Friday, April 30, 2010

Intelligence Analysis (So Far)

We have ingested a lot of information thus far, but what does it all mean?

Start with the meat, you must have high quality, well-seasoned, juicy meat. This is definitely the paramount component in any burger.  For a burger to reach its potential it needs a Texture Builder –typically bacon or lettuce, but anything crisp will do- to contrast with the softness of the meat, cheese and bun.  It also needs a Soggy-ness Combatant, usually the order in which the ingredients are stacked within the bun.  It’s a technical aspect that a lot of burger makers neglect.  And you have to watch out for Flavor Bullies.  A Flavor Bully is a topping with such strong flavor that it overpowers the other ingredients.  Flavor Bullies are usually onions or strong cheeses.  There’s also something I like to call the Triangle of Taste: with your burger, you need a complimentary beverage and contrasting side dish to counter balance the richness of the burger.  My picks are usually a good beer and fries because they compliment the burg, but break up the flavor, keeping my taste buds on their toes.  Keep these terms in mind the next time you build your own burger!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Culver City, CA

A bite without caramelized onions was a bite devoid of flavor.

I have been to both Father’s Office locations several times over the past few years, but I hadn’t had their burger in quite a while and a lot of people asked me about Father’s Office when they heard about my Burger Recon Mission.  So when my cousin Lala (nickname, don’t judge) called me to meet her there for a post work de-stress session, I said absolutely.

We snagged a table after waiting (like hungry sharks) a few minutes for someone to leave and began pouring over the beer list.  She settled on the Saint Bernardus Triple and I went with the Alagash White. The setup of Father’s Office Culver City is a little odd.  You basically stand in line at either of the two computer registers along the bar and place your order there (for both food and drink.) The Bartender pours your drink immediately, and you get a number for the food.  I ordered the Father’s Office Burger (the only one there is) and Lala ordered the garlic parsley fries and a cheese plate.

The fries are delicious! They’re served with a garlic lemon aioli and they’re skinny, golden and crisp.  I would order them anytime I’m there- perfect for eating with beer.  They come out in a mini frying basket and aren’t greasy.  The aioli- I would smear it on anything- is well seasoned and matches the fries nicely.  Lala’s cheese plate came out fast and she really enjoyed the spread with her Saint Bernardus.  I wasn’t thrilled with the Alagash White by itself, but with the fries the flavors were better.

When my burger came out it was served on a French roll with arugula, caramelized onion, bacon, gruyere, and blue cheese.  It was already soggy on the bottom with juice from the burger, which made me wonder if my burger was just that juicy, or if it may have been sitting a wee bit too long.  When you bite into it you taste the onions- and they are delicious- but they overpowered everything else. It definitely got messy and slipped apart a bit.

If you took a bite that didn’t happen to have caramelized onions, there wasn’t much flavor there.  It’s almost as if the meat hadn’t been seasoned and the bacon didn’t exist- which by the way, I never actually saw the bacon.  Maybe it was buried under the cheese, but I couldn’t find its texture either.  I’m confused about why they’re serving a round burger on an oblong French roll.  Gruyere and Blue cheese are usually pretty strongly flavored cheeses, but they seemed to get lost in there. Maybe they just weren’t on their game that night, or maybe the quality of their ingredients is slipping- either way, the beer and fries easily outshined the burger. The aioli outshined the burger. (Maybe the aioli should go on the burger… just sayin’)  We went back for more drinks, and I opted for the Alaskan White, which I liked much more than the Alagash; it was more refreshing.  Lala went for the Dolcetta wine by Palmina. 

The bar was crowded and a nice buzz of friendly conversation and music filled the background.  Everyone there was young, with groups of coworkers, friends and awkward first dates.  Prices for beer and wine are consistent with similar venues.  Ironically, the beer I liked best –Alaskan White- was the cheapest drink we had all night at only $6.  The burger is $12.50, no substitutions/additions or anything of the sort, which is overpriced for what I received.  It’s also hard to judge what to tip because the bus boys were polite, attentive and fast, but the bar isn’t since you really just stand in line and wait your turn.  I realize that on a Friday or Saturday night, when it’s more drinks and less food, the service is probably better, but I wasn’t impressed.  

Bottom line:  I would order the burger again if I was there and hungry, BUT if someone said to me, “Let’s go get a burger tonight!” Father’s Office wouldn’t make my short list.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Los Angeles Location

Because the menus are similar and we did the joints back to back, there was a strong comparison between 8 OZ and The Counter, making this write-up unique the others, which were, for the most part, too different to compare.

I arrived a few minutes early and sat down at the bar to enjoy a lovely Blue Moon while I waited for my good friends, Samantha and Kunu.  While perusing the menu, I noticed it was slightly different from their Santa Monica menu, offering fried pickles and chili cheese fries among other things. I knew Samantha would want those fried pickles immediately, and the minute she sat down, she ordered them. I was skeptical, since I dislike pickles and 8 OZ hadn’t changed my mind, but I have to say I actually liked these! I even ate a second one! They come with an Apricot Sauce, but Samantha asked for ranch dressing with them, and that was definitely a better combination. Samantha still prefers the 8 OZ pickles, she likes the batter better. We also ordered onion strings, fries and sweet potato fries- but I’ll get to those in a second. We didn’t order off the Market Selection, but they made a point of having a market burger concocted with local ingredients.

Samantha built her own burger, with beef, tomato, bacon, mixed greens and a fried egg served on an English muffin with mayo. (Whatever sauce you order comes on the side.) She liked it, but felt it was messy because the yolk soaked into the muffin the minute she cut into it. Flavors were good for her, but she preferred 8 OZ.  

Kunu built his own burger with beef, grilled onions, mixed greens, jalapeno jack cheese, and a generous serving of avocado on a wheat bun. His plate was definitely clean at the end of the meal. Kunu hasn't been to 8 OZ, so he can't pass any judgment just yet. 

I built my own burger, but with fairly classic ingredients: beef, yellow American cheese, tomato, mixed greens, bacon and mayo on a traditional bun. You can add onion strings as one of your toppings, but since I ordered them as a side I stacked them on myself! The flavors were perfect, bacon was thick cut, texture was on the softer side, but I absolutely loved it. It came out colorful, messy, buttery and pink- all their burgs are pink unless you say otherwise. I picked it up, but it definitely got soggy and messy.  I didn’t care, I couldn’t cut it up; that would have been sacrilegious.

Now for the sides: I loved the fries! They were skinny and crisp and seasoned.  Samantha and Kunu preferred the sweet potato fries, which were good, and crisper than most sweet potato fries, but I like the saltier taste of the skinny fries. The Counter’s onion strings are light and crisp. They cut the onions super thin, and the batter is on the lighter side, making 'strings' an appropriate name. They came with ranch and barbecue sauce- excellent choices- and the sweet potato fries came with a chipotle aioli we all enjoyed.

The atmosphere is exactly what you’d want out with friends: Cheerful, fun and sociable, with attention to detail at every turn. They played classic rock and the art on the walls was all rock n roll. (The Santa Monica location has painted skateboards on the walls!)  Of all the joints we’ve been so far, I would say their service was the best. They were friendly and attentive, and the manager checked in on us twice. Samantha actually bonded with our waitress over their North Carolina roots. I think good service can make or break a dining experience and The Counter made me feel valued. That location has only been open for less than a month, so it’s definitely a good sign.  You can park in the back lot, and its two hours free with validation.

The other patrons ranged in age from kids to seniors, but leveled out to mostly groups of friends aged 15-40. Even though we staggered in at all different times there wasn’t a wait until around 7:30 when it started to get pretty crowded. We ended up sitting at the counter (ha!) and enjoyed our views of everyone else’s burgs. Since we were sitting at the bar and came straight from work, it was only logical to order some delicious Blue Moons served with a thick orange wedge. They also have wine, fountain soda, floats, shakes and malts, so basically everything that goes with burgers. (The Santa Monica location does a shake of the month!) 

Cost is reasonable, most burgers are around $10, depending on how many fancy toppings you get, beers were $5-8 and the sides are all around $5. I have to say, I also really like the way The Counter’s menu is organized. You literally fill out your own burger paperwork, and can include special instructions if you like. I think this limits burger errors and saves time and money. The menu has a few sandwiches and more appetizers I’d like to try the next time around.

I’d like to go to 8 OZ again and order one of their burgs (as opposed to building my own) but at the moment, for my money and my taste buds, I like The Counter better.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Govind Armstrong was so opinionated and critical on the premiere of Top Chef Masters last week that I had high expectations for his burger bar.

     We had a few starters that I want to address first.  Chicken Pot Pie Croquettes: they come out looking like enlarged tater tots, but when you bite into them they taste exactly like chicken pot pie.  The best thing about them though is that they’re served with a delicious paprika aioli.  Mini Kobe Corn Dogs: Surprisingly spicy for a corndog.  Served with a spicy mustard as well.  Deviled Eggs: Very traditional, like eating one of your grandmother’s hors d’oeuvres. Basically with the appetizers we felt like everything was good, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t tasted before.
     Then it was burger time! What I most enjoyed about the burgers was the quality of the meat.  According to their menu they use a “blend of sirloin, tri-tip, short rib and chuck cured in our Himalayan salt-tiled locker.”  It had excellent flavor was tender, but not bloody/greasy so it didn’t get too messy; it definitely made me pause and savor. Samantha ordered the 8 OZ Burger, which has the “classic” toppings and flavors to match.  I opted to build my own and chose to use cave aged gruyere, bacon, a fried egg and garlic aioli.  While I liked my flavor blend, I should have added something with more crunch instead of the egg.  Samantha’s 8OZ had a much better mix of textures than mine and she thought it was a perfect sized burger.  

     Helena chose the Turkey burger with sautéed mustard greens, pickles, onion, and horseradish dijonaise.  Let's just say her plate was clean by the end of the meal! My good friend Dean has to eat gluten free and - lucky coincidence- so does Chef Armstrong’s wife- so all the sauces are gluten free! Dean ordered a burg without the bun, and her plate came out looking like a deconstructed burger that you self-assemble.  Our friend Gertie is a frequent customer and she went with her favorite- the grilled cheese with short ribs. 

     You get to pick whatever sides you want, so we opted for Fried Pickles, Stout Battered Onion Rings and Truffled Potato Skins.  If you like pickles, you’ll love the Fried Pickles, if you don’t like pickles, skip them.  The onion rings were hard to describe! The batter was salty and doughy like a donut, and I think I expected more crunch, but I really loved the flavor.  They’re served with ketchup unless you say otherwise.  Now, for the Truffled Potato Skins: most of us felt they were the best thing we ate all night!  Salty, with good texture, they were definitely something unique and tasty, standing out from the other sides and appetizers.

     When I first saw the drink menu, the Smoky Bacon Bloody Mary (served with a bacon strip stirrer!) caught my eye immediately, and after Gertie tasted mine she ordered one too.  As far as Bloody Mary’s go, its excellent- not too spicy, with a good amount of booze and salt.  It’s made with bacon infused vodka, which I felt you could taste initially, but then the tomato juice took over.  Samantha and I also ordered beers, which were ok on their own, but much better when our food came out.  Dean ordered a Blackberry Collins made with vodka (gin’s also an option), muddled blackberries, lemon juice and soda.  She really liked it and she said you could taste the fresh fruit. Their drink menu is extensively filled with artisan beers, wine, milkshakes and specialty cocktails.  There are definitely a few more I’d like to try, like the lavender mojito!

     The atmosphere was mellow, relaxed and friendly.  Our waiter was attentive and patient (we staggered in one by one, thanks to the LA traffic) and he was able to accommodate our every request and answer our questions.  We loved the tin ceiling and leather chairs combined with the concrete floor; it definitely had a local neighborhood feel with a hearty and indestructible tone.  The clientele started out ranging anywhere from 3 to 70, but as it got later it evened out into a late 20’s early 30’s range.  Everyone seemed to be eating with close friends or family which definitely cozied up the joint and the classic rock music gave it a feel-good vibe.  On our way out we saw Chef Armstrong chilling at the bar, no doubt keeping an eye on the place.
     We paid $34 each including a generous tip and I felt with the cocktails, sides and starters this was reasonable, and my darling friends felt it was worth it.  Having sampled so much this time, I think going back I would have a better idea of what to order (Truffled Potato Skins!) and how to put a better burger together (add crunch!)