Thursday, July 24, 2008

Should've Ordered Chicken

24 July 2008-
Il Pollaio: 555 Columbus Avenue in North Beach San Francisco
Cost: $8.75 (cheeseburger, fries or salad included)

Image Source: blogger's own

I took Latin in high-school, and unfortunately to this day, I can't claim to have possessed the ability to speak, read or write a word of latin. Therefore, I don't even try to read or comprehend foreign language signs. When "Il Pollaio" was recommended as a best burger from a burger enthusiast acquaintance, I didn't think twice about the literal translation. I just thought, 'shoot I have to try this burger.' Famished, one day after work, I decided to trek up to North Beach to sample the Il Pollaio burger.

I walk in this dining establishment, and the place is packed. There's an open-flame grill in the corner with about a dozen whole chickens getting fired up. I sit down, and the whole menu is chicken. I couldn't find any burger anywhere on the menu. I was a little nervous, and started to perspire; however, I was confident there must be a burger, or why else would this person recommend this spot to me!?

The waitress arrived, and I asked meekly if they had a burger. She pointed to the very bottom of the menu, and in tiny print, there's a description that alludes to some sort of burger. Without relooking at the menu description, I ordered their cheeseburger "medium-rare". When I asked them if I could add bacon, there was no bacon. I began to sweat even more.

So, the place was packed, there's dozens of chickens on the grill, everyone is eating chicken and drinking wine, and I've just ordered their burger in fine print on the menu.

Verdict: The order was taking way longer than expected. It was an open kitchen in the middle of the dining room, and I noticed that the cooks were on their smoke break every 2 minutes. 'Someone should be carefully monitoring the grill' I thought. There is a very fine line between rare and medium-rare, and medium-rare and medium, and medium and medium-well...

The order arrived, and I saw a huge, honking slab of meat between two Italian bread rolls. There were no condiments, just the slab of meat, two pieces of bread and lettuce, tomato and onions. It looked dry to me. I requested mayonnaise on the side, and was handed four squeezable packets. As soon as I saw these packets of squeezable mayonnaise, I kind of knew what to expect.

The burger was completely dry and over-cooked. This was probably the first time in my life where I didn't even get half-way through the burger. I thought the whole time, 'should've ordered chicken'...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Salmon Burger

19 July 2008-
Christopher's Burger: 5295 College Avenue in North Oakland
Cost: $6.50 (salmon burger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Rumor has it that Christopher's Burger is owned by the renowned chef Christopher Cheung who also owns the prestigious Marica Seafood next door. For the many years that I've been frequenting Christopher's I've also noticed a salmon burger on the menu board, but it's always been unavailable when I'm there, until this afternoon. Not believing my eyes, I reconfirmed the availability of the salmon burger today, and was reassured of their availability. With great anticipation, I ordered the salmon burger and a basket of fries.

My expectations were certainly high. I was trying to make a correlation between Christopher the chef and Christopher's Burger. If seafood is their main forte, I was expecting that the salmon burger would be their tour de force. Perhaps they always had a certain amount of salmon patties each day, but would sell out quickly from the first customers of the day. Unfortunately, I was never one of the first of the day, to get to Christopher's. It was always a lazy weekend afternoon sort of an affair for me.

Equipped with three different types of homemade mayo, aioli and chipotle sauce, I was ready to attack the salmon burger. They also provided me with a secret sauce container, which I suspected was tartar sauce. Honestly, I didn't know how or what to dress the salmon burger. I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure whether I needed mayonnaise at all. How would the chipotle sauce taste on fish?

I ended up dividing the patty into thirds and using the sauce evenly divided on the bun. I realized at the end, that I forgot to use any tartar, so I added that to the equation at the end.

Verdict: The salmon patty was actually quite dry and tasteless. I didn't even feel that any seasoning was added to the salmon at all. The bun, though slightly toasted, crumbled when I grappled the burger. The combination of mayo, aioli and chipotle sauce did nothing for me either. After years of anticipation, Christopher's salmon burger really let me down.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Made to Order

18 July 2008-
Fat Apple's Restaurant and Bakery~: 7525 Fairmount Avenue in El Cerrito
Cost: $9.10 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)
~ Honorable Mention

Image Source: blogger's own

On my Friday off from work, I had my heart set on trying out Circus Pub in Kensington which was a tip from some local burger enthusiasts that I met recently. To my dismay, the kitchen at Circus Pub was closed when I arrived a hair before five. Rather than wait, I decided to try out Fat Apple's down the street since a coworker friend, fellow burger enthusiast mentioned it was designed by the renowned architect David Baker (who happened to be a guest critic in one of my architecture studio finals at UC Berkeley). I thought I'd at least go check out the architecture, although I kind of expected a comparable standard of quality to my positive experience at the location in North Berkeley. Anyway, in contrast to Circus Pub's stark and desolate interior at the time, Fat Apple's was already bustling, but it was soon to get even more crowded.

The instant I got seated, I knew exactly what I wanted. I ordered their bacon cheeseburger "medium-rare" (medium-well is their standard) and a side of fries. The wait seemed endless. I was concerned that they might have been over-grilling the burger since I was waiting a little longer than expected.

Verdict: By the time the order arrived, and the requisite side of mayo was delivered, I dug in. The bread was extra soft on the outside, but toasted on the inside. It was kind of fluffy and soft when I collapsed the burger composition with all the fixings inside. Upon the first few bites, I could tell immediately that the burger was cooked quite rare. It could have passed as completely and unadulterated "rare", but it's not a complaint, since the burger patty was delicious and juicy. Similar to the Fat Apple's in Berkeley, they really deliver the fixings for the burger.

As I was about to finish, my coworker friend, burger enthusiast (who informed me of this Fat Apple's) walked in with his family. I joined their table and postponed the final half of the burger until their orders arrived. At this point, the cheese started to solidify, and the burger blood drippings had started to clot well after platelet formation. It was evident, that this burger had lost it's "freshness". The bun which was previously warm and toasted, was still toasted, but no longer warm. The burger remnant felt kind of lumpy and seemed like it may have gained some weight from the long hiatus.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is the burger still tasted great! I couldn't believe I was eating the last portion of this cold burger, but it was still so, so good. I truly can't wait until my next visit to Fat Apple's in El Cerrito.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thin Layer of Insecurity

17 July 2008-
Pearl's Deluxe Burgers: 408 Post Street in San Francisco
Cost: $7.15 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)
http://www.pearlsdiner.com/

Image Source: blogger's own

I've always wanted to survey the original Pearl's Diner in Mill Valley, but realizing that there's another location a little closer to home in downtown SF, decided to head out there after work one evening. The place has been hyped as one of the best burgers in the Bay Area. So, with high expectations, and equipped with a hungry appetite, I climbed up Jones to my destination.

Although Pearl's Deluxe is located a little ways above the Tenderloin, the area can be quite a bit sketchy. I remember seeing the place a while ago, and then trying to locate the restaurant again when the sun with setting and without directions or even a correct address - only to hurry my body quickly back down to Union Square's familiar territory. The surrounding vicinity is not for the faint hearted, I'd also recommend mapping a proper itinerary path up to Pearl's Deluxe since it's quite easy to lose your hungry appetite if you're not careful about your directions and meander into the wrong neighborhood.

Pearl's serves up a wide variety of burger permutations as "deluxe" or "mini" size. I ordered the deluxe bacon cheeseburger, and was waiting for them to confirm grilling preference. After an uncomfortable pause, I inquired about their grilling preference policy. Of course, it's possible to request burger patty preference, but one must know about this in advance since there's a sign on the menu board which states that 'medium' is their standard unless otherwise specified.

Verdict: You know 99% of the burgers that I survey could be improved if only the buns were properly toasted. I think it would be better for the environment too, since you'd actually injest the grease rather than waste napkins wiping the grease from their faces while chomping the burger. You might also be able to multitask while eating, and perhaps put your burger down for a second to work on the fries since a toasted bun acts like a sponge which both soaks up the grease in the cellular air pockets created from the act of toasting, as well as, supports the structural integrity of the burger.

I noticed that even if the buns were in fact properly toasted, I wouldn't dare put today's Pearl's Deluxe burger down on my red, plastic burger tray separated by a thin layer of wax paper. The 50's diner aesthetic is cute, but what's the deal with these reusable, red, plastic basket trays and a thin layer wax paper to serve burgers on? Maybe I missed something in home ec class, but what's so incredibly sanitary about wax paper? Can someone please explain what side of the paper the visible greasy mess is on the bottom of my basket tray? Is the wax paper protecting my burger from the leftover grease from a previous burger; or is the wax paper preventing my drippy, greasy burger mess from spattering the burger basket? Also, what precautions are then taken to prevent germs from transmitting between the reusable, red, plastic tray surface and my fries and that bacon draped over the edge (see picture above)?

Aside from this, the burger meat definitely had some redness, though the taste was a little bland. The fries however, are definitely blog worthy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sumo Burger Take Two

14 July 2008-
Oishii Embarcadero: 4 Embarcadero Center in San Francisco
Cost: $5.07 (angus cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

The first Oishii Cafe review was an utter disappointment (see 16 August 2006 review). Since their Sumo burger came as a recommendation from a former coworker and fellow burger enthusiast, I felt that I owed them a proper review since the previous Oishii is only a small take-out window that is literally smaller than a tiny newspaper stand.

The moment I decided on the re-review, I was already imagining the finest marbleized kobe beef steaks being grounded for these burgers. I knew that the Japanese weren't unfamiliar with perfection and technical precision. With this confidence, I gathered up my burger posse to head up the review at 4 Embarcadero Center.

The interior of Oishii is stuck in a time capsule that hasn't progressed with the times. It doesn't appear to have changed since the office towers were constructed in the early 1980's while the surrounding retail and commercial storefronts have all gone through extensive renovations and upgrades. Because of this visually unstimulating decor, we decided on a table outside overlooking Justin Herman Plaza.

Verdict: I really knew something was amiss when there wasn't any bacon available for my burger; and there weren't many (if any) burger permutations offered. Also, it was a sit-down restaurant and the wait staff didn't ask for grilling preference. Just to make sure, I asked if they grill their burgers to order, but I got a really strange look when I explicitly requested "medium-rare", and I felt like this was probably the first time anybody has ever made such a request to them.

Since I was the first one to order, I seemed to have started a trend about requesting personal grilling preferences, because then everyone else started tagging on their preferences to their orders. I could sense that the wait staff wasn't really following our specific requests very carefully, because there were a lot of us, and they didn't seem to be taking very many notes.

Sure enough, when our orders arrived, and I took my first bite, our orders got mixed up. With my luck, I probably ended up with one of the "medium-well" (tasteless) burgers at the table. I surely didn't enjoy the burger. The fries were pretty dry and tasteless too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ranchers in SF

8 July 2008-
Prather Ranch Booth: Ferry Building Tuesday Farmer's Market
Cost: $8.00 (cheeseburger, fries not available)
Image Source: blogger's own

Every Tuesday, the San Francisco farmer's market is in full effect at the Ferry Building. The weather was beautiful, so my burger crew braved the weather on this gorgeous July afternoon. I've been eating at the Prather Ranch booth at the farmer's market for several years now, but have always forgotten to bring the proper photo documentation device. Equipped with my digital elf, I approached the Prather Ranch booth. However, today, I noticed that the booth raised their prices.

There's no grilling preference, but the fellows at Prather Ranch run the booth with an open charcoal, flaming grill. They offer an array of "organic, sustainable, humane, pasture raised" meats. They even have buffalo burgers and use ACME breads for their buns.

Verdict: Today's Prather Ranch burger was their best since I started frequenting this Farmer's Market a few years ago. The patty was pretty juicy and tender, the bun, although untoasted was pretty tasty. Unfortunately, the booth was lacking in condiments as they typically are, and it's also unfortunate that they don't have sufficient dedicated seating.

Default is Medium-Rare

7 July 2008-
Inn Kensington Restaurant: 293 Arlington Avenue in Kensington
Cost: $7.50 (cheeseburger, salad or soup included)

Image Source: blogger's own

Before today, I've never really had the opportunity to explore Kensington in the Bay Area. My gosh, am I impressed! In fact, I think I want to move here if I ever decide to move away from urban, city-life for suburban, single-family home life. Inn Kensington Restaurant was recommended by another burger enthusiast recently. I decided to survey it on my day off from work.

When I asked my server who seems to also be the owner, whether they cook to specific grilling preference, he responded "standard is medium-rare". With e. coli, mad-cow and other health-safety concerns, this is quite unprecedented for a burger establishment to claim. However, since I'm all for it, I smiled back and ordered it standard.

Verdict: The first few bites were great. The patty was thick and juicy, but a little singed and burnt like bbq standards. But the kaiser roll, wasn't toasted, and started to break apart towards the middle of the experience. I knife-and-forked the rest of the burger like a steak. Because I had a side-salad, the meal kind of turned into a burger salad. The quality was alright, but as my readership may know, a non-toasted bun which lacks structural integrity can't really compete.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Was I Thinking?!

25 March 2008-
Beale Street Bar and Grill: 133 Beale Street in San Francisco
Cost: $5.95 (veggie burger, fries included)

Image Source: taken from Dan Hruby's iphone

As a tribute and acknowledgement of my BA Burgers' ongoing expansion and improvements, I've decided to start including veggie and fish burgers in my postings. As some of you may know, Beale Street's burgers offers one of my favorite burgers within a two block radius from work. I've never tried their veggie burgers before, so I didn't know what to expect.

Verdict: In contrast to their juicy ground chuck, Beale Street's veggie patty is dry, banal and common-place. It's very similar to other institutional-like veggie burger patties offered at mediocre public school cafeterias and detention facilities. My coworker friend, and fellow burger enthusiast, ordered a regular burger, and I was staring at his burger the whole meal thinking to myself, 'what was I thinking?!'.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ahi Seared Rare

16 March 2008
Taylor's Refresher: 1 Ferry Plaza along the Embarcadero in San Francisco
Cost: $13.99 (ahi burger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

As a way of expanding my readership and interests, I will be including fish burgers and veggie burgers in my postings. Someone in passing informed me about Taylor's fish - and since it's located along the SF Embarcadero's Ferry Plaza, I thought I'd give their fish a try.

Verdict: Although pricey, Taylor's Ahi Burger is grilled, and not deep-fried like a lot of other fish burgers. The cross section is "seared-rare" and the seasoning and taste is like high-quality tuna sashimi. I probably would have preferred a toastier bun, over Taylor's egg-roll bun that wasn't quite toasted to my liking, but the Ahi steak was quite phenomenal.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Greasy, Chewy, Crispy and Tasty

22 January 2008-
Yes, Burgers and Malts:
1 Market Plaza in San Francisco
Cost: $5.69 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Yes, Burgers and Malts was recommended to me recently, as a favorite "fix" from another burger enthusiast, so I got my burger posse to accompany me on this particular survey at 1 Market Plaza food court in downtown SF.

Verdict: Quite a burger, and the fries are exceptional. There's no grilling preference, but there are a variety of burger combos to choose from. The bread is a high quality roll, which is quite chewy and tasty. Think: greasy, chewy, crispy and tasty.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Clever Name

8 January 2008-
Hegenburger's Hamburger Restaurant:
280 Hegenberger Road in Oakland
Cost: $4.95 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

It was a rainy Tuesday in January. I was in the area taking care of some errands, and since it was daytime, and hence, still light out - it seemed safe enough to park my car in the Coliseum / East Oakland area and get a quick bite to eat before heading out to work. Now, I've passed by 'Hegenburger' many times to and from the Oakland airport; but since I'm usually riding in a taxi or an airport shuttle, have never had the opportunity to stop and survey this burger joint, until now.

Like I mentioned, it was kind of damp outside, but it also smelled "kind of damp" inside. The smell was very similar to the times when I lived in this warehouse / storefront in the East Oakland / Lake Merritt area that was lodged into a hillside. Everytime it rained, the moisture from the hill would seep into the walls and into the space - often leaving a puddle of rain inside that had to be wet-vac'ed and squeegeed. Not fun. Anyway, while I was waiting for my bacon cheeseburger (no grilling preference option, although the guy at the register said they usually do medium-well) I was pondering the smells and trying to decipher whether it was carpet glue that was oozing out beneath the stairs of the warehouse when I was vacuuming underneath them one day, or whether it was mushroom shaped glue - or maybe they were in fact mushrooms or some other fungi.

My order arrived, and I dove right in. Nothing extra-ordinary, although a bit dry like a medium-well supposes. I don't imagine I'll ever come back, but have to give props to the name. Hegenburger / Hegenberger - the name will always remind me of Homebase / Rave Central - always so dear to my heart.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Whole Ingredients

22 December 2007-
Whole Foods Market: 230 Bay Place in Oakland
http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/pressroom/pr_09-24-07.html
Cost: $9.78 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

When I first stumbled upon Lake Merritt in Oakland by coincidence, I sensed an immediate bond and attraction which led me to select three different corners of the Lake before settling on Lakeside Drive. For several years, there seemed to be a lot of talk about the Wholefoods planned for development at Lake Merritt; with the idea that the area was undergoing a positive wave of urban renewal and growth.

Just recently, this Wholefoods finally opened, and the architecture and interior design reflects a unique 'markethall' concept which is now serving as a prototype for select Wholefoods Markets. Inside, the "bistro" serves up grilled food. Of course, I had to sample their burger.

Verdict: I can sense a strong sense of Oakland pride in this Wholefoods. I can sense it from the shoppers as well as the employees. There's this very special energy in this store, that I can't quite figure out. I could sense this when the staff was preparing my burger in the open kitchen. When the burger was presented before me, I just sat at the counter gazing and respectfully admiring the assemblage of this burger composition. I took the opportunity to take the photo documentation, and then sat again at the counter to strategize my plan of attack. One couple walked by and commented something like - "That's one happy camper right over there".

The bacon might have been a little too overwhelming. Personally, I'd prefer "crispy-burnt" over "rare, chewy, and cartilage-like". When I bite into bacon, I expect impact and immediate release; preferably not impact, gnarling and stretching of meat. The experience was kind of like biting into an ear or a piece of cartilage that wouldn't break under my sharpened canines. I think I ended up swallowing the majority of the bacon in my first or second bite - which left a pig-like after taste in my mouth for the rest of the burger.

Did I mention the energy and sense of Oakland pride? There's tons of things going for this burger, and I think I might opt out on the bacon next time. When you look around the store, it seems quite possible that you could customize this burger with any possible permutation imaginable. This Whole Foods by Lake Merritt in Oakland has possibly one of the best salad-bars in the Bay Area. Why not just take the burger around the store, and load up your fixings to your desire. It definitely seems quite possible and imaginable.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Overflowing Dressings

15 December 2007-
Oakland Grill: 301 Franklin Street in Oakland
Cost: $8.25 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

There's this handwritten, handpainted sign on Broadway around Third Street in Jack London Square advertising Oakland Grill's burgers and brunch. I've noticed it for years, but couldn't locate the restaurant or decided against seeking out the restaurant because I thought the sign looked too old and cheesy. Then one day, I was in the neighborhood because I just got into this car accident near by and I had my car towed to the area.

I couldn't believe how packed this place was. I knew I stumbled upon a hidden gem in Jack London Square's produce and packing district. You walk in, and you enter this beautiful cross-section of the diversity which describes downtown Oakland.

Verdict: Although the place was bustling, the staff seemed extremely professional and on top of everything. I really liked the presentation on my plate and the burger reflected "comfort food" to the maximum capacity. My baby (my car) was just totalled, but the burger at Oakland Grill relieved a lot my tensions. All I could think about during the meal was "Overflowing Dressings" - the fixings were amazing. You even get some fresh cut fruit on the side.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

(Not) Another Meatloaf Burger

27 November 2007-
Two: 22 Hawthorne Street in San Francisco
http://www.two-sf.com/home.html
Cost: $11.00 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Company sponsored, Team-Project Lunch. What used to be the old Hawthorne Lane is now Two Restaurant. There were quite a few of us, I would guess about twenty? We were seated in the center of the restaurant in this hand carved wood table. Although a modern, interior upgrade, there was a lodgy, men's club kind of feel to the decor. To add, the menu seemed quite Italianesque - European.

I was excited to have the opportunity to sample the Two Restaurant burger. Although I've probably exhausted a lot of the burger survey options within the two-block radius from work, there are perhaps still a handful of burgers in more high-class restaurant establishments nearby which I haven't surveyed yet.

Verdict: The burger is definitely a one-course plate. Fortunately I ordered the Belgian Frites on the side. They ended up being the highlight of this meal for me. Although the burger came out served with a plastic stake authorizing/validating the intended/stated grilling preference, the burger was weird beyond belief. Again it seems like the chef has prepared a "meatloaf" burger with excessive seasoning and other infill ingredients. Again, this is not to my desired liking.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Farewell Burger Comrade

16 November 2007-
Palomino: 345 Spear Street in San Francisco
http://www.palomino.com/
Cost: $10.50 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

Today was Part Two of the two part farewell lunch series for my dear friend, and best burger commentator, a burger blogger could ever hope for. I wanted to make it special, and decided on Palomino along the SF Embarcadero. I used to recall that the crescent shaped dining room used to have the best views to the Bay Bridge, but recent construction of a couple of restaurants along the water now block any and all views.

There were two burger versions on today's menu which really threw my decision making off. There was the normal lunch burger and a kobe burger variant with very special tempura fries. The burger enthusiasts in the group all order the regular burger, and there may have been one or two variants in the bunch who ordered something other than burgers. Honestly, I was a little shocked, since this was supposed to be a special burger survey finale.

Verdict: As mentioned, there were two burger presentations at Palomino. We envied the Kobe burger version (which cost twice the regular) at other tables seated around us. Regrettably, we all wished we had ordered the other version. The regular version was just okay. What turned me off was the chopped lettuce, the overly dry and salty fries.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Points for Originality

7 November 2007-
Ducca: 50 Third Street in San Francisco
http://www.duccasf.com/
Cost: $12.00 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

It was part one of a two part farewell lunch session for my dear friend, best, burger enthusiast commentator a burger blogger could ever hope for. I made reservations at Ducca SF in downtown SF's Westin Hotel. At the time, Daniel Libeskind's Contemporary Jewish Museum was still under construction directly adjacent to the outside courtyard. I knew that this was going to be a unique plaza, and therefore, a prime location for this restaurant / bar and hence the perfect location for this lunch and burger survey.

There were seven of us, and we all order the Ducca burger which was very pleasing to my satisfaction. I decided to splurge on the sparkling water too, a decision which ended up costing me close to the cost of the burger (quite expensive for a bottle).

Verdict: Despite requesting a "medium-rare bacon cheeseburger", the burger patty seemed quite "meaty" and "a lot to take in" - also, it was quite "unusual". I think the seven of us debated whether this "meatloaf" burger was in fact a "burger". However, the presentation and polenta fries (which look and tasted kind of like french toast) were quite visually impressive. The patty was quite thick, but there was a lot of extra seasoning, and "infill" to the patty which my taste buds did not completely agree with.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Cool Sauce Holder

6 November 2007-
Custom Burger: 121 Seventh Street in San Francisco
Cost: $10.00 (angus bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

San Francisco is quite fortunate to have Morphosis (Pritzker Prize Award Winning Architecture Firm) design the new Federal Building. On a recent field trip to the area, I was surprised to see that the area, which I've previously referred to as "Crack Alley" is on the up and up. Hey, there's even this new burger joint right across the street called, "Custom Burger". When I noticed the good design sense and concept of this restaurant, as well as the location, I knew I had to make an effort to survey this burger establishment.

The next night, I brought my hunger with me, and hopped into the diner, to discover a full menu of 'customizable' burger options, including a choice of a '1/3 lb. Angus' patty or 'American Kobe Beef' - 'Lamb' or even 'Salmon'. As one can imagine, there's almost every type of cheese available and a range of fixings on par to some of the most creative salad bars. They even offer about a dozen mayos! However, each additional 'fixin'' above the standard is going to cost you. I think one of the marketing strategies of this business is to lure other burger enthusiasts back for more samplings, because it seems unimaginable to sample the full range of customizations from a single visit.

Verdict: I liked the presentation, in specific, there's this really nice condiment sauce holder integrated into the wire molded tray (see picture above). My immediate impression was that this tasted very similar to the Bistro Burger on Mission Street. Although, this is "Angus" and Bistro claims "Niman Ranch" the lean, daily massaged beef meat was not fatty enough for me. There was no taste, or it didn't quite reflect the qualities that I aspire a good a burger to be.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mixed Reviews

5 October 2007-
21st Amendment: 563 Second Street in San Francisco
http://www.21st-amendment.com/
Cost: $11.45 (niman ranch bacon cheeseburger, onion hoops extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Once upon a time, I came to 21st Amendment with an old coworker, fellow burger enthusiast and had a really good, chewy burger; except I failed to bring along the proper photo documentation device. A year later, I came back, except this time, with over six coworkers, and I'm not even sure half of these coworkers were even that into burgers in the first place. In fact, although they were all quite enthusiastic, they were also fairly new to the area, and seemed more distracted by the newness of the environment and weren't able to objectively, and earnestly critique the burger to critical standards, in my opinion.

Anyway, while several of them were boasting on how good their burgers tasted, I was quite dismayed by how inconsistent my previous burger tasted to my present survey.

Verdict: This bacon cheeseburger was distinctly different from my previous bacon cheeseburger, though I am almost positive that I ordered both burgers exactly the same, with the requisite bacon and cheese of my preference; cooked "medium-rare". This burger was prepared with a special, caramelized onion garnish with parsely or some exotic herbs that I couldn't quite discern. In anycase, this garnish was more of a distraction than a complement to the burger experience.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy Day

23 September 2007-
Company Picnic: Somewhere at Stinson Beach in San Francisco
Cost: N/A

Image Source: blogger's own

Any company picnic, wouldn't ever be complete without some good ol' BBQ with some burgers fired up on the grill. Except, my office does their parties 'right and proper'; hires the finest local caterers, specifies the freshest meat and produce and fixings around. I kept going at it with these burgers until I couldn't eat any more.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Chopped Lettuce

21 September 2007-
Royal Exchange: 301 Sacramento Street in San Francisco
http://royalexchange.com/
Cost: $10.85 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

Royal Exchange boasts a large selection of beers on tap, and can be quite an action-packed, after-work, drinking-spot according to the locals and the business types in the San Francisco financial district. Lunch is no exception on a Friday, however, I was surprised that today's group of coworkers, fellow burger enthusiasts were able to snatch a booth with no wait. Again, I suggested we travel a little outside the two block radius from work in order to sample this new spot, but there were less of us today and I thought we'd be able to make it.

It seemed like an exercise in restraint and discipline, to be surrounded by so much alcohol, and not order a beer to go with the bar food. I'm sure we were all thinking that we could probably get away with a Heinekin Light or Sam Adams Light and no one would even get phased.

Anyway, Royal Exchange, which caters to the financial business types, has a full menu which is named according to business jargon. They serve up "blue chip" burgers, while their salads are referred to as "greenbacks" on their menu. In any case, there's basically two sizes of patties, the "Bear Market" is 1/3 lb. and the "Bull Market" is 1/2 lb.

Strangely, we all ordered the Bear Market Burger, even though in fact, I could sense that each of us could have easily handled the Bull 1/2 pounder based on our appetites and sheer burger enthusiasm.

Verdict: For those that know me, and know my principles, I just can't take a burger very seriously if there's chopped lettuce. Royal Exchange's Blue Chip burgers are served with chopped lettuce, a limp tomato and some fixings that aren't really all that carefully placed. On top of all that, the bun was so plain-jane and it wasn't even toasted, not even for a second.

Need I say more?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bloody Drippings

11 September 2007-
Mel's Drive-In: 833 Mission Street in San Francisco
http://www.melsdrive-in.com/
Cost: $7.45 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

We had a new coworker recently join the office; and to test his burger enthusiasm, a group of us, true burger enthusiasts, went out to sample the Mel's Diner on Mission Street in SOMA San Francisco. For the loyal readership, you may recall that I previously sampled the Mel's in downtown Berkeley (see 3 December 2006 posting). I was excited to survey another Mel's Diner location, but because it exceeded the two block radius from work, I knew that the group of us would have to hustle there and back, and we'd even have to curtail the burger commentary before, during and after the meal if we were to make it back to the office in time.

The diner was almost packed to the max during this primetime lunch hour. Luckily, there was a group of tables that could accommodate our pack. Otherwise, we'd probably opt to separate or sit at the bar. I thought we were lucky, but knew that the ordering would have to be quick and efficient. I offered to order for the group to save time, but it seemed like it was everyone else's first time at Mel's, and there were quite a few burger permutations on the menu.

Verdict: Despite the quantity and complexity of our group's order, it seemed like the staff here were on top of things, clearly exuding their burger professionalism and attention to detail. My bacon cheeseburger, medium rare was oozing with blood and juices, and the cheese was carefully melted over the composition and sandwiched in between two very carefully toasted buns. I couldn't remember such a fantastic burger in such a long time.

It was also clear from our extended discussion and burger commentary which ensued that everyone else had an equally pleasurable burger experience. To top it off, the new coworker happens to share our/my enthusiasm.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Charcoal Broiler

3 September 2007-
Clarke's Charcoal Broiler: 615 West El Camino Real in Mountain View
http://www.clarkes.com/
Cost: $7.45 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

A former coworker, and fellow burger enthusiast, and native of the South Bay, once recommended I expand my burger horizons and survey Clarke's in the San Jose area. This leads me to inquire, what geographical boundaries actually define the Bay Area? Before pondering this question too long, I decided to appease my hunger sensations, and survey this burger joint, also considered to be a 'legendary' burger stand, withstanding the test of time, unchanged since they opened over 50 years ago.

There were also several generations of burger enthusiasts at Clarke's on this particular Labor Day Weekend. I wasn't quite sure whether it was coincidence or commonplace for this burger joint. It seemed there were several octogenarian or even nonagenarians in the mix, enjoying the moment and their burgers. The sight was an inspiration, to say the least.

Verdict: The presentation has much to be desired. Undoubtedly the burger stand has withstood the test of time; but one has to wonder whether the red plastic baskets which were served with the burgers have lasted equally as long. Also, how hygienic is the single layer of wax paper that separates these plastic baskets and the food?

However, I was quite fond of the smoky bacon and the charbroiled flavor from the grill, but desired a little more juices, since the patty itself was quite dry and overcooked.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nice Interior

30 August 2007-
Salt House~: 545 Mission Street in San Francisco
http://www.salthousesf.com/
Cost: $15.00 (cheeseburger, onion rings included)
~ Honorable Mention

Image Source: blogger's own

Earlier in the week, a coworker, fellow burger enthusiast had sampled the Salt House Burger and recommended it highly. Although he's fairly new to the Bay Area, he did seem quite enthusiastic. Judging from the $$$ rating from online reviews, and the more upscale decor, I decided to invite a former coworker, fellow burger enthusiast to survey this burger and compare notes.

The interior exudes a very classy, lofty-restaurant aesthetic; not dissimilar to my own office, located about a block away. We were glad to be seated immediately, although we didn't have a reservation for that particular lunch. After surveying the menu, we both settled on the Salt House Burger. I was a little wary though, because my friend has a tendency to be a little unpredictable. Needless to say, it kind of defeats the purpose when I premise the lunch meeting as a new burger survey, and someone orders a non-burger menu item. Luckily, it didn't happen, this time. I requested mine medium-rare, my friend, glared at the server and insinuated in his mannerisms "as rare as bloody possible" as he typically does.

For some reason, I totally blanked, and forgot to order the requisite bacon. Also, the Salt House only offers one type of cheese, cheddar; and instead of fries, they offer a unique ball of deep-fried, salty onions, (for lack of a better description, see picture above).

After a pretty long wait, our orders arrived. I can attest that my "medium-rare" burger was grilled to my exacting expectations. It was a very tender, juicy patty, that oozed with just enough burger juices and had a good amount of color in the cross section. I can also attest, that my friend's "rare" burger was pretty bloody-red, but the cross section looked like a quality cut of steak you might expect at a fine steakhouse, rather than a wormy, raw-ground chuck you might get at a cheaper, institutional burger establishment.

The burger patty was one of the most tasteful, I've ever sampled. It was so tender that morsels of patty started to disengage from the patty into the third or fourth bite. Next, the bun started falling apart, and it was at about the midpoint when I had to attack the rest of the burger with a fork and knife. The specially seasoned pickle, also really didn't do it for me. But, all-in-all, a very fine burger.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Burger Oasis

26 August 2007-
T-Rex Burger Garden: 1300 Tenth Street in Berkeley
Cost: $5.00 (cheeseburger, no fries available)

Image Source: blogger's own

Well I actually had intended on sampling the menu at the new Kava Massih T-Rex Restaurant, located in Berkeley's Gilman District but stumbled across this Burger Oasis / Garden in the parking lot. The setting and menu is quite minimal. In fact, the only thing they offer is a signature $5 dollar burger (tax included) with an option of Gruyere or Cheddar. They don't have fries, but they have chips, and an assortment of drinks, including beer!

In addition, the T-Rex Burger Garden offers entertainment amenities, comparable to some of the most prestigious frat houses on Piedmont Avenue. There's an unwarped table tennis table, with some decent, thick rubber paddles, a foosball table, a chess/checkers set, and a gravel, regulation-size bocce ball court reminiscent of a minimalist Japanese Zen Garden.

From my personal observation, it's a shame that this Oasis-of-a-Burger Venue hasn't picked up. The concept and architecture detailing is executed very tastefully, in a very Kava-esque manner. I'm beginning to suspect that the honorable firm has an affinity towards burgers, having also built the Nation's Burger on University Avenue in Berkeley (see 16 July 2006 review).

Speaking of taste, the burger's not bad. Over the past handful of times I've eaten there, I would state that the burger patty is consistently salty, but the execution of the preparation of condiments, garnish and special sauce, contribute to a very satisfying burger experience. I would recommend this venue to any burger enthusiast / architecture admirer / game lover in the area.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Italian Style Burger

11 May 2007-
Milano Restaurant: 3425 Grand Avenue in Oakland
Cost: $7.00 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

I've always wanted to try Milano's burger which is written about in the local burger enthusiast's community. They only offer it in their lunch menu, which is on weekdays only. On an off-Friday from work, I decided to survey their burger.

As the name of the restaurant might suggest, Milano Restaurant is an Italian restaurant. Furthermore, the owner manages to create a very authentic, and cultural atmosphere, and this is reflected in his charming personality and the way he greets and acquaints guests.

The "Milano Burger" it turns out, is served on an Italian Baguette with Mozzarella and tomatoes and sauteed onions as the primary ingredients. There was no lettuce on this particular burger. I also requested the requisite bacon.

Verdict: The burger didn't look substantial, but the meal was surprisingly filling. The meat was very high quality, more like a ground steak than a typical burger patty. The mozzarella and tomato combination really added a very distinct quality of flavors for this quite unique burger experience.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In-N-Out on Steroids

7 April 2007-
Holy Grill:
659 Townsend Street in San Francisco
http://www.holygrillsf.com/
Cost: $6.95 (meyer's ranch angus bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Holy Grill is located in a section of San Francisco known to designers as SF Design Center's Showplace Square and Galleria. I've recently been contracting with Roche Bobois on a design project, which is just a couple of storefronts from Holy Grill.

It's not a very large restaurant, with very scarce seating. I worry about this, because I think business could really pick up if they expanded. To my knowledge, there's only one location.

Verdict: An excellent, excellent burger with tangy special sauce and extremely fresh ingredients. Reminiscent of 'In-N-Out' but with better, bigger ingredients. Highly recommended, good luck finding seating during peak hours though.

A Little Let Down

1 April 2007-
Darla's:
822 Irving Street in San Francisco
Cost: $6.95 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

I heard so much hype about Darla's that I think my expectations were overly inflated. I read about their infamous shakes, the service, the burger patty quality, etc. which all added up to a pretty darn-good burger. However, when I arrived one Sunday evening, after the Sunset season-opener, I couldn't help but feel a little let down.

I was greeted by a drab ambiance, and the interior felt pretty empty and lonely. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a strawberry shake. Other than a french roll shaped bun, there was really nothing that extraordinary about the burger. I couldn't help but feel a little let down.

Ghetto Burger Fix

29 March 2007-
1/4 lb. Giant Burger: 22nd and Telegraph Avenue in Oakland
Cost: $4.95 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

It was the night after a big deadline at work, and I woke up past midnight jonesing for a burger. I drove over to the scary 1/4 lb. Giant Burger stand on 22nd and Telegraph. I've honestly never approached the place, it looks so ghetto in daylight, even more at night. It was open 24 hours, and I was hungry, so I thought I'd give it a try. The place is surprisingly well-lit at night, and does offer a safe-haven among the undeveloped, sparse urban land that surrounds it. It's really just a walk-up burger stand, with plenty of counter space at the window to chow down. I ordered their bacon cheeseburger and a strawberry shake.

The burger had a surprising amount of condiments, including ketchup and mustard with the mayo. I was expecting some ghetto mayo loaded on the burger, but the proportions of the mayo was pretty modest to my preference. The rest of the burger was pretty tasty. Nothing too extraordinary, but not bad tasting either.

When I finished, I realized that I found my new unpretentious, late night, local burger-fix - that tops the Berkeley Smokehouse in my book.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ehhh....

3 March 2007-
Cafe Pirawan: 3238 Grand Avenue in Oakland
Cost: $7.50 (angus bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

I was walking along Grand Avenue one day, and noticed the menu for Pirawan and their angus burgers. I was surprised by their menu selection which offered a range of burger options, and decided to duck in and give it a try.

As one knows, by mere mention of "Angus" implies a certain level of quality among burger enthusiasts. Therefore my expectations may have been a little higher. However, as I waited for the burger, I couldn't help but notice a corral of unrefrigerated condiments on top of the garbage can. Among them, were about four bottles of half-empty / half-full squeezable mayonnaise bottles. I didn't want to think about how long they were left out there.

Although the bun for the burger was very similar to Mo's in San Francisco, the burger itself was bland, and kind of uneventful. If you were to ask my opinion of their burger, I would probably give you my best Larry David impression; gesture a teetering hand and squirm an unenthusiastic: "ehhh" and be done with it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Knife Infomercial

24 February 2007-
Adam's Burgers: 3401 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland
Cost: $5.99 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

I don't really understand why I always think of Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew when I frequent Adam's Burgers on Lakeshore by Lake Merritt. I used to enjoy going to Adam's when I lived closer on the other side of the lake. They offer a wide range of burger combinations and they definitely load on the fixings. Adam's is also the only place that I recall that deliberately slices your burger in half to illustrate the cross-section as shown. It may be a way to visually differentiate the burger from other orders; or perhaps its a way to facilitate burger grappling due to an over-excess of condiments and fixings. Whatever the reason, I'm always pretty impressed with the type of knife that can achieve such precision and accuracy. In fact, I always mean to ask what kind of knife they use for my own personal kitchen repertoire.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Staple Diet for Students

10 February 2007-
Smokehouse: 3115 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley
Cost: $4.20 (double cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

I recall the days, when I used to live within walking distance of Smokehouse on the North Oakland and Berkeley border. Smokehouse became the staple of my starving-student diet. Burgers were about two dollars and change, and fries were about a dollar and change. Buns were always toasted perfectly, and the fries were consistently always battered perfectly and served piping hot. The patties seemed like your plain-jane quarter pound patties, but they were charbroiled on an open flame, with melted cheese and a very efficient way that document customizable condiments on your order. But you had to put up with a lot of factors that I've seem to outgrown.

Among them are the drunks, the crackheads, and the slimy/sticky seating decor. The experience of eating at Smokehouse is kind of like eating inside one of those "self-cleaning" toilets they have in San Francisco where they hose down the room after you leave and make a mess. When I go, I prefer the sunny days when there's an option to sit outside and bask in their lawn eating a burger like it was a summer BBQ.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Where's the Beef?

6 February 2007-
Flipper's: 2060 Mountain Boulevard in Montclair
Cost: $8.75 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

I recently noticed this "Flipper's" in Montclair Village and thought I'd survey it. I had the suspicion that the name and logo of the sign was the same as the location in Hayes Valley (see 11 July 2006 survey), but I just dismissed it as a coincidence. It wasn't until I was seated and noticed a distinct similarity in the menu descriptions, when I connected the two chains. Consequently, I had a conversation with the Montclair Flipper's owner and discovered that the two locations used to be owned by the same person, until recently. The new owner kept the name and the menu, except he claims, his meat is better quality now.

As I mentioned before, a plain old bacon cheeseburger was not an option on the menu, so I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with avocado, but told them to hold the avocado. I chose "medium-rare" as the grilling preference.

Verdict: In contrast to the previous "Big Flipper" (at the Hayes Valley location) which was a 1/2 lb. patty, the standard patty is only 1/3 lb. It was late, and I thought that I'd be okay with the smaller patty. The patty that was served seemed disproportionate to the bun. Also, the bun was hardly toasted and soft. There was way too much bun relative to burger patty, and it was soft and squishy to hold. The experience was like eating a McDonald's cheeseburger where the patty taste gets overwhelmed by the bun. The fries were limp too.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Crowded Lunch

2 February 2007-
Burger Gourmet: 351 19th Street in Oakland
Cost: $5.99 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Burger Gourmet in the Lake Merritt section of downtown Oakland is only open during the weekdays for breakfast and lunch. Although I've lived in the neighborhood for a couple of years, I've only eaten here once before. On my last Friday off from work, I decided to check it out again. It was lunch time, and the streets in downtown Oakland were bustling with the downtown Oakland work crowd that I rarely have the opportunity to see. Burger Gourmet was brimming with your typical nine to fivers, but they all seemed dressed down in their casual Friday uniforms eager for some burger action. I moseyed up to the counter and ordered their bacon cheeseburger with brie and specified "medium-rare" as the grilling preference. The place was packed, but I managed to grab an empty table at the back.

Verdict: Burger Gourmet serves a variety of different burger variations on their menu. It's one of those no-frills diners where your food is served fast and fresh at a reasonable price. I definitely enjoy brie on the burger; the bacon was crispy and the fixing fresh and wholesome. I also enjoyed the fries which were hot and crispy. It's a shame it's only open during the weekdays - specially serving the downtown Oakland lunch crowd.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Kid Friendly

26 January 2007-
Mo's Grill: 772 Folsom Street overlooking Yerba Buena Playground in San Francisco
http://www.mosgrill.com/
Cost: $7.75 (angus bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

On this cold, rainy, Friday afternoon, four coworkers, evidently all serious burger or just fries-and-shake enthusiasts walked over to the southwestern edge of Yerba Buena Gardens to survey Mo's Grill for some lunch time burger action. My expectations were a little low, tainted by my last visit a while back. I witnessed my server floss and pick her teeth with her nails for a few minutes before delivering my food to me. Nevertheless, I was determined to give Mo's another try.

There were a heck of a lot of kids in this section of Yerba Buena Gardens, outside of the Zeum Complex. Even on the cold, rainy, January afternoon, there were tons of them outside playing in the rain. Inside at Mo's, there were also tons of children seated with adults. I think it's probably the most kids I've seen at a restaurant at one time. I've deduced that Mo's seems like a kid-friendly restaurant offering a wide range of burger entrees for the adults and a generous menu kids probably really enjoy. Plus, it's practically the only restaurant with indoor seating at Zeum.

We all ordered burgers with different combinations. I, the requisite bacon cheeseburger, this time with their imported swiss cheese, grilled "medium-rare" and a side of fries. The Angus patties are flame-broiled, and pickles are available upon request.

Verdict: At first, I was a little distraught by the bun to patty ratio (see picture above). There were a good seven bites of strictly bun before I eventually bit into the patty. The bun, seemingly untoasted, was hardened on the outside but incredibly chewy and tasty on the inside. I also noticed a considerable amount of burger juices when eating the burger. I would definitely rate Mo's an enjoyable, and delectable experience.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Burger Professionalism

20 January 2007-
George's Giant Hamburger~:
1491 Newell Avenue in Walnut Creek
Cost: $6.10 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)
~ Honorable Mention


Image Source: blogger's own

George's Giant Burgers in Walnut Creek is a solid and consistent burger joint in the Bay Area Burger Community, in my opinion. The open kitchen and the highly professional cook staff really know what they're doing when it comes to burgers. The place always seems teeming and overflowing with locals, families and burger enthusiasts. Needless to say, the open kitchen and cozy diner aesthetic contribute to a great smelling room with great burger aroma.

A great commodity at George's is their condiment bar. It's constantly maintained, the chilled items seem properly chilled; the stocks of fixings continuously fixed, and restocked. If you're a pickle enthusiast, you'll likely enjoy the stacked-high tray of chilled pickles at the end of the bar.

Verdict: George's offers an unpretentious, no-frills, cozy burger diner appeal that caters great for families and burger enthusiasts alike. The burgers are very professionally prepared, the patties are extremely juicy and tasty, and the condiment bar is high quality over quantity. Even the buns were toasted to my liking. As I mentioned, George's also appeals well to pickle enthusiasts. I was also very impressed with the crispiness of the bacon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bun Petting

17 January 2007-
Burger Gourmet: 101 Spear Street #A13 in San Francisco
Cost: $8.45 (niman ranch bacon cheeseburger, fries and soda included)

Image Source: blogger's own

There's a Burger Gourmet in Oakland that I've been meaning to review, but there's also this Burger Gourmet in San Francisco's Rincon Center. Rincon Center food court has a wide selection of lunch eateries in the South of Market / Embarcadero business district. I doubt the two are related.

Burger Gourmet has a wide selection of burger combinations, offers a variety of cheeses and combo meals. It's efficiently quick service for lunches on the go. The open kitchen allows one to keep tabs on the cooks in the preparation process. This time, I was ogling the bun toasting process, waiting for my order to complete.

From what I had observed, Burger Gourmet utilizes a two-grill system; one grill for the burger patties (grilled to request), and the other for toasting the buns. The staff handling the buns, literally had a handle on my buns. While the separate bun toasting grill is clearly operating at a lower temperature, one member of the cook staff was petting my buns repetitively, as if to monitor the toasting process every five seconds or so.

Verdict: The first thing I checked was the bun toastiness, or the lack there-of. It was clear that the cook had some weird bun petting fetish, rather than monitoring the task at hand. Also, even though the burger patty was quite juicy and the fixings fresh, the burger was pretty average. However, the bun really let the burger down, in my opinion. And I'll never forget that guy and the way he handled my buns.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Interesting Palette

15 January 2007-
Cafe Rouge~: 1782 Fourth Street in Berkeley
http://www.caferouge.net/
Cost: $13.00 (niman ranch bacon cheeseburger, fries included)
~ Honorable Mention

Image Source: blogger's own

Cafe Rouge is located in Berkeley's Fourth Street shopping district. I often spend time perusing the book stores and design stores in the area, and always noticed that Cafe Rouge gets quite crowded on the weekends. This year, I had Martin Luther King Day off from work, and thought it would be an opportune time to survey the Rouge Burger.

To my surprise, the restaurant was still bustling when I arrived toward the latter portion of their lunch service, but I did manage to find a seat on the sunny patio, though it was a brisk January afternoon. Service was a bit slow, and the crowdedness further prevented me from tracking down my server for certain requests. I ordered their 1/2 lb. Niman Ranch Rouge Burger with bacon and aged cheddar with "medium-rare" as the grilling preference. About forty minutes later (no exaggeration) my order arrived.

My order was completely cold when it arrived. It was actually pretty ridiculous, did they forget about me? I wondered. Don't they know who I am? I opened my burger up and inspected the cold, untoasted 'bun' which highly resembled a potato-rosemary sourdough roll; there wasn't any mayonnaise. I requested mayo from two different servers but had no response from either of them. It wasn't until I actually tracked down my original server that I got a side of mayo. I could finally commence.

Verdict: Well, I certainly didn't want Cafe Rouge's inherently poor service to dampen the actual burger review. Despite the "cold" burger and similarly "cold" service, the burger patty was surprisingly tasty. The Rouge Burger has a very unique, seasoned patty with an interesting palette for the taste buds. The combination of flavors was sensational. The bun though cold and untoasted, held up to the extremely juicy patty - and also held it's own in combination with the other tastes I experienced. I would definitely try this burger again to indulge in these exquisite flavors. Despite the serving temperature of the entree and the lack of service I would still recommend the Rouge Burger for other burger enthusiasts.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

For the Record

19 December 2006-
Nation's Giant Hamburgers: 317 Broadway in Oakland
http://www.nationsrestaurants.com/
Cost: $5.30 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

In all my qualified years of burger surveying and burger research, I've definitely noticed some strong, loyal fans of Nation's Giant Burgers in the Bay Area. Nation's has been around for a while, and although I never experienced first-hand the early years, I do recognize that they were possibly once great (with limited competition), but expansion has led their TQM to suffer. The same comparison can be drawn from In-N-Out's success. Although I'm a huge fan, I can't expect every burger flipper in uniform to carry the same dedication as someone who's devoted their whole life, flipping burgers and managing the quality standards for positive reviews, good ratings and consequently good business.

Verdict: First of all, I'm not a huge fan of the packaged burger upon presentation. Even though I specified to dine-in, I still get a completely wrapped burger on a tray. Although I don't stage my burgers, you'll just have to trust me that I didn't snatch a few fries between receiving my order and unwrapping the burger for photo-documentation.

The proportions and assemblage of the burger just weren't to my liking. 96% percent of the time, the lettuce is on the outside next to the bun, in order to properly sheath the bun from burger juices. The Nation's burger instead had an onion slice, seven tomato slices and a chunky lettuce bunch, and ghetto-crappy mayonnaise that overwhelms the proportions. I could go on, but for the record - I've eaten at a few different Nation's in the Bay Area and they all suck, they all suck big time.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Enthusiastic Burger Discussion

18 December 2006-
Louie's Bar and Grill: 55 Stevenson Street in San Francisco
Cost: $8.00 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

Often I'll go out with some coworkers, fellow burger enthusiasts, on a lunch outing to survey burgers. But since I recently started a new job, it's been somewhat difficult to discern the burger interest level among my peers. With that said, six other coworkers go out to lunch intending to grab some Yank Sing Dim Sum. The place is crowded and we don't have a reservation. We head over two storefronts down to Louie's Bar and Grill. We all order burgers. What are the chances?

I've noticed a direct correlation between burger enthusiasts and enthusiastic burger discussion. Often the two go hand in hand, one hand on the burger, of course. Actually there's little else that can please my heart other than some candid, enthusiastic burger discussion.

Louie's is a hole in the wall on Stevenson Street, an alley South of Market (SOMA). It's actually a bar, but they serve food during lunch time. Louie's is also within the two block radius from work, so I was anxious to have the opportunity to sample the burger.

Verdict: The burger discussion awaiting the burger order was certainly enthusiastic, in my opinion. I wish we could have carried the momentum, but the review goes downhill after the first bite. It was certainly delicious at first. One could really taste the charbroiled patty and a nicely toasted bun. However, I thought that my patty was on the dry side, maybe a medium. My coworker, fellow burger enthusiast friend, who also ordered a bacon cheeseburger had a different review. In happenstance, he ordered a bacon cheeseburger with "medium" as the grilling preference, while I too ordered the bacon cheeseburger with the requisite "medium-rare" as the grilling preference. Coincidentally, he thought it was cooked a perfect medium-rare.

Seven coworkers walk into a bar and all order burgers with different combinations and grilling preference requests. What are the chances that the wait staff might mix up an order or two? I'm going to have to give Louie's another survey at a later date, next time with a more controlled surveying environment.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Soggy but Good

17 December 2006-
Burgermeister: 86 Carl Street in San Francisco
http://www.burgermeistersf.com/
Cost: $8.75 (niman ranch bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

Those who know me, know that a burger bun's "structural integrity" is an important criterion of a "good" burger, in my opinion. First, there's the issue of etiquette; and then there's the sloppiness factor to consider; plus there's also taste. Ideally, there's a perfect balance of these considerations and more to take into account. I'm not going to go into specifics to detail the evaluation process, but I'll just summarize by saying that there's a nebulous "subjective" factor that also comes into play which may appear to contradict the aforementioned "objective" analysis.

If "burgers" are my "comfort-food", then Burgermeister's interior decor definitely emulates what I consider to be "comfortable". The locations I've visited all seem to have warm, wood interiors, with the cozy feeling of an English tavern. In addition to serving up Niman Ranch meat, they also have Dreyer's shakes and a handful of quality beers on tap.

Verdict: Consistency, is what I've grown to expect at Burgermeister. Expect to loosen a notch on your belt as you engulf a hearty and soggy burger with a Dreyer's shake. Although the bun isn't toasted to my exacting specifications, the burger maintains integrity. As the title suggests, the Burgermeister burger is soggy but good - just don't put it down when you're eating it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Crispy and Crunchy

16 December 2006-
Pollo's:
100 Berkeley Square in downtown Berkeley
Cost: $4.19 (bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Pollo's is in between the downtown Berkeley BART Station, and the Cutaway: 1985 Shattuck Avenue, my regular spot for cutting hair over the past few years. As far as I'm concerned, the Cutaway has a couple of the most talented hair stylists on this side of the Bay, and charges very reasonable prices. Anyway, back to the survey...

Pollo's sign reads: "Burritos, Burgers, BBQ Chicken and More". I don't frequent Pollo's often, but on this particular Saturday afternoon, I decided to revisit the diner. There's a substantial varied menu mounted on the wall at the entry that doesn't appear to have changed over the past few decades, and reflects pre-inflated prices.

I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, fries unfortunately are not included. If I recall correctly, a single patty burger is around the three dollar range, which stacks up to be one of the most reasonably priced burgers in my survey. Because of the range of cuisine, everything is made to order, and for better or worse, the order took a little longer than I expected.

Verdict: When it was time, the cook personally brought out the order, and I was pretty impressed by the wholesome presentation, especially the piping hot and crispy fries. The burger was stacked with fixings, but as one can presume from the picture, the patty was meager and of the thin variety.

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes on a burger, but the tomatoes on the Pollo's burger were fresh and crisp. The slices were also cut in half, and were plentiful and quite delicious. The other fixings were fresh, and the bun also nicely toasted. Despite the thin over cooked patty, the burger was wholesome, and fresh.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Smells like Elephant

8 December 2006-
Quinn's Lighthouse: 1951 Embarcadero in Oakland
http://www.quinnslighthouse.com/
Cost: $12.00 (niman ranch bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own (sorry a little blurry, still learning how to use my new camera)

Admittedly, I may have been a little under dressed for the "dining room" at Quinn's Lighthouse. I was told it was reserved for a private party. I was redirected upstairs to the "pub" where I was assured, the menu was exactly the same. The upstairs was a stark contrast to the frilly, upscale decor of the "dining room" downstairs. It literally "smelled like elephant", with at least a full days of peanut shells, thrown on the ground. Plus, there were drunks hanging off the wall. Well, I wasn't completely drunk yet, so these were my first impressions.

The place was pretty packed, and I ended up scoring a table that they brought inside from the rain. My plastic patio chair was still wet, however. Despite all this, I was trying to stay focused on the Niman Ranch burger I was here to survey.

Quinn's Lighthouse boasts a very significant menu which includes a variety of steaks and seafood options to pasta and salads. Also, they've got the largest selection of beer that I am aware of in the East Bay. There's eight on tap on nitro and some fifty-plus others in bottles. I was tempted to order a steak or some seafood, but I ordered Quinn's "Big Niman Ranch burger - smothered with sauteed onions"; a sizable 10 ounce patty with bacon and swiss; I chose "medium-rare" as the grilling preference.

Verdict: The burger smelled a delicious flame broiled aroma. The mayonnaise I requested, however came in packets. The first bite was pretty tasty, but the patty was a little too dry for my liking. The bun crust was also quite flaky, and due to the lack of toastiness, contributed to the eventual disassemblage of the burger midway through the meal. Don't know if I recommend the burger, but it might be a nice bar to check out at the Oakland Marina when the weather's nice.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

It's About Time

3 December 2006-
Mel's Diner: 2240 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley
Cost: $9.99 (bacon cheeseburger, fries included)

Image Source: blogger's own

Actually, I don't have anything real positive to report about my dining experience at Mel's in Berkeley. However, I noticed that the establishment disconnected the mini-juke boxes mounted at each booth. Come on people, I'll let the whole '50's diner aesthetic slide (even though we're in the 21st century) - but it's about time those juke boxes were decommissioned. I stopped listening to '50's music way back - before I was born. Instead, Mel's was bumping some lively hip-hop.

So I noticed after I got seated that I didn't have a place setting. But I heard the cling and clang of silverware behind me, so I figured I'd get some with my meal. I ordered their bacon cheeseburger "medium-rare" with a side of fries and a strawberry shake. Regrettably, I should have asked for a place setting when I had the chance.

Verdict: My order arrived without any mayo, and it took me a while to chase down my server and request it. By the time I was served the mayo, I realized again that I didn't have a place setting; and I wasn't about to hunt down my server again. So I just plopped the mayo on my burger and commenced.

My fries were a mixture of half golden-crispy, half uncooked-cold. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell the difference from the outside, so it was sort of gamble eating them. I ended up eating all of my fries, and using the principles of deductive reasoning - concluded that I was served about half golden-crispy, half uncooked-cold.

After the fries consumption, I picked up my burger. Whoa (I thought), this burger is huge! - when I lifted it up. I had to use two hands to get a good handle on it. I took my first bite, and saw just a little juice drip out the end, and that was it. The juice wasn't a bloody stream, instead it was more the color and density of cooking oil - yellowish and translucent.

I analyzed the cross section of the patty and realized a haunting similarity between this patty and an earlier burger experience at Beale Street Bar and Grill (23 June 2006 review). It looked cooked on the outside, but it was raw and dry on the inside. I continued eating the burger out of disbelief - again I was hoping the taste would improve by the time I finished. Unfortunately, it was just poorly cooked all around.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Burger Nirvana"

1 December 2006-
B Restaurant and Bar*: 720 Howard Street overlooking Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco
http://www.boxedfoodscompany.com/boxed/main.html
Cost: $12.00 (angus bacon cheeseburger, fries included)
* Denotes gmeow76's current top reviewed burger

Image Source: blogger's own

"Burger Nirvana" - the feeling or state of being one experiences after eating this burger.

I didn't make this phrase up; (I wish I did) - but someone a lot wiser and more experienced than me used it to describe the burger at B Restaurant and Bar. It just so happens, he's also a coworker, fellow burger enthusiast, and a fellow college colleague.

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon, and four of us at work decide to grab some burgers. I had another place in mind to try, but I saw B Restaurant and Bar, the aluminum metal clad building, perched upon Yerba Buena terrace, with a wide expansive view of downtown, high-rises, the Metreon, and thought: this is heaven. The architectural detailing, and selection of furniture beckons sophistication, the ambiance exudes style. Or maybe vice-versa. In anycase, I'm not an expert when it comes to this high-brow culture, but I do know a "good" burger when I see and taste one.

Due to my delay in leaving the office, and in order to hopefully expedite things, we placed our orders (4 bacon cheeseburgers with Tillmanook Cheddar) as soon as we got our seats. About a half hour into the meal - and still no entrees, we each began to suspect something was odd about the service. I mean, if we all ordered medium-well or well-done burgers I can understand the delay, but we all order medium or medium-rare, this shouldn't take so darn long!

Patience is a virtue and perfection can't be rushed***.

Verdict: Admittedly, I was pretty darn hungry by the time the orders came through. But I was immediately impressed by the presentation. It looked as if each french fry was individually placed and assembled with exacting precision (using serving tongs). It also looked as if each salt rock was individually placed and assembled on each fry with exacting precision (using surgical tweezers). The unique roll was toasted to perfection, definitely over-toasted than your usual average-joe bun, but by no means burnt. The onions were diced and carefully balanced on a plump heirloom tomato. The patty was served on a bed of special sauce (could possibly be honey dijon of the finest quality). The applewood bacon was packed high and dry. The baby gem lettuce looked very happy and fresh.

In other words, the burgers took time to prepare. And in my book, presentation counts. Of course, the burger at B Restaurant and Bar has everything going for it.

Here's where I'm really going to lose it, trying to describe the burger. I honestly don't think there are words in the English language that can adequately describe the experience. It is definitely something that needs to be experienced first hand, preferrably in silence. Here's four guys yapping away, and then for five whole minutes - complete silence while we're each individually savoring each burger morsel; every tender, fresh, burger morsel like it was heaven.

"Burger Nirvana" indeed. And, the place is within a two-block radius of work.

*** That's about as good as my quotes get.

Friday, November 24, 2006

::SPECIAL LOS ANGELES SURVEY::

24 November 2006-
Real Food Daily:
514 Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica
http://www.realfood.com/
Cost: $12.95 (vegan bacon cheeseburger, side salad included)

Image Source: blogger's own

I've been getting a few requests to start reviewing other types of burgers, other than the standard 'bacon cheeseburger'. I just wanted to take the time to assure the burger purists out there, by no means am I 'selling-out'. It's just once in a while, I might throw in a random review here and there just to quell and satisfy my 'other' supporters' cravings for "healthier" burgers.

I happened to be in the Los Angeles area for Thanksgiving holiday, and had an opportunity to review a vegan bacon cheeseburger at Real Food Daily, "New World Vegan Cuisine" in Santa Monica. Based solely on the multitude and quality of reviews on the restaurant's website, I was expecting a very high caliber meal. I arrived during lunch time on the day after Thanksgiving, and the place was bustling.

Verdict: As mentioned, my expectations were certainly high (just read the reviews on the website). I ordered the RFD burger with "the works" which added tempeh bacon and avocado. I was imagining my best veggie burger to date. Instead I was served something completely different from what I imagined.

I guess I wasn't expecting a hard, untoasted bun with a red play-doh shaped patty with this cheesy imitation vegan-cheese sauce sloppily squirted on the burger - so sloppily it flopped onto the edge of the plate. As many of my readers will know, I don't "stage" my photo-documentation, and I try to capture how the burger was served before me as accurately as possible.

Although the bun definitely did not lack structural integrity, I wonder if the establishment realized actually how stale the bread was. The patty, more of a puree (which resembled play-doh in color and consistency) immediately squished out of the sides upon handling. I ended up scooping the patty with a fork and eating the bun completely separate. Needless to say, the burger was not even dressed with any condiments, except for the tomato and avocado (no lettuce) unless you count the salad with tahini sauce. The ketchup, which I presume to be organic (read 13 August 2006: Too Healthy review) was served on the side, despite the lack of fries.

The burger was definitely not a favorable, nor flavorable experience. Maybe healthy food isn't really supposed to taste "good". I had the opportunity to sample a couple of other dishes that afternoon as well, and I will conclude that RFD does not meet my expectations.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Asian Flare

12 November 2006-
Sparky's Giant Burgers: 4120 Redwood Road in Oakland
Cost: $6.00 (double bacon cheeseburger, fries extra)

Image Source: blogger's own

Sparky's is tucked in a quaint shopping center in the Oakland Hills, and would have gone unnoticed had it not been a recommendation from a fellow burger enthusiast recently. The diner is sort of a dive, but there's a walk-up window and an abundance of outdoor seating. I would have chose the outdoor seating had it not been for the November chill and the burger smoke emanating from the grill and diminishing any chance of capturing the natural light for a quick photo op.

In addition to a variety of burger combinations, Sparky's also prepares tempura battered onion rings and zucchini. The specialized menu which is distinctly Asian-American also includes a fish burger and teriyaki chicken. Today, I settled on ordering a "Giant" cheeseburger which includes 2 thin patties with Virginia bacon. I also ordered a side of fries, after debating whether or not to try the tempura batter. I suppose there's next time.

Verdict: The burger was surprisingly juicy and tasty. The patties have a distinct charbroiled, smoky flavor. The fries are fresh-cut and chewy. Sparky's is sort of a dive, but it's nicer than most. I can just imagine how nice it would be to sit in their outdoor seating and enjoy their burgers on a warm day. I'm definitely looking forward to trying other items off their menu in the future.