Monday, September 27, 2010

Urban Burger Bar

A group of friends and I decided to partake in a restaurant that seemed a good example of the new food fad, burger bars. Subtly good service was an important distinguishing feature of this particular establishment. As soon as we walked in with the group of five for a table for four, the maître d’ was right behind us with that fifth chair and a menu. We didn’t even have to wait to be seated. When traveling with a five person group such as I was, an important feature of the restaurant, more for the other patrons than us, was the spacing of the tables. The arrangement provided enough of a gap that other restaurant goers did not feel like our party was shouting in their ear; though I’m sure they still caught wind of our more boisterous jokes.

When it came time to open the menu, or in this case, look down at the single page I was confronted with a wide range of burger topping options, which mostly consisted of the form patty, cheese, other, supplemental meat. Other could be an onion jam, an egg, an avocado or a similar culinary flourish. Supplemental meat could be from bacon to bologna, and mostly consisted of types of pork. Cheese is pretty self explanatory. While perusing the menu something caught my eye that I knew we had to order for the table: fried pickles. The pickles were sliced into board shapes, fried in bread crumbs, and accompanied by the house “Urban” sauce (reddish mayonnaise). It tasted pretty much like what one would expect, with the bread crumbs serving as a nice compliment to the soft pickle.

When the burgers came I was happy to have negotiated to make a swap with one of my dinner companions so that we could both try two halves of two different burgers, though the diversity stopped there as we both ordered sweet potato fries, rather than regular. One burger was served with mozzarella, prosciutto and an egg, while the other was served with brie and onion jam. The prosciutto added a nice saltiness to that burger, while the onion jam added a nice sweetness to the other. The flavor of neither cheese was particularly pronounced, though that should have been predicted by the cheese selection itself. The burger patty was fine, though not extraordinary, which is something that I wish I could say for the bun. Since this particular bun was not very toasted, did not have a noticeable crust, and was not adorned by seeds of any kind it provided a fairly bland base with a mediocre texture. The burgers were good, though the bun really kept them from being excellent.

The fries were of the soft variety and not overly salted, as is a common pitfall in a bar scenario. Along with the fries though, we were given a “sauce flight” consisting of several sauce options in small metal bowls all on one plate in the center of the table. It was a very interesting thing that I had not seen at another venue, though not particularly daring considering the makeup of the sauces. It is my belief that pretty much every cold sauce is made, in at least some part, of mayonnaise. This plate was no exception, so the sauces really ran the gamut from red mayonnaise, to white mayonnaise, to green mayonnaise. Each one offering a slightly different flavor, but a flavor similar enough that after first tasting it really wasn’t worth stretching the fry an extra six inches across the table to dip it in a different sauce.

After the meal we were debating whether to go for the traditional burger accompaniment, the milkshake. After a few jokes about three ways (referring of course to the chocolate three way shake on the menu) we placed our orders. I opted for the malted milk ball madness, mostly because I like alliteration that much (as you may have guessed from reading the rest of this). The shake was topped with a nice cream with milk ball accents, but when you got past the initial layer it was really just a good, but classic chocolate shake. While I would not recommend particularly traveling or going out of your way to stop into this burger bar over many others, if you happen to find yourself hungry nearby you should stop in.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Joan's on Third

I arrived at Joan’s on Third, self described as a gourmet marketplace, with my Grandmother and Uncle to have a nice light lunch. We hopped into the sandwich line that ran along the deli counter and picked out our orders from a large blackboard. The two of them had usuals, but I chose the apricot glazed ham and brie on whole wheat. The name sounded interesting and brie with fruit is a classic combination. We waited at one of the many sidewalk tables with a number on a stand, eagerly expecting the sandwiches. Somehow along the way we ended up with nine place settings for the three of us, members of the staff just kept bringing them, but that wasn’t a significant influence on the dining experience.
When I took my first bite of the sandwich I found it truly great. The brie and ham were complemented well by an aioli, the greens provided a diverse set of textures that deviated from a typical bland lettuce, and the bread tasted fresh as well as providing a nice wheat texture. The flavor of the apricot was not very pronounced, but that was not a big surprised. I generally feel that any flavor listed with a meet (oat meal ribs, maple bacon) is usually not very distinct from the flavor of the meet itself. From what I tasted of my sandwich as well as a small portion of the turkey meatloaf I found the ingredients fresh, interesting, and well composed. My only issue was with the pickles, which I found too sweet, but others who prefer a taste more like a cucumber would enjoy. For those willing to spend a little bit more for a gourmet sandwich, I would highly recommend Joan’s on Third.

Monday, August 9, 2010

José Bernstein’s

Today I decided to sample the local Westwood Mexican cuisine at a restaurant called José Bernstein’s. Wait what? Was that really the name? Let me check... Yeah, that was it. Either the name José or the name Bernstein would not be at all surprising in this neighborhood, but the two in combination ranks up in the strange names department with former Crimson Tide receiver Julio Jones. Looking at the menu I did notice that this restaurant serves both a pastrami sandwich and a chorizo burrito. I made my decision to go with the special, as I so often do.

The breakfast burrito combo came with a sausage burrito, chips and salsa, and a medium soda, all for five dollars. The burrito was filled with eggs, onions, peppers, potatoes and sausage, all wrapped in a flour tortilla. Although some people might protest, I was happy know that sour cream and cheese would cost extra. Since I usually would get a burrito without either of those ingredients, it was good to know that I was on the right side of some price discrimination. The salsa was from a choose and serve yourself bar that I had seen at places such as El Pollo Loco as well. The chips were pretty normal and the pico de gallo was very fresh. The burrito itself was relatively bland, but was greatly spiced up with the addition of the hot sauce from the table.

The restaurant seems to fit the college demographic well by serving a lot of food for a pretty low price. Other than the hot sauce and the name of the establishment, there was nothing particularly fantastic or extraordinary about the meal. Overall it was some fine quality food at very reasonable prices.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Junior's Delicatessen

A place that I had often passed on my way to and from work is Junior’s Delicatessen. I parked in the lot and walked about half a block until I finally found the entrance door. As soon as I drew close, the doors mysteriously opened of their own accord. I through the ghostly partitions and into a deli counter then hung a left and went down a hallway to finally arrive at the hostess station. After waiting about three minutes by myself, I was finally ushered to a table.
For some reason, I still felt the need to look at the menu, but my order was really a foregone conclusion. The hot pastrami sandwich was served with what was purported to be potato pancakes, but turned out to be more like potato balls. I was very pleasantly surprised as I bit into the balls and found them crispy, with full flavor, and nice onion elements. The best part was really yet to come. When I bit into the sandwich, I found the bread very heavily seeded and the pastrami really great. It was a truly classic pastrami sandwich and I was incredibly surprised at the quality. It was similar to New York prices and was not the best service, but it really was a fantastic sandwich.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Johnnie's Patrami

Although it wasn’t my original intended destination, the really interesting sign drew me into Johnnie’s Pastrami. Located in Culver City, this restaurant had counter space, a few diner style tables, and a fair amount of outdoor seating available. The only thing keeping me from ordering a hot pastrami without looking at the menu was the need to check to make sure that I had enough cash to pay, since this place kept the fifties theme going with an inability to accept credit cards. As soon as I ordered I was served a bowl of sliced pickles and a small plastic fork.

Through my previous experiences at California delicatessens I had become very suspicious of pickles, but the fact that they didn’t even try to serve me half sours did give me hope. I didn’t have much time to chomp on the delicious dill pickles though, because the pastrami sandwich came right up. I had chosen to get the sandwich served on a French roll with Au Jus dipped bun.

The pastrami was very different from what one would expect a classic Jewish deli in that it was not freshly cut, but was instead cooked in a pot before serving. This meant that the meat was not quite as juicy, but that was compensated for by the Au Jus sauce on the roll. While I've had Italian beef that really soaked the bread, this time the integrity of the roll was preserved while still adding the liquidity of the sauce. The flavor of the meat was actually more similar to maple bacon than classic pastrami, although it was not overwhelmingly sweet. The toasted French roll added a nice crunch to contrast the texture of the pastrami sandwich. I was initially really suspicious of both the pickles and the pastrami preparation, but the long pedigree of Johnnie’s (1952) really allowed them to pull it off.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

230 Forest

As soon as I walked into 230 Forrest I felt a little bit as if this place was far too cool for me. Located in the beautiful little town of Laguna Beach, on a street that contains galleries and other trendy restaurants, this place outdoes them all by not even giving itself a real name. When we were first served bread and water I was slightly suspicious because they have given me my water in what I would refer to as a small flute, which meant that I would be seeing a lot of the service tonight.

While so many contemporary places seem concerned with being green, 230 had gone the other way and served their bread in a superfluous brown paper bag.

We ordered a half carafe of white wine and I was happy to show my ID to get it. I was less happy though when I tasted it and found it very similar to the two dollar Trader Joe’s bottle that I had drank the night before. This was not a great first impression, but I had high hopes as we ordered an appetizer of Hoisin Duck and Brie spring rolls.

The dish was served very well on a long thin plate and garnished with an interesting side salad. As I took my first bite I felt that this dish provided a very nice textural contrast of the smooth brie and the crunchy fried shell. The slaw filling provided a nice crunch and rounded out the flavor. The sweet chili dipping sauce also provided a nice kick for those who prefer more spice to their food. For the main course I ordered short rib ravioli, knowing full well that I was in for what I’ll call contemporary portions.

When the dish arrived it was well plated, but to my expectations, looked more like an appetizer portion than a full main dish. The plate looked like it could have come straight out of a restaurant scene in American Psycho and I was a bit nervous playing following Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, but I bravely forged ahead. The ravioli had a nice full flavor and was topped with some shredded cured meats to provided nice salty taste. The most unexpected texture though was the crunch provided by the crisped lettuce on top of the pasta. I don’t know how the lettuce was prepared that way, but it was certainly an interesting addition. It was quite a hip place and the actual dishes were very good. Just don’t go here expecting to eat your fill of only an entrée.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Apple Pan

There was one burger place that I had been so eager to try. I heard about it from friend, it was mentioned on a TV show and I drove by it pretty regularly. Finally, today was the day that I decided to eat at Apple Pan. I was expecting a regular restaurant layout, but when I walked in the door I was greeted by a counter that ran three sides of a square, all surrounding the grill area.
After about a ten minute wait I sat down at the counter and was given a menu. While a scanned the few options I was very surprised to see that the two main choices, the steak burger and the hickory burger, had the exact same description. Only upon my inquest to the waiter was I able to learn that the two burgers were separated by the type of sauce that was applied to them. I decided to go with the first choice, since I was slightly worried about getting barbecue sauce on my shirt, still on from my day as an intern.
When the burger was served it was done wrapped in paper, which I have come to expect of restaurants in this area. As I took my first bite I was greeted by warm lettuce and a tasty patty. I would say though that the relish on the burger was a bit overpoweringly sweet. The lettuce truly abounded with perhaps as many as six layers at points. While this was fine on the outside when it was warm, the internal lettuce was cold and unappealing. Overall it was a fine burger, but I wouldn't say that it lived up to either the hype or the $6.75 price tag. Though I must say that there were plenty of people waiting, so I guess that it really was market price.