitely gets my full cosign, and while this burger is probably not something you’re going to be craving once a week till the end of time, if you have a taste for well-executed, quality, non-traditional and RICH, then you have really got to experience the fillet mignon burger from this place.

-Geoff Sawyer

The Morrison Burger Guts

Check out the puddle of marrow butter on my plate.

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Photo by Kira Hesser

Photo by Kira Hesser

Things don’t always work out the way you expect them to. Actually most of the time, things never work out the way they do in your head. In that spirit, I will tell you about the burger at MessHall Kitchen. MessHall is a new eatery that has sprung out of the ashes of the Louise’s Trattoria that graced the corner of Los Feliz Blvd and Hillhurst in Los Feliz.  The place is massive. Filled with long wooden tables and metal stools in-between bare brick walls, the restaurant feels chic and homey at the same time. Modeled after a camping lodge the menu is full of cheeky references to Survival  (drinks menu) and Damages (the bill) and contains everything from oysters to smoked corn fritters to brisket.  It’s fancy comfort food.

Naturally I assumed their burger would be a point of pride. I mean, they named it after themselves after all. The MessHall burger is an aged beef patty with sautéed onions, Vermont white cheddar, smokey sauce (code for smoky ketchup) on a brioche bun. The menu mentions something called b & b pickles that are supposed to be on there, but my burger had no such thing. It is a simple burger. The combination of onions, cheese, and beef is always a winner and the sauce lending certain sweetness. Was it memorable? Not really. So why am I wasting your time? Here’s why.

Photo by Kira Hesser

Photo by Kira Hesser

I will now utter the unthinkable words. Brace yourself. “The Brussels sprouts were better than the burger AND the fries.” Horrifying, no? I still haven’t been able to come to terms with it. My dining partner insisted on getting the Brussels sprouts and I indulged her because you know, health is good. I was not prepared for what happened afterwards. These unassuming nuggets of green deliciousness outshone the whole meal. They were perfectly cooked, not tough or burned, and melted like little buttery nuggets in your mouth.  Abandoning my burger, I gorged on Brussels sprouts, sad that my mother wasn’t here to observe this monumental event. By the time the meal was over, I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

I leave you with a word of warning about their pie. It’s not pie. The waiters will swear up and down that they’ve got great banana cream pie. I am here to tell you that they do not. They have great banana cream pudding.  Their “pie” comes in a little glass jar with sugar cookies and a flambéed banana on the side. There is no crust. I repeat there is no crust. Everyone knows that the secret to a great pie is a hot, flakey, buttery crust.  To put filling in a jar and call it pie is ridiculous. That’s like handing you a lump of white cream and calling it an Oreo.  The Emperor has no clothes, people. That being said, their banana pudding is scrumptious.

Photo by Aaron G.

Photo by Aaron G.

In this world of ever changing burger menus, you can generally tell whether or not you’re gonna get a winner by the ingredients. Granted, you could have a burger piled high with exotic hams, fancy French cheeses, and an onion jam compote made by the chef’s mother and still strike out if the burger is poorly cooked,  over-seasoned or just made with plain poor quality beef. But most burgerheads (Yes, that’s a word. Starting when? Starting now) will tell you if you look at a menu if there’s something with the words “truffle” and “burger” on it, that won’t let you down.

It is no surprise therefore that the truffle burger at Umami Burger is scrumptious.  The burger itself is a very simple affair. Resting on their signature bun is a patty glazed in truffle sauce and covered in their home made truffle cheese. There are no vegetables, no frills, no bells, no whistles, and no distractions, and the result is an extremely satisfying earthy experience. Vegetarian? No sweat. You can almost have the same experience with their truffle cheese fries which, if you were concerned that your breath wasn’t powerful enough to knock over your date at three paces, come with a side of garlic aioli.  Heath nut? (Why the hell are you in a burger joint? Did you lose a bet?) Even then they’ve got you covered. Umami makes a great beet salad covered in truffled ricotta, smoked almonds, wild baby arugula, truffle dressing, which is almost as good as the fries.  What I’m saying is, if there was any chance I could swim in a vat of their house made truffle sauce…I would.

This burger blog is not just about the safe bets, though. It’s about exploring menus and finding things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Umami is one of those institutions though where taking risks pays off in a big way. They make things that in other restaurants would be the last thing we’d order like a tuna burger. Tuna burgers in general are sad affairs.  Usually they come in two varieties. Either they’re  dry hunks of tuna covered in god-awful tartar sauce layered with iceburg lettuce and a slice of tomato or they’re pieces of sashimi drenched in vinaigrette and mercilessly wedged in the center of a hamburger bun.  Both are depressing and neither really qualifies as a burger.

Most people fail to make a tuna burger because they either want to treat it like a beef patty or a fried fish sandwich and it is neither. A nice piece of tuna deserves respect. This is why Umami’s burger is so damn revolutionary. It doesn’t try and turn the tuna into something it’s not.  Their burger has hand-chopped ahi tuna, crushed avocado, pickled ginger, sprouts, wasabi tartar spread.  The sandwich is built on traditional flavors that work with tuna: avocado, pickled ginger, and wasabi. The chefs have managed to find a harmony in this burger that most burger joints don’t bother to figure out.  So if you’re asking me which burger I enjoyed more…I just couldn’t tell you.  You’ll have to try them both and decide for yourself.

-Molly Bergen

Thanks to John and Serge for the photos.

Los Angeles’s burger scene is as vast as it is eclectic, hence our desire to create this website. Though the places to go get a great burger are seemingly innumerable, there are definitely a few spots whose names are repeated just as countlessly in response to the question “what’s the best burger in L.A?” Umami is definitely among them. With 9 locations in Southern California (made 10 by Umamicatessen) each boasting ever-so-slightly different menus, Umami truly has claimed its post atop the pantheon of local burger joints. The interior design of each location is unique unto itself, but in all cases sleek and curated, leaving no doubt in the customers mind that this is no divey greasy spoon, but rather an establishment that demands respect.

Umami is a burger restaurant. Though there are numerous creatively constructed options (usually about 10 staples and 3 or 4 specials on any given day) and several outstanding sides on the menu, the only entrée they offer is a burger. If you’re the type to order a chicken caesar salad and watch your friends indulge in the enjoyable food from across the table, you’ll need to eat before you come. These guys don’t waste any menu real estate with non-burger dishes, to their credit.  I nearly always find myself at the Los Feliz location, purely due to its close proximity to my home. That particular venue has 11 regular menu burgers, always a few specials, and more often than not the ingredients necessary to create a past special or former menu item if you know to ask for it. (Secret menu = me feeling special. Win). It also has a great selection of craft brewed beers, affordable wines, and fancy non-alcoholic sodas if those are more your speed. No detail has been overlooked. Should it still remain unclear, I LOVE this place, not only due to the consistent quality of the food, but to the aforementioned creative construction. Their flavor combinations are definitely atypical, and the result is phenomenal.

Umami’s signature burger (the Umami Burger) is far more interestingly assembled than it is named. All of their burgers begin with a course ground, well seasoned, hand formed patty cooked medium-rare unless otherwise requested (don’t you dare ask for it well done) on a very soft sweet bun that reminds me quite a bit of the pandesal that The Oinkster used for its Pork Adobo Burger during burger week (which still visits me in my most pleasant dreams). It is then topped with shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, oven-roasted tomatoes, a parmesan crisp, and house made ketchup (which is extra think and has a healthy hint of white truffle). Everything about this combination of flavors is perfect. There is so much tartness from the tomato, ketchup and parmesan, but the meatiness of the shitakes and the juicy crumbly beef bring it right back into sublime equilibrium. The bun is thick but very soft and malleable, and its sweetness is the finish on each bite. Accompanied by tempura battered onion rings, or the most amazing hand rolled cheese tots you will ever have in your life (those are on the secret menu, so don’t forget to ask, and be prepared to impress your friends) I can say with some confidence that should I ever find myself in a situation wherein I get to choose my last supper, this is what it would be. Perhaps that’s a bit dark but this burger is that good, and as I discovered while scouring the internet for photos to steal for this post, apparently GQ feels almost as strongly as I do about this meaty masterpiece.

If you’ve never been to Umami before, go. If you feel overwhelmed, go with one of their pairings that has a burger, side, and adult beverage all picked out for you. Try additional sauces with your side, because they make them all in house. And then think about how awesome it is to have a fine meal out at a nice restaurant and still get to eat a cheeseburger, because that is most definitely awesome.

-Geoff Sawyer