Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recon: UMAMI @ FRED SEGAL

Santa Monica, CA


It was a slow work day and when lunch finally rolled around Florence said she felt like a turkey burger.  Immediately my ears perked up.  “You know I write a burger blog, right?” Within minutes we were in the car on our way to Umami Santa Monica- the one connected to Fred Segal.  Florence called her sister Storm (named after the youngest Misfit in Jem and the Holograms) to meet us there.  We sat outside on the family style benches enjoying the palm trees and California sunshine. 

Florence opted for the special: a turkey burger BLT with avocado.  I went for the Manly Burger: red meat with cheddar cheese, salt onion strings and bacon lardons.  Storm, who’s off meat at the moment, had the shrimp salad.  Her salad came out first, piled high with taro strips and four large grilled shrimp, one in each corner of the plate. It was a lovely presentation, however the shrimp weren’t peeled, which was more of an annoyance than anything and when the couple sitting next to us asked about her dressing she said, it’s like there’s “wet cream on my salad.”  She wasn’t in love with it, but the taro strips were a nice touch.  


Florence felt like the burger itself didn’t have much flavor, but everything around it did, which kind of balanced it out.  The bacon on both our burgers was ‘bacon lardon’ which means its cut into small, thick pieces.  My burger came out oozing juice.  The flavor was excellent, and the salty onion strings stood out and added to the texture.  The mustard was a little strong for my taste, but the sweetness of the bun helped tone it down.  Umami doesn’t stack its burgers with sog-prevention in mind, so towards the end, the bun had absorbed a lot of the juice.  We were nicely satisfied after, but not overly stuffed- and thank god because these are tight jeans!





The hand cut fries on the menu were apparently no longer an option, but they offered up cheesy tater tots as a replacement, which we definitely went for.  I don’t think the waitress finished describing them before we said, ‘Yes, please!’ It was a Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there,” moment. They were crisp, salty and cheesy with an element of creaminess.  The perfect little size, served with a small pot of umami ketchup- which, I swear to god, is just ketchup with the word umami in front of it.  Florence described the tater tots as “fried mashed potato goodness” and I am inclined to agree!  The couple with us offered to let us try their sweet potato fries and we eagerly reached over to steal a nibble.  They were nicely salted with a crisp exterior and our lunch mates absolutely loved them.

I ordered a ‘Mexican coke’ as bottled cokes have come to be called in America.  The real difference, as my father insisted I point out, is that Mexican coke is made from real sugar cane, while American coke has high fructose corn syrup, but I'd be surprised if restaurants were actually using this information as a guideline. I haven’t had regular coke in ages, so it was extra sweet and delicious.  Florence had a sparkling English water called Hildon and Storm ordered plain water that came out in this flexible glass, with an indention specifically for your thumb, and while they were charming to look at, not so charming to drink out of.  Our sociable friends across the table loved their iced teas and definitely needed refills.  Umami also has a few Japanese beers and rootbeer floats, which you probably saw in the review of Umami Urban. 

   
Clientele was a mixed bag: friends, family, and young professionals off on their lunch breaks.  The Santa Monica location had greater menu variety with more burger options, and while the staff was helpful, they weren’t the best.  Our waitress was covering the entire outside area, so I suspect she was a little ‘in the weeds’ as they say.  They were accommodating of requests though, and always pleasant.  Cost is what you’d expect: around $10-12 for burgers and sides range from $3-5, so just under $20 per person with tax and tip.  Latching on to Fred Segal was a great idea for the boutique burger joint and I would highly recommend a day of shopping punctuated by a delicious meal with the fifth taste, Umami. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recon: GOTT'S ROADSIDE DINER

San Francisco, CA

"Don't let your burger be lonely."

Over Memorial Day weekend I took a little journey up to Northern California with one of my best friends, to visit one of my best friends.  We spent a day in San Francisco, perusing the Ferry Building and the surrounding farmers market and arts/crafts/jewelry fair going on across the street.  When it came time for lunch we got in line at Gott’s Roadside Diner and made some very tough decisions.  Elizabeth and I shared a cheeseburger. Beverly opted for the Ahi burger and Johanna had the cobb salad. We ordered the garlic fries and the sweet potato fries, and Elizabeth snuck in a chocolate milkshake.  While they had diet cokes, I opted for my DC/rootbeer, and watched as the cashier actually managed to punch in a “half & half” into the computer.


The place was super packed and it took a bit for our numbers to be called, but when the burger came out wrapped in paper and piping hot, I knew we waited for a reason. It was full of flavor and stacked well. They served it on an egg bun that provided a sweet contrast to the meat, which definitely had some heat in it. It was juicy and flavorful and I definitely ate every last bite. The menu had plenty of other interesting options, including a bleu cheese burger and a bacon one. (I know, its like the first time ever I didn't order the bacon burg!) I would definitely mix it up next time. Salad had fresh quality ingredients, but I would have liked a stronger dressing; it seemed watered down.  Beverly’s ahi burger was excellent, she devoured the whole thing.  


The fries were exquisite; a bigger part of the meal than I expected. The garlic fries were strong- if you don’t like garlic don’t even look at them. If you like garlic, order them immediately. The sweet potato fries were even more interesting: they had some chili powder concoction on them which kicked up their flavor value and balanced out the sweetness of the potato itself. They were my favorite sweet potato fries that I have had anywhere, ever. Ding Ding Ding! I may have just declared a “best!”  Don't get too excited, the cucumber ranch served with the sweet potato fries was way too tangy/cucumber-y for me. I can see where they were trying to go with it- to meet the spice of the fry with the tang of the dressing-but maybe hold back on the cucumber and add some dill. 

The chocolate shake was a perfect finish to the meal. It was rich and creamy and satisfying. They have the usual sodas and a small array of beers as well.  My posse is addicted to Diet Coke, so I’m afraid we didn’t branch out much here.  Ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper are available at mini condiment stands on either end of the restaurant. You can watch the whole grilling process, just on the other side of the counter:


Gott’s was packed with families and friends, and the dining area (indoor and outdoor) is huge.  A friendly staff welcomed us and refilled our drinks while we gabbed over the long lunch. The d├ęcor is simple and neat with hints of Americana. Cost was around $15 per person and definitely worth it.  I can’t wait to return and try something else!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sacrifice

I want you all to know that this burger blog is making me fat.  Two pairs of my jeans no longer fit.  I just want you to be aware of the sacrifices I am making so ya'll can make informed decisions about your burger options. Big sacrifices.  

Recon: GOOD STUFF





Los Angeles, CA


“You are what you eat, so eat good stuff!”

Samantha and I ducked out of the office at lunch to pay a visit to Good Stuff, a locals only lunch spot on Pico.  Samantha went healthy on me and ordered a California wrap with sweet potato fries, but I went straight for the jugular: the avocado bacon cheddar burger with fries and a Diet Coke-Rootbeer mix.   We took our numbered receipts and grabbed a nice table under a skylight. Our orders came up quick and I asked for ranch at the counter to dip my fries in.




My burg was delicious. They use shredded lettuce which I really enjoy, and haven’t yet encountered on my blogging journey.  The bacon was thick cut and crisp, providing great texture and the whole thing was encased in a sweet wheat bun.  It was totally satisfying without making me feel grotesquely full- because obviously I ate the whole thing.  It dripped some juices, but held together nicely and I loved it.  I have to say, Good Stuff is dependable- as evidenced by the bustling lunch crowd.  You know what to expect and they always meet those expectations.  Samantha’s wrap came with salsa and looked picture perfect.




The fries are great.  Golden and crisp with an excellent crunch- the ranch goes great with them, but there’s ketchup on every table for you die-hard ketchup folks. Samantha’s sweet potato fries were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  She said they were the best part of her meal (which is what happens when you go healthy.)  Drinks are the usual fountain sodas, Odwalla juices kept in a little fridge and then smoothies for the health-minded.

The staff is efficient and friendly and the line runs right down the center of the joint.   All their oils are trans-fat free, they use angus beef and free-range eggs.  After we ordered we noticed a small specials board tacked up behind the counter which offered a grass-fed lamb and buffalo patty. I considered trying to change my order but the line was so long, there was just no way, so check the specials board before you order!  The place also offers sandwiches and salads but even if I went there with the intention of having a salad, I think I would end up with a burger.  I can’t resist.






The crowd ranged from teenagers to seniors, but a lot of young professionals were clearly on their lunch breaks looking for that mid-day pickup.  We each paid a little less than $11 and it was absolutely worth it.  The walls are painted with murals and one of their slogans is “Fresh and Healthy since 1979,” clearly their thirty-plus years in business has given them a leg up on the competition.