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Archive for January, 2011

Burgers Burgers Burgers! Part 2

Posted by Austios on January 25, 2011

If you’re just joining us, the following is Part 2 of my “Ode to Burgers”. You can read Part 1 here

Portland

We next move even further North to Portland. I had heard good things about the food in Portland and I had the opportunity to visit in May 2009, when my brother and sister in law were living there at the time. My 2 ½ days were filled with some good food, such as breakfast at Sanborn’s, pizza from Flying Pie, and the awesome sandwiches at Bunk Sandwiches, but this is a burger post after all! The one and only burger I had while I was up there was at a little small hole in the wall type place, called Giant Drive-In. The burger was pretty decent for a hole in the wall and reminded me of something I would get at a diner.

Las Vegas

We finally head away from the West Coast and hit up Sin City, Las Vegas. In a city famous for its buffets, plethora of shows and concerts, and its fair share of quality fine dining and more upscale eateries, it still has plenty of places to get a burger. I am specifically talking about, and I had briefly mentioned it earlier, Chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar. Keller is known worldwide for his flagship restaurant, Fleur de Lys, in San Francisco, with a 2nd location in Las Vegas (which I happened to dine at 3 months after visiting Burger Bar). The restaurant itself, located in Mandalay Bay, is actually quite casual and looks like your typical classy sports bar or pub. I think the words I used in my Yelp review were “Daily Grill meets sports bar”. If you were to tell me Hubert Keller didn’t own this place, I would believed you. I liked it though.

On one side of the menu, they had a list of signature burgers, including one that used American Kobe beef and had truffles and foie gras, with a price tag of $60. On the other side, you have the option of building your own burger, with an array of different meats, including buffalo and turkey patties. Topping and condiment options were pretty standard, such as things like avocado, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli, but a few had the Hubert Keller touch, such as seared foie gras, black truffles ($30 for 1/3 oz.), and red wine and shallot reduction.

I opted to get mine with Monterey Jack and provolone cheeses, caramelized onions, aioli, and proscuitto on an angus patty with a plain white bun. When it came out, it smelled and looked great, and fortunately, it tasted great as well. Probably not the most perfect topping combination, but still good nonetheless.

Chicago

Our last destination before I return to LA is none other than Chicago. In a land of Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza (which I had there as well), there are still plenty of places to get a good burger.

The first place, while by no means is it “good” in any positive sense of the word, my first stop in Chicago, literally within an hour of landing on Friday evening, was to one of the many Whitecastle burgers in the region. I have the movie, Harold & Kumar Go to Whitecastle, to thank for that. (Did you know they chose Whitecastle because none of the other corporations such as McD’s or Burger King would agree to do the movie?)

Again, by no means is this burger really that good, so it was more of the cult following the movie got. And no, under any circumstances, do I do any marijuana or any other recreational drug for that matter. End of story. But I think between my friend and I, we got probably like 20 burgers and cheeseburgers? You count them…


*Note – I think we may have been missing 2 or 3 boxes….

The next burger we had in Chicago is the infamous Billy Goat Tavern. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, you can go Google it for details, but basically in 1945, the owner of the tavern was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley Field because his pet goat was causing a disturbance, in which he supposedly cursed the Chicago Cubs from ever winning another World Series game. While there have been moments of the curse seemingly about to be broken, the Cubs have never prevailed since. Anyway, about the Billy Goat Tavern and the burger. This place actually sits below Michigan Ave, and as soon as you walk in, before you can even reach the bottom of the mere 6 steps, the grill cook is yelling at you from across the room, “Double cheese?! Double cheese?!”, and if you agree, essentially starts cooking your burger before you even “order”.

The burger is pretty simple. No vegetables, just some mustard and there is a station off to the side in which you can add onions, pickles or relish. I liked the burger and it was really fresh. If we weren’t on our way to a couple of other spots to grab some bites, I probably would have ordered another burger. I may have to go there again should I ever find myself in Chicago again.


apologies for the poor quality… I didn’t have my SLR with me that day

The 3rd and final burger I was able to get my hands and lips on, I actually had coincidentally seen on Food Network a few weeks before my trip to Chicago. Located in one of the cities’ many suburbs, Hackney’s on Harm has essentially an inside-out bacon cheeseburger, in which the cheese and chopped bacon in sandwiched inside 2-1/8 lb patties. It was a creation I maybe had never seen prior, and as soon as I did, I texted my friend and told him we had to go there. It was a little out of the way for us, but I’m grateful that we did. The burger apparently is not on the menu and I had to ask for it. When it came out, I sliced it in half and it looked and smelled pretty good. The burger with the oozing cheese and bacon bits was good, but I felt the bun wasn’t as soft as it could have or should have been. Maybe that’s just me talking.

Out of all burgers I’ve had in various cities across the US, I would probably have to say my favorite, if not one of my favorites, is the burger from Hash House A Go Go in San Diego (another location in Las Vegas), followed closely by the Squeeze burger at Squeeze Inn in Sacramento.

Other burger places across the country that I would like to try, and I have mentioned a few already, but places such as Crown Burger in Salt Lake City, Flip Burger in Georgia, Good Stuff Eatery in Washington DC, Love Shack in Texas, and Shake Shack in New York. If you have any other worthy suggestions, please feel free to let me know.

Los Angeles

We finally arrive back in the City of Angels. I’ve got to say, overall, we really do have our good share of some of this countries’ best food. I don’t care what people will say about Los Angeles compared to other food cities in the US, we’ve got some dang good food. Burgers are definitely up there.

I first start off with a burger that I actually grew up on and had a lot going through high school and even junior high. I am talking about Islands. Yes, I know it’s a chain and I’ll admit I have a slight aversion to most chain restaurants, but Islands does their burgers pretty well. The other food is just ok, so I stick with the burgers. I would say out of the at least couple hundred times I’ve been to Islands in my life, 95% of the time, I always get the same thing: the Maui burger on white with American cheese (normally comes with Swiss). The Maui burger has guacamole, and for those of you who don’t know, I’m a little bit of a guacamole-phile. Not that I would rub it all over my person, that’s just a waste of perfectly edible guacamole, but I LOOOOOVE guacamole. It ranks right up there with ranch dressing in terms of the world’s all-time best condiments. Islands recently introduced a couple new burgers, sort of, by just basically slapping a couple pieces of bacon and giving it a different name. The Maui’s younger but sexier (because of the bacon) sister is called the Rincon. I’ve gotten that a couple times and yes, bacon still makes everything better.

Next place is a place that I (maybe ironically) frequented while I was in culinary school because it was right across the street and was cheaper than the food at the school café. I’m talking about The White Hut. While the place is not literally a hut, I think? the building is white, underneath all that ivy that has grown over it, but this place is quite small, with diner style counter seating for maybe 8 people inside and a couple of white plastic patio tables outside. For about $6.50, you could get a fresh cheeseburger, fries, and a soda. If you frequent this place enough, the owner will remember you and remember what you ordered last time and ask if you want the same thing. You really cannot go wrong with a super fresh and piping hot cheeseburger with all the fixings. Sadly, I have not been back since I finished culinary school in ’04. Writing this is making me want to go there. I think I’ll go this weekend.

UPDATE: I did not end up going to White Hut that weekend I wrote that… #FAIL

The next burger I’m quite fond of and have no problem going back again and again for is the ABC burger at B-Man’s Teriyaki & Burgers in Pasadena. Their teriyaki bowls are pretty good, as are their spam misubi and chicken curry fries (a meal in itself), but what I really love there, and have sometimes gotten two, is that ABC burger. A juicy beef patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, your choice of American or Swiss cheese, teriyaki sauce and avocado: it hits the spot every single time. It can get messy with the teriyaki sauce, but it’s just really good.

Next place I want to mention, and is among the array of places that allow you to create your own burger, is The Counter. The first time I had this was a few years ago in Irvine, back when The Counter had only a couple of locations and was still new. Hearing about the plethora of options you could make there, I was actually quite excited to try it. Unfortunately, because of the length of time it’s been, I cannot remember, for the life of me, what I had that afternoon. All I remember is the creation I came up with was actually quite fantastic and that I liked their sweet potato fries better than their regular fries. I have since been to different locations a couple of times, and the burgers have been good as well. I firmly believe you have to actually be careful as to what you put on your burger. A not so good combination can lead to a mediocre burger and prevent it from being an outstanding burger. Its nice to seem them offer a turkey burger and a veggie burger for those who are a little more “health conscious”

Next burger, which I first had at their Montana Ave. location, is the Office Burger at Father’s Office. I actually was questioning if it was worth our long drive from Pasadena. I will have to tell you, it definitely was worth the drive. The burger, which is actually a little oblong than a round patty, is incredibly tender and juicy (trust me, get it medium rare), and topped with balsamic caramelized onions, apple wood smoked bacon compote, gruyere and Maytag bleu cheese, arugula, on a French roll. That first time I had it, I devoured it faster than I should have for my own good. The other times I’ve had at their Culver City location, it’s been just as good. While the rest of the food there is just ok, I’m fine with that because you go to Father’s Office for the beer, not the food. The burger is just a delightful added bonus.

Moving along, next we have is 25 Degrees in Hollywood. I actually have been here twice. The first time, I built my own burger into what I dubbed an “Italian style bacon cheeseburger”, topping it with smoked mozzarella, proscuitto, caramelized onions, and arugula. Using 100% sirloin, the patty was a bit on the dry side, but overall still a solid burger. The 2nd time I went, however, the burger was actually quite a letdown. In the wake of having Slater’s 50/50 burger, I attempted in creating a burger with a similar flavor profile, once again building my own burger with bacon, avocado, a fried egg, and aioli. While I achieved the goal of creating a similar profile, as I mentioned, the burger itself was a letdown. The patty was overcooked (I hate sending food back unless it’s REALLY bad, especially with a large group of people, which we did) and the bun was not soft like the first time. It was definitely one of the very few times I’ve been disappointed by a burger like that.

Moving down our list, we come to a place with not one, but 2 notable burgers, and is also a restaurant I happened to work at recently. I am speaking of Westside Tavern in Los Angeles. The burger was consistently the number one selling dish of the evening and on weekends, would sell more than 100 just during dinner. The burger is relatively simple yet very delicious and I know used quality ingredients. Using a half pound all beef patty, topped with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, and aioli, served on a toasted brioche bun. We would constantly snack on this while on the line during service. Though I was working pastry, I sometimes jumped in to help the grill cook to plate his sometimes 7 or 8 burgers. I think even once or twice, I cooked and sent out a burger all by myself. Easily one of my top 5, if not top 3, burgers in LA. The other burger on the menu was actually a salmon burger, using fresh ground salmon trimmings (we had a grilled salmon dish on the menu), mixed with quite a mix of ingredients including garlic powder and various other spices, chopped dill, Dijon mustard, and a few other ingredients I can’t recall (I may have helped make the patties once). Served a sun-dried tomato and caper vinaigrette, dill pickles, arugula, aioli, on a whole wheat bun, it was one of the more popular dishes on the menu as well. Both were delicious and is something I would order on return visits. Ironic though, in my time there, I never had the chance to have dinner there (though my family did a couple times), nor do I really have the urgency to now. Not because they are a former employer, but because being in West LA, I rarely am on that side of town to begin with and if I am ever out there, honestly Westside Tavern would not be my #1 dinner choice.

Continuing on, a burger that I actually liked, but unfortunately the restaurant is no longer, was the short rib burger from Blue Dahlia, which was in Little Tokyo. That burger was made from a combination of beef and tender short rib, giving it a texture unlike any other burger. I have since forgotten what else comes on the burger, but it was pretty good. I do kind of miss that place because it made for a quite date spot (not that I took a date there, just saying), but as they say, “c’est la vie”

This next burger, and definitely in my top 3, maybe top 2 burgers, is Ben Bailly’s truffle burger at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City. I never had a chance to have this burger while he was at Petrossian in West Hollywood, as I only dined there once, but I definitely wanted to take advantage of it at Fraiche. I had even actually tweeted about it, and coincidentally, a few days later, he happened to invite me for dinner, in which he fed me very well. I did no ordering the entire evening, trusting him to send me out a wonderful progression of dishes. As for the finale, he sent the truffle burger, normally a lunch item only, that I had tweeted about just days prior. The burger was juicy and seasoned well, served with onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured every single bit of it, despite being incredibly full by the time it arrived at my table.

Next restaurant, which has arguably my favorite burger in all of LA, are the burgers at Umami Burger, with several locations throughout the city. I have only been to the original location on La Brea Blvd, so I cannot comment on any of the other locations. I’ve had the Manly burger, which is basically a glorified bacon cheeseburger, the triple pork burger, with the patty made from ground pork, bacon, and chorizo, and the truffle burger. The truffle burger was really good and I can’t really compare it to the one at Fraiche. Out of the ones I’ve had, my favorite has probably been the triple pork burger. Only further affirming the recent realization that I may love pork more than beef, it was just incredibly flavorful and full of awesomeness. Below is a picture of the truffle burger

Next, which I know some people will say this and that about, is none other than In N Out Burger. I practically grew up on these burgers as well, first having one probably back in Junior High School. There’s not many things better than a piping hot double double with whole grilled onions (or sometimes Animal style), with fries, and a drink. For the longest time, I used to get 2 double doubles. Yes, I think I was trying to shorten my life. I can’t even count how many different locations I’ve been to and how many double doubles I’ve had in my lifetime, but probably more than I should have. However, I will continue to devour In N Out for the rest of my life and make sure to get my future kids addicted to it as much as I am. Yes, I think I’m diabolical like that sometimes.

Moving along, there were a few burgers I, unfortunately, were not at all impressed with. The first worth mentioning is the burger I had at 8 oz. Burger Bar in Mid City. Now, I think Govind Armstrong, though relatively under the radar in LA, is a great chef and I wish I had a chance to eat at Table 8 before converting it to its current form, but this burger was underwhelming. I got the burger with sautéed mushrooms, grilled red onion, bel paese cheese, and roasted garlic aioli. While the toppings helped save the burger, the bun was near burnt and the patty was overcooked. Even if the burger was cooked to my liking, it might have been a decent burger at best, but as well could have still been an underwhelming burger. Sorry Chef Armstrong.

Next underwhelmer was a burger from a sport bar in Hollywood by the name of Stout. I had a burger they call the “Six Weeker”, which has brie, fig jam, arugula, and caramelized onions. I ordered it because while the fig jam was an interesting thing to have in a burger, I knew it would pair well with the brie cheese. However, when the burger arrived, it lost major points on presentation. It was plainly served on a single piece of butcher paper on a school cafeteria style plastic plate. The burger wasn’t much better. The bun was a little dry, the patty itself was ok, but I could hardly tell there was any brie. The saving grace was what they call an “Island Hopper”, which is one of their ground chicken burger. It had smoked mozzarella, artichoke spread, arugula, and tomatoes on a toasted wheat bun. This was much better.

Lastly, and probably the most underwhelming burger I’ve recently had, and I think coincidentally the most recent of the 3, was Apple Pan, in West LA. It just… incredibly underwhelming I almost wanted to walk out. I mean, it was so underwhelming that it was mind-boggling to me as to why and how this was supposed to be a Los Angeles institution. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the ingredients were fresh, but overall, it just didn’t do it for me. Agreeing with what someone recently said on Twitter about this place, I would rather have Johnny Rockets than Apple Pan. And for you Apple Pan fans out there, I apologize.

As we end our journey, I just briefly want to mention some burgers I have heard of around town that, for the life of me, have not been able to try yet. These burgers include Comme Ca, The Golden State, and Five Guys Burger & Fries. I’m sure there are others out there that I can’t think of off the top of my head right now. For sure there are many other burgers I’ve tried around in the area, but if I were to include every single one, I might as well write a full length book (not that I seemingly already haven’t). Plus these that I have written about above are the noteworthy ones.

If you have any other suggestions as to where to get a killer burger around town, I am all ears.

Posted in food | 3 Comments »

Burgers Burgers Burgers! Part 1

Posted by Austios on January 24, 2011

For those of you who really know me, while I enjoy my fine dining, and a majority of my posts on here have featured fine dining establishments, I’m also simply a burgers and pizza kind of guy. I’m just as happy going down the street to a local joint as I am driving half way across town (and sometime through traffic) to dine at one of Los Angeles’ best restaurants. I mean, for crying out loud, my facebook profile picture is me with a burger.

One of my favorite foods, as you can probably already gather, is hamburgers. Yes, America’s food, the burger. Which is quite interesting because the hamburger was arguably not invented here in America, but rather in Hamburg Germany. But regardless of its origins, the point is that Americans have embraced the hamburger, as its national food. According to Fast Food Nation, Americans eat an estimated 13 BILLION hamburgers each year. Holy mother, that is A LOT of beef. I myself, on average, probably have 1-2 hamburgers per week. Probably closer to 1, but there have been times when I’ve had 2 or 3 in a week.

Why are burgers so good though? I mean, it’s simply ground meat between 2 pieces of bread. What else you choose to put in there is completely up to you, but the meat and the bun is the core. Some would say it’s the portability of a burger. It’s a lot like a sandwich. Having the ability to take it wherever you go and eat it with your hands and have a minimal mess makes the burger one of the most convenient things ever.

However, what makes a good burger great is a debate in itself. Factors include what kind of meat is used, the size of the patty, the cooking method, down to what other ingredients go onto the burger and even into the patty. People will argue about what kind of cheese to use, whether or not to use condiments, and which and if at all vegetables to add to your burger. Everybody, I personally believe, is entitled to their opinions and preferences, so don’t think I will sit here and try to convert you on how I like my burgers, nor do I want you to try to convert me on your preferences. I think the differences we have in that aspect help make this country great. I’m just saying.

Burgers, however, aren’t limited to just beef. Living in such a health conscious city (relatively) where everybody lives in the shadow of the glitz and glam of Hollywood and the plastic surgery filled area code 90210, there has been an ever increasing demand for non-beef alternatives, such as pork, chicken, turkey, and even vegetable burgers. Personally, as for that last one, you deserved to be flogged if you like or even order a veggie burger. It’s just wrong. Don’t argue with me, it just is.

Burgers also are no longer a fast food chain nor hole in the wall kind of food now. There are many chefs both here in LA and across this nation that have introduced a burger onto their menu and have taken their own version to a higher level. Here in LA, we have the likes of Govind Armstrong (8 oz. Burger Bar) and Eric Greenspan (Foundry) putting their own personal touches on a burger that is on their menu. In other cities, Hubert Keller, one of the world’s best chefs and owner of Fleur de Lys in both San Francisco and Las Vegas, has taken a more casual dining approach with Burger Bar, with locations in SF, Vegas, and St. Louis, MO. If I ever find myself in St. Louis, I know where I’m going. In several cities in the South, Chef Richard Blais, most notably of Top Chef Chicago, has a series of nostalgia-esque diners that goes by the name, Flip Burger. In Washington D.C., Spike Mendelsohn, also from Top Chef Chicago, has a “hamburger joint” called Good Stuff Eatery. In the Dallas area, Chef Tim Love’s Love Shack serves up burgers and other comfort American fare as the more casual experience of his handful of restaurants.

As you can probably gather, I LOVE burgers, of the meat variety of course. I may be Asian, and while I still love Asian food, as well as just about all ethnic food, I am still American deep down and as I said before, a burgers and pizza kind of guy. If it wasn’t going to kill me when I’m 35, I would eat burgers every day of my life. And if it wasn’t going to kill me, I would rapidly deteriorate every part of my physical and physiological body, as evidenced by Morgan Spurlock’s ludicrous 30 day McDonald’s binge in the movie, Supersize Me. I love burgers, but I’m not crazy enough to perform a stunt like that.

While I haven’t had every single burger there is to have in and around Los Angeles and other parts of this country, I still have had quite a few burgers both in LA and other cities around this country and on my travels. This post is to highlight those burgers and just simply a celebration of my love for the meaty creation.

Orange County

Instead of beginning in my hometown of LA, I will actually end in LA, thus I will start just down the 5 freeway in Orange County. I actually have not had that many burgers in Orange County, that I can really remember anyway, but the 3 places that I do remember are actually in each of the 3 different categories I consider about 99% of burgers to be in: 1) Hole in the Wall Burger, 2) Casual Eats Burger and 3) Restaurant Burger.

Again, we begin in Orange County, well, North Orange County, in Anaheim Hills and Slaters 50/50, which I consider to be category #2: Casual Eats. I first had this burger at the Yelp OC Bacon Bash Elite event at the OC Fair, in which this place was one of vendors the OC Community Manager was able to book. Their signature burger is the 50/50 burger, a even mixture of ground beef and chopped bacon. Yes my friends, bacon. It is as they say, bacon makes everything better. Though to feed ravenous Yelpers, they cut their burgers into quarters, however that didn’t stop me from going back so many times I could have formed 1 ½ burgers. The first ¼ burger I had was like a stick of dynamite going off in my mouth. The bacon provided a slight textural contrast than if you had a normal 100% beef patty, and the guacamole, fried egg, and chipotle aioli all worked in harmony.

Many months later, I was able to visit the restaurant with a handful of friends. The place sells itself as a sports bar, in which when I went, they had 2 large flat panel televisions at the bar, but were in process of adding more TVs all around the restaurant, given away by a series of short length of white coaxial cable protruding from the wall at equally spaced spots. Among the other foods we ordered, I decided to get the 50/50 burger again.

To be completely honest, the burger was not as good as I remembered it. I am not sure what it was, but everything seemed to be the same, yet it wasn’t as good. I was unfortunately underwhelmed, yet it was by far not the worst burger I have ever had.

The next OC burger worth mentioning falls under the first category: Hole in the Wall. I’m talking about TK Burgers in Costa Mesa. A rather unsuspecting kind of place just across the street from The Lab and across the freeway from South Coast Plaza, this burger was actually not too bad considering the kind of place it was being served at. The burger is pretty standard, but its obviously good if I can actually remember it.

The final burger we see in Orange County was found at Sapphire Laguna Restaurant, in Laguna Beach. I was actually visiting a chocolatier shop next door, owned by someone my mom knows, and I wanted lunch beforehand. I was not aware there was a restaurant next door but as I was looking up places nearby, being next door made it quite convenient. The restaurant seemed like it was pretty popular lunch spot, as evidenced by a crowded outdoor patio. Of course when you’ve got a view of the Pacific Ocean, you want to take advantage of that. The dining room itself was not very crowded though. I sat down and while a lot of the dishes looked and sounded quite appetizing, I eventually ended up getting the burger, which was advertised as being an American Kobe beef burger. It was served with melted cheese, caramelized onions, tomato and arugula, on a brioche bun. The burger was pretty good and all of the elements worked well with each other. I’m not enough of a Kobe beef expert to tell if it really was Kobe beef, but I still liked it.

San Diego

Our next city, we go further South to San Diego. I love it down there for its clean air, relatively light traffic, and the chill atmosphere. Plus, it’s not LA, and a brief change of scenery is nice once in awhile. Most of the times I went down there, we ended up going to Tadashi Sushi, and the rest of time, we wouldn’t really eat much of anything else. However, one time I went down there, my friends and I came across Hash House A Go Go on a whim. We had just come from Extraordinary Desserts just down the street and we were all experiencing a sugar high, so we were craving some salty. We just happened to drive past, as 5th Street is a one way street coming from ED, and decided to stop and give it a try. This place serves traditional American fare with large portions, including massive 2 patty-l pound burgers. As full as we were from the cakes we had at Extraordinary Desserts, the 4 of us decided to share one burger, making 4-1/4 lb burgers, which is ideally the amount of meat you want in a serving, but I’m not trying to be a health nut here.

I wish I had a picture of the enormous burger, but it was darn delicious. The one we ordered had guacamole and thick applewood smoked bacon. It was definitely a great burger and while it was the only burger I’ve had in all of the greater San Diego area, it is definitely my favorite down there. I definitely will go there next time I’m in San Diego as the last couple of times I’ve been down there, I haven’t been to Hash House. Their breakfast is also really good.

Sacramento

We next move up to Northern California and to, no, not San Francisco, but instead more inland to the state capitol of Sacramento. The first burger we start off with is at Ford’s Real Hamburgers. The place is your typical, run-of-the-mill window walk-up corner burger joint, and I ordered a standard cheeseburger, with onions, lettuce and tomato. This burger was supposedly voted best burger by the Sacramento newspaper, but apparently their food critic didn’t really know what a good burger is because the burger was just ok. The bun was a little dry. If I remember correctly, I enjoyed the steak fries more than my burger.

The next burger I had in Sacramento (on a separate trip), was at Jim Denny’s diner near Downtown Sacramento. This place was recently on Man v Food, but was featured for their breakfast. However, when my friend and I went, it was almost time for lunch and while we probably could have still ordered breakfast, we were in the mood for lunch. Plus, when I had gone, it was long before Adam Richman even had probably considered visiting Sacramento for the show, so I didn’t know they were known for their breakfast. The burger was a little better than what I had the previous year at Ford’s, but I still enjoyed it. The accompaniments were the same: caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. One thing I liked about that place, despite the smallness of it, was the fact that you could smell everything coming out of the kitchen because it was just that small, and where my friend and I were sitting, we were just across from the flat top, essentially guaranteeing us a fresh burger because we were sitting right there.

The final burger destination we see in Sacramento is the famous Squeeze Inn. I first saw this place on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dive’s, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. Luckily my friend I was staying with was kind enough to do what I wanted, and he even told me they had opened a 2nd and much larger location about 20 minutes away. I had heard the original location was pretty small, hence the name, so while going there would have probably been a more “authentic” experience, we opted to go to the larger location.

As for the burger itself, if you’re not familiar with the burgers at Squeeze Inn, what they’re known for is their large cheese skirt. A cheese skirt is the cheese that melts off the sides of the burger and gets slightly crispy on the griddle. It’s just about as good as cheesepaper if not better. This is achieved by a heaping amount of shredded cheese that is placed on the burger as its still cooking, then covered, so the cheese is allowed to melt and steam. The amount of cheese they use if definitely more than one needs, but again, how else will you achieve the cheeseskirt? Exactly.

The burger was really good and hot and juicy. The cheeseskirt is what I imagined it to be, but overall, I think I may have over-hyped the burger for myself. I mean, it was still good and ranks up there as one of the better burgers I’ve had, especially with a nice soft bun, but yes, I think I may have over-hyped it to the point that prevented a good burger to being a great burger.

Please come back tomorrow for Part 2, as we continue with visits to Portland, Las Vegas, Chicago, and here in Los Angeles!!!

Posted in food | 3 Comments »

Fraiche LA: New Place, Same Ben

Posted by Austios on January 8, 2011

For about a year and a half, Chef Ben Bailly had been wowing both his loyal followers and his patrons at the wonderful Petrossian Café & Boutique in West Hollywood with signature dishes such as the Napolean tartare, truffle mac & cheese, and truffle burger. I was fortunate enough to dine at the restaurant during his tenure there and meet the man in person after having only interacted with him via Twitter prior.

In early November, I personally first heard word, from the man himself, that he was leaving Petrossian and moving on to somewhere else within LA. That night, he would not reveal where he was headed, but it was only a mere few days after did the news begin to spread that he would be taking over the kitchen at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City for Jason Travi, who was the chef/co-owner prior and is now the corporate chef for Jeffery Best, who is the proprietor of Firefly in Studio City, Mesa in Costa Mesa, and Darkroom on Melrose.

For the past couple of years, I had always wanted to go have dinner at Fraiche, but being out in West LA and for me living in Pasadena, it was a little bit of a trek and I never made it out. However, as much as I love Chef Ben, I knew I had to make an effort to go try the new menu as well as visit a friend. It actually wasn’t long until I had gotten my wish. One random day, Ben invited me into the restaurant to try the food and check things out. After a brief dialogue, I decided to go on a Monday evening, when I knew it wasn’t going to be terribly busy.

Fraiche is located in the heart of Downtown Culver City, which is actually quite a nice neighborhood relative to the surrounding areas. There also is quite a nice mix of eateries as well, including Kay & Dave’s, Libra Brazilian Steakhouse, Tender Greens, Akasha, and Ford’s Filling Station, as well as many others.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous with a warm and welcoming color scheme, a cozy bar and lounge area, and a beautiful open kitchen. The hostess told Chef Ben I had arrived and he briefly came out to greet me. He asked if I was hungry, to which I subtly concurred and he said to just have a seat and that he’d take care of me. I was seated in the back corner of the dining room, relatively near the kitchen and took in the beauty of the restaurant. And yes, I was by myself.

Ben came out again and told me I didn’t need to order and that he would just send me out various dishes. I trusted his judgment and after our essentially 7 course meal when he was at Petrossian, he had an idea of how much I could eat.

My server, Gustavo, came by and I ordered a glass of the Venica & Venica Pinot Grigio from Italy. I was first presented a “bar snack” of almonds and olives tossed in olive oil and some orange rind.

My wine arrived soon after that, and not long after that, my first course arrived. I was presented with “Vitello Tonnato”, or Veal Steak Tartare. The tartare was tossed in tonnato sauce, then topped with arugula and parmesan cheese. This was incredibly delicious and a great way to start with the meal. My wine actually paired quite well with this dish. Unintentional wine pairing, how sweet is that.

When I finished the tartare, the sommelier, Paul, stopped by and having been informed that Ben was going to just send me out random dishes, he asked if I wanted a wine pairing with my dinner. I paused for a second, but then told him maybe not every course, as I was thinking about needing to drive home afterward.

Next course to come out was the Housemade Agnolotti, stuffed with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, served with crimini mushrooms and a truffle butter. The truffle butter permeated wonderfully and was a nice rich finish to the awesomeness of the agnolotti. Paul paired this with a Trefethen Chardonnay, from California. It was not too crisp and was slightly buttery, to compliment the truffle butter.

Next dish sent out was the Basil Risotto, served with chewy escargot, lemon oil, and tomato. The risotto was cooked very nice, and the escargot provided some added richness while the lemon oil and tomato provided subtle acidity to bring great harmony to the dish. Paul came out prior to the dish arriving, as he did with each course, going with a Sancerre from Domaine Cherrier in France. Another wonderful pairing. *Note – I was actually starting to get a little full at this point

Slightly to my amazement, the next course was yet another pasta dish, this time the lamb papardelle, with tomatoes, olives, and gruyere cheese. The lamb was nice and tender, the papardelle perfect, and dish having great balance and flavor. I, for one, love lamb, so this was a great dish, even though a third consecutive pasta dish nearly had me wishing I had worn my fat pants. Not that I have fat pants, but I could have uncouthly unbutton my belt. Not that I would have, but you know…

Not knowing how many courses Ben was planning on sending out, and starting to get really, really full, I was hoping there wasn’t much more. Ben took a short break from cooking, as it was getting into the later portion of service, to come out and check to see how I was doing. I complimented him on how everything was great, but conceded that was getting pretty full. He said he had one more dish to send out, then dessert, so at least I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

Paul came by and brought the last wine, a Close du Prieur Pic St. Loup, from France, saying its earthiness would hold up to the truffle burger. Once he said truffle burger, I got really excited because that was the one dish I really wanted to try. I actually had tweeted about it like a week prior and I guess he remembered I had wanted to try it. Caroline was insanely jealous because she was actually a table over from me but did not receive the burger and had left long before it arrived at my table. The burger was just absolutely perfect. It had onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured yet simultaneously enjoyed every morsel of that thing, and I polished off the fries as well, even though I was incredibly stuffed.

Finally, we arrive at dessert. I actually was hoping Paul would come out with a dessert wine, but alas, no dice. It’s ok, I probably had enough to drink anyway. What came out was the pistachio crème brulee, a dish I had at Petrossian, served with apricot sorbet and a rosemary shortbread crumble. The crème brulee was great like I remembered it, although the layer of burnt sugar was quite thick. The apricot was a nice pairing with the pistachio and the rosemary shortbread provide a hint of savoriness to the dish. It was garnished with a caramel sugar deco that was supposed to look like the wings of a dragonfly. *shrug*

Way beyond stuffed, I thanked Chef Ben for everything. I knew it would all be delicious, and I, in a way, wished I had been to Fraiche during the Travi days to have some sort of comparison, but Ben really delivered. We joked with each other during the later courses of my meal that I would probably need to sleep at the restaurant because I was so full and felt like I couldn’t move.

I cannot wait to return to try more of the food. Merci Chef!!!!

Fraiche LA
9411 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Fraiche in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Fraiche Culver City on Urbanspoon

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