Posts Tagged ‘bust out the 20-spot’


Campanula (warning: website has loud music/sound)

Ah, 5 PM on a Thursday. I’ve got a part time job right now to save up for more traveling, so the aformentioned time signifies the weekend for me. I met up with my good friend, Doug, for some dinner. We had other plans, but he mentioned he’d bought a deal for a place called Campanula. He said it had a great burger, and wondered if I was interested in going there instead. I think he knew the answer before he asked, but without a doubt my Thursday evening was about to get better.

It turned out, of all the restaurants “near” Doug’s room in Chinatown, we’d actually stopped and looked at Campanula last Thursday on our way to the car after AYCE sushi across the street at Sushi Hunter. Quite a coincidence, but I remember thinking the place we’d randomly stopped and looked at was pretty good, so I was excited that we were going to eat there! Doug had bought the deal independently of our jaunt past the establishment the week prior.

Since we were hear for the burger, we didn’t really need to look at the dinner menu; that said, there are some nice looking options on there!

However, once my eye caught the Happy Hour offerings (daily, 5:30-7 PM), I knew it was time to deviate from the norm, and order a classy drink, since Campanula is by all observations a classy restaurant, and I was dressed oh so classily in my baby-blue Nike collared shirt and jeans. OK, so I don’t have a very strict dress code, but dang it, $5 Manhattans are classy as far as I’m concerned.

campanula manhattan

This Manhattan features Four Rouses Bourbon with sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. Definitely a very mellow Manhattan – I had to force myself to sip it slowly (already a glass of wine in at Doug’s house).

Note the oils in the above picture – (ciabatta?) bread was served with a house-made basil oil – yum!

So I mentioned this is a classy establishment – don’t expect to walk out of here with an 8$ burger. Rather, the Kobe burger here will set you back $15 (+$1.50 for cheese).

OK, so I’m going to go on a tangent now because this is the first “Kobe burger” I have reviewed, and I know foodies are now thinking one of two things. At some point I’ll make an entire post about Kobe burgers, but for now it’ll just be here:

1) Kobe burger!!!! NOM!!!!!! YES WANTTT OMG!!!!!!!!

2) Kobe burgers are a scam!

In my case, you’re probably thinking both. How so? Let’s answer these questions in reverse order.

2) I won’t write a treatise on “Kobe burgers”, but I’ll give you some basic details here, in case you haven’t heard.

“Kobe” burgers are misleading – they’re almost always made of American wagyu beef. American wagyu cattle is raised similarly to their more well known Japanese cattle brethren, and in steak form, it is still divine, but it’s a whole helluva lot cheaper to buy than the real deal. Yes, some places in the US do actually serve burgers made with authentic Kobe beef from Kobe Bryant, Japan. I hate to quote Anthony Bourdain again, lest you start thinking I am a Bourdain fanboy (which I totally am), but I really do think he’s right on this one.

This is posted without permission, and does anyone actually read this thing anyway? I’ll take my chances.

“Why Meathead Eat Kobe Burgers” (2007)

Enterprising restaurants are now offering the “Kobe beef burger,” enticingly priced at near or above $100 a pop. And if there’s a better way to prove one’s total ignorance of all three words – Kobe, beef, and burger – this, my friends, is it. It’s the trifecta of dumb-ass. The Kobe experience is principally about the marbling, the even distribution of fat through lean. A hamburger is a bunch of lean beef thrown into a grinder with varying degrees of fat. If you are foolish enough to order a Kobe burger, you are entirely missing the point. Firstly, the fat will melt right out of the thing while cooking. Secondly, you are asking the chef to destroy the very textural notes for which Kobe is valued by smarter people. Thirdly, for an eight-ounce Kobe burger, you are paying for the chef to feed you all the outer fat and scrap bits he trimmed off the outside of his “real” Kobe so he can afford to serve properly trimmed steaks to wiser patrons who know what the hell they’re doing. And fourthly, you’re paying a hundred bucks for a freakin’ hamburger! Get over yourself! You’ve already established you’re too drunk and stupid to enjoy it in the first place.

– Anthony Bourdain 

But chances are the “Kobe burger” you’re ordering is an American wagyu burger. If it was a true Kobe burger, it wouldn’t cost $2-$5 more than a regular burger – it would cost a LOT more. And don’t get me wrong, good American wagyu steak is fantastic, but the concept behind American wagyu beef is similar to that of authentic Kobe beef; in other words, the same cooking and restaurant principles Bourdain mentions hold true for the American version. So when you order a “Kobe burger” you are missing the essence of what wagyu beef is.

In my experience, your basic American wagyu burger tends to sell for $15-$20, so it’s not like you’re not getting taken for your whole paycheck. But it is good to be aware that there’s not much discernable value in ordering a “Kobe burger” over a “regular burger”. Knowledge is power, ya?

1) Burgers are delicious. Wagyu beef is delicious. Despite the fact that you’re eating the scraps of higher quality beef, it still tastes good. It’s not like you’re wasting your money on stuff like this. I just don’t think the fact that it is wagyu beef makes it any better. Burgers are just good, in general.

Bottom line: If you order a Kobe beef burger, you’re probably getting played for a few bucks. Your meat is not from Kobe, it’s probably American wagyu beef, and this “better” beef is really not designed to be ground up and served as a burger. But wagyu or not, damnit, ground up meat tastes good, so if I’m at a place to try the burger, and all they offer is a “Kobe burger”, then fine, I’ll order it. You still have to have some skill to make a burger taste good, no matter the animal, or the way it’s raised. But if I have my choice between a “Kobe burger” or a regular one, I’ll almost certainly choose the cheaper option, which is always the regular burger.

/exhale + end treatise. Whoa, you’re still with us? Sweet!

As I was saying, I ordered the only burger on the menu, a “Kobe burger”, for $15. It came with Kennebec shoestring fries. I opted not to add cheese because I’m on a diet the combination of caramelized onions, calabria chilies, and housemade pickles seemed like a nice combo on their own. But yeah $15, this better be pretty good.

While sipping on my classy drink, Doug excused himself for a moment. I was impressed when our French waitress came over and folded his napkin. I really think that’s a nice touch, and she did the same for me, when I got up later in the meal. Really on all fronts, the service here was really top notch. Water glass was always full, bread was replenished, napkin folded, very attentive. Really augmented the experience, and our tip reflected that.

The presentation of the burger and fries (pictured at the top) was extremely inviting – not skimpy on the fries at all, and the burger as a whole had some nice color contrast, and was just asking to be eaten.

In terms of the “Kobe” aspect of the burger, the experience was how “Kobe burgers” usually go for me – it tastes a bit fattier and richer, which is a positive in my book, but not an essential, but there’s no real augmentation in flavor.

The mix of chilies and caramelized onions is a great combination. I’d never had calabria chilies before, so I didn’t know how spicy they were. I like heat, and to me, they were fairly mild (they weren’t seeded either, and they were roasted), but that semimild level of heat was a nice contrast for the burger. The pickles were a nice acidic note, too, though I admit I ate most of them by themselves.

The burger was cooked medium as I requested, which is always nice in a good, thick patty. I could’ve gone with a bit more seasoning, which is a common trap for “Kobe burgers”. The richness/fattiness doesn’t add the required salt a burger patty needs, but if you add salt to a piece of fatty meat, the salt is going to draw out more of that fat moisture. So I craved a bit more seasoning, but the burger was far from bland.

Bun was a bit bulky, but tasty. I actually found myself tearing off some of the edges and dipping them in aioli. Problem solved, more deliciousness attained.

All in all a very good burger, but you’re not walking out of here for under $20, so part of me expected perfection in a patty. A few little tweaks, and Campanula would have a winner on all counts.

Moving onto that wonderful looking mound on the left side of the plate. I have to be honest, I’m not usually a big fan of shoestring fries because most places don’t take the time to make them right. Some good knife work is required to cut potatoes “shoestring style” effectively. But when they’re cut consistently and fried to perfection, and ideally served in a generous portion, they’re as addicting as fries come. I’m inclined to say these are the best shoestring fries I’ve ever had. All of the above gets a check mark, plus a bit of deep fried parsley added in, and I could not stop eating these fries. Not to mention the aioli with which they were served was a nice addition.

Doug asked for some hot sauce when we got our food. Our waitress promptly returned with a ramekin of spicy aioli, a ramekin of a spicy vinegar sauce, and a ramekin of sriracha. Surprised a place like this has sriracha, but I was impressed that the other two sauces showed up. Great for fry dipping! All you have to do is ask! Another view of the meal, in case you’re too lazy to scroll up (but you can see the full portion of fries at the top picture. So huge.)

campanula top view

All in all, Campanula really takes care of its customers – we felt very welcomed and relaxed throughout the entire meal. On my way out, I realized, I could just take the extra dollars I spent for “Kobe beef” and pretend like I paid for extremely awesome service. Foodwise, they serve up a very good burger, and some insanely good fries. Might I recommend you stop in for a side of these fries with a well-made Manhattan during Happy Hour? Pretax, that’ll run you $9. Nice, I think I’ll do that sometime.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A (fantastic fries, memorable service+experience)

Keep on nomming!


Burger Bar

(Eek! I realized I forgot to post the entries to Burger Bar and Super Duper Burger from last October! Better late than never!)

OK let’s start with a run on sentence:

Burger Bar is incredibly pretentious joint with a good view and all sorts of options, none of which are cheap; however, if you’re willing to deal with the pretentiousness and the cost, you’re going to get really really tasty fresh food, but not want to return for another six months because it’s more an experience in the end.

OK, now let’s begin!

Burger Bar, the brainchild of superstar chef Hubert Keller is located on the nth floor of Macy’s in Union Square. It’s a build-your-own-burger kinda place. Everything is fresh, and of good quality. Rather than blather on about it, I encourage you to peruse the menu yourself.

Burger Bar is pretentious. It  just is. I don’t need to say anything else. But pretentious is passable if your food measures up.

I’ve been here three or four times now, but my order is usually made up of SOME of the following (except with a different bun):

–> Black Angus Beef, Pesto, Cheddar/Pepper jack, Peppered bacon, grilled onion Chipotle Aioli + skinny fries.

On this occasion, I was with my friends Jesse, Gabe, and David. The latter two were in town for a Scrabble tournament, and Gabe had wanted to go here since it opened. So finally, we made it.

As with my prior experiences, the burger was pretty much awesome. You really get what you pay for. And having just taken second at the tournament the day before, I was $750 richer, and didn’t mind paying!

There is tons of flavor in every bite, and the go-to additions for me are so harmonious. You really savor every bite because you can taste just how fresh every ingredient is. The one downside to the burger is that it’s just not very big. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite full enough leaving here, which can be an issue, especially for the money one is shelling out.

I’ve only had the skinny fries. They’re pretty standard, but are great for dipping in the pesto I get for the burger (sauce served on the side makes for easy rationing between burger and fries!)

But this lunch called for a treat. Between the four of us, we decided to actually spend $15.25 on two milkshakes. I’d always wanted to, but c’mon, are you kidding me? So needless to say I was thrilled to be able to split one. David and I got the Caramel Latte milkshake.

Yeppppp. That’s all you get for $8.75. Actually, you probably wouldn’t want too much more with all that butterscotch.

Quite frankly, the milkshake is a more polar version of the burger. It’s proportionally MORE expensive, and even better than the burger. Seriously, the milkshake we got was fantastic. Granted, I am a sucker for caramel, so take what I say with a grain of salt[ed caramel]. But if you are feeling spendy, you do not want to miss the milkshakes.

As a side note, Jesse and Gabe split the strawberry milkshake, at a bargain price of $7.00.

First they traveled across western China, then they shared this milkshake, (update: then took on Laos and Manila [with yours truly]). Who knows what’s next for them?

So to put it in perspective, my meal cost approximately $25 after tax and tip. It’s a lot like going to Father’s Office in LA. Is the food delicious? Yes. Is it worth the money? More or less. Am I going back anytime soon? Probably not. I’m just not looking to spend $25 on a burger meal. But that said, I completely recommend getting the Burger Bar experience – it’s a delicious one.

The Last Bite: 

Burger Rating: A- 

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B

Keep on nomming!

P.S. If anybody reading this ever does order the $60 Rossini burger (yes, you read that right, go back to the menu again!), I’d love to know what you think of possibly one of the most absurd dishes I have ever seen.

Father’s Office

So after two days of nonstop burgers (I had a burger at a birthday party I went to with Katie later in the evening after Hodad’s), I began my drive from San Diego to the Bay Area. So when I let my friend Sandy know I’d be driving through and wanted to stop for lunch, the walking-LA-food-guide herself knew just the spot – Father’s Office. I had been waiting to try out this spot – as Father’s Office is 21+, and I reached that milestone only last November.

The more well-known location of Father’s Office is in Santa Monica; however, we met at the Culver City location as it was close to 405. My first stop was the bathrooms, which are really cool, in line with the chic atmosphere of the joint. We ended up sitting outside on the deck.

Sandy ordered me the Father’s Office Burger, which came with bleu cheese, arugula, and caramelizd onions – three of my favorite things! It was on a nice bun, which judging by the picture, was some sort of French roll (that’s what I remember too).

Sandy has excellent taste; it was no surprise to me that this burger easily met my expectations. The onions were absolutely flavor-blasted – I could eat a side of those onions by themselves. I found the arugula to be a nice touch – a little bit imparts sufficient flavor, and doesn’t get in the way of that perfect bite like lettuce does. It’s never fun when you don’t quite bite hard enough on the lettuce, and you end up pulling out the whole piece in one bite. Since arugula leaves are small, you don’t run into this problem, and you get some real flavor. And how can you go wrong with bleu cheese on a burger!

I ended up having half of Sandy’s flatiron steak. It was tasty. I also shared a lot of both Sandy’s and David’s fries. They were shoestring-style, and served with a delicious aioli.

Now one thing about Father’s Office, is that all service comes from the bar (I assume this is the same practice at the Santa Monica location). They’ll clear your plates, but if you’re ordering something, you’re walking up to the bar. So needless to say I was a bit put off when a busboy refused to serve me a glass of water when I found there was a fly in the one I was currently drinking. It is a bit off-putting when you are spending $12.50 on a burger alone* (fries are extra), and the busboy won’t even bring you a fresh glass of water. Not his fault, but it seems like a weird practice. I don’t mind going to the bar to get another beer, or order some fries, but a glass of water when mine has a bug in it? Isn’t the customer always right? As it turned out, I had to wait 5+ minutes for the bartender to take the orders of a few other people (including regulars, who sat down well after I had been standing in line) before I got a new glass of water, and by the time I got back, my burger had been served.

All in all, despite the water fiasco, it was a very enjoyable experience. The meal comes at a price, but if you’re willing to shell out, you will get your money’s worth. I could find not a single flaw with the burger, and the accoutrements were nothing short of perfect. I’d go back to Father’s Office for a nice occasion when I am visiting LA, but next time I will ask for a pitcher of water – I hope they can grant that request at the bar!

The Last Bite:

Burger rating: A

Overall experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B+

Thanks again, Sandy! A delicious burger!

* This was Sandy’s graduation present to me, so I didn’t actually spend the money, but even so, I was quite put off by having to go wait in line while the bartenders took 8 other orders. But talk about an awesome graduation present! I was thrilled!

As a postscript, I later had two burgers at a BBQ in Fresno that evening. It added up to a total of 7 patties in three days, which rivaled my burger binge of approximately 14 burgers in the week after my high school graduation.

Never stop nomming!