Posts Tagged ‘Russian Hill’


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!