Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’


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 Joint

Burger Joint

I should’ve posted some of these reviews months ago, but I’ve been lazy. So in my attempt to blog more about food in 2013, I will throw in some older unposted entries from 2012. More burger love (or hate) for all.

Admittedly, I hadn’t done my research ahead of time. My friend and I were looking for a place to watch Game 3 of the 2012 World Series (which took place in Detroit). Headed to a party later in the evening, we didn’t particularly need to eat at a pub either. I’d heard of this place before, so when I saw open seats at a burger joint (literally, a Burger Joint), with the game just getting underway, I made the suggestion, and in we went.

Burger Joint is an order-at-the-counter establishment, so I was excited to see there was no line to grab a burger (unlike every other TV-sporting restaurant on King St).

The menu seemed pretty generic at first glance, though I appreciated the fact they serve some microbrews (I did not think to catch what was offered at the time – again, I was preparing my liver for some seriously Halloween partying later that evening).

I opted for a cheeseburger with pepper jack and fries. $9.45 before tax…OK, seems fair…especially because they’re quick on advertising Niman Ranch beef on family-owned, sustainable farms. This should be good, right?

Now it’s rare that I don’t Yelp a place before going to it, but this night called for a TV and a place to sit quickly. After we were seated I Yelped the place and my heart skipped a beat. But so as not to bias myself any further, I read no reviews…

As we were waiting for our food, I noticed that nobody was getting kicked out after they’d finished their meal to make way for other hungry baseball fans. I thought it was cool they didn’t rush people, but then I realized…hey, there’s nobody waiting for tables. Why does every other restaurant on King Street [with a TV] have a line out the door? At this point my expectations were not what they’d been when I had the idea to eat here.

Our food was served reasonably quickly. Sadly, I’ve eaten enough burgers that I knew approximately what this one was going to taste like without even taking a bite. I know an underseasoned thin diner patty when I see one. It was much smaller than I expected, and brought the word “flaccid” to mind. It was quite bland – I had to use a lot of hot sauce to make up for the lack of beef flavor. That’s a little trick I do with bland burgers (blandness is not a prereq, but use caution with a tasty-as-is burger): load them up with hot sauce, and you get this combination of spicy and fatty that’s overloads your taste buds. Goes GREAT with a hoppy beer.

In short, the meal was oddly identical to extremely average roadside diner food you’d find off an Interstate in anywhere, USA. A very clean diner, with friendly service, and Giants games on the TV.

But hey hold on, brain, I wasn’t done ranting about my dinner yet. This isn’t a one paragraph Yelp review – I was just about to give a little lecture on burger-making 101.

Let’s go B^4ck to Basics:

If you’re going to make a burger patty, add some salt. Salt is your friend. I promise. A little bit of salt won’t make your dish too…salty (what’s a good synonym for salty? NaCL-y?). Rather, a bit of salt will enhance the flavors of a dish – in this case, it will accentuate the meatiness and richness of your burger patty. And don’t forget salt’s bff pepper is a nice compliment, too…

So at this point you’ve probably figured out this isn’t a terribly positive review. Well, you’re right. But what exactly was holding this burger back from greatness?

The prognosis: FPS (Frozen Patty Syndrome) –

– Underseasoned patty

– Perfectly flat and unusually symmetrical patty

– Lack of char and loose edges – the lack of these welcomed imperfections set off the flat/symmetrical observations, and then the alarm bells go off.

– Lack of texture – there’s no interplay between fatty, melt-in-your-mouth divinity and lean meat heartiness. Instead, it’s reminiscent of an untextured flattened blob.

But even a prefrozen patty tastes better with some salt added on top. Seriously, it’s that basic.

And if these actually are fresh patties, which one would think they are, then I’m at a loss for words – I’ve had Niman Ranch beef hundreds of times, and it has NEVER been this tasteless and textureless. I don’t think Niman Ranch was having an off day. Frozen or not, something’s gotta change…

At this point I think you get the idea about the burger. So onto the fries.

You’ll note that there is a huge white space on the plate. I’ll take some responsibility in admitting that I had some fries before I remembered to take a picture; that said, you’re looking at a good 3/4 of the fries right there, so form your own opinion while I tell you mine: at least the fries had been salted. My suspicion is that they are prefrozen too, but I don’t feel quite as strongly about this fact (and you can usually get away with passable prefrozen fries, anyway).

I read some Yelp reviews after dinner, too. Yeah…whoops. But hey, we got edible food and a good seat to watch the entire Giants game on TV, and never felt pressured to leave. So there’s that.

And in the end, the Giants shut out the Tigers in game 3 (WS champs again!!!!). There was then an amazing Halloween party full of debauchery which isn’t really relevant to this blog, so the verdict: on this Saturday night, everything except dinner rocked.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C

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

Keep on nomming!

Side note: The initials bj in lower case letters really never ever work. Everybody has a 12 year old inside of them; everyone, except the owners of Burger Joint, apparently.


Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers

I was bumbling around SF and the Peninsula one day after watching an exciting Giant’s game at Phone Company Park. After picking up some people in Millbrae, a motion was set in favor of eating dinner. Oddly enough I wasn’t that hungry, so I was not vocal about where we’d go. But as fate would have it, everyone else decided on burgers! They in fact chose Pearl’s, which happened to be near the top of the list of Bay Area burger joints to try. So color me hungry – sure I’ll have a burger!

I was feeling a bit adventurous, so when I saw the Spicy Sly burger with a pumpkin habanero sauce? Yes, please! Opted to mooch a few fries and sip of milkshake off a friend.

There’s not much room to eat at this Pearl’s – it’s a small restaurant, and you should be prepared to wait. We actually lucked out and found room for the 6 of us – perhaps we were on the early side for dinner in urban San Francisco (about 6:30 PM). The place is clean enough, and it’s on a nice enough street, so I’d be fine coming here after dark.

I knew I was in for a serious burger when it was served. Literally, sauteed onions and peppers falling all around a juicy burger, and nice firm bun (Acme, I believe). It reminded me a lot of a Philly Cheese Steak, especially with the consistency of the melted cheese smothered all over the burger.

But what I got, in fact, as I bit into this serious meal, was a big kick in the mouth. The habanero sauce was very vinegary, reminiscent of a Texas-style BBQ sauce, except with the addition of a substantial amount of habanero. Mind you, I am certainly not a spice wimp; rather, I am more than willing to endure a post-pepper temporary numbness in my mouth for the sake of deliciousness. And by the time this big boy was done, my mouth was pretty much numb. And the sauce, let me tell you, was really, really good.

But how was the burger as a whole, you ask? What, you mean cheeseburgers aren’t made out of peppers?

So my honest opinion is that there was too much sauce on the burger. As time went on, everything got a bit soggy, as it became soaked in this spicy sauce. Couple that with the abundance peppers and onions which already contain liquid of their own, and you start to run into a problem. My burger definitely got soggy. Also, because the sauce IS so potent, a smaller amount of sauce would create a much nicer harmony of flavors. All the ingredients are made for each other – chili sauce, peppers, onions, jack cheese, burger patty, sesame seed bun. But balance is key when you’re combining salty, spicy, and sweet.

The problem is that because the sauce was so overwhelming, it’s hard to talk about the nuances of the rest of the burger. I can say that the meat was definitely juicy, but the seasoning of the beef was lost, so I don’t really know if the proper seasoning was used (Yelp reviews would suggest it is). Also, there were so many peppers and onions, that their texture took over the melt-in-your-mouth feeling of a great burger patty. The once-crispy bun quickly became a bit soggy as well, so more texture was lost.

So overall, plenty of flavor, but a bit lacking in execution. Judging by the intensity of the sauce, I’m guessing this is the hardest balance to get right of all the burgers on the menu. I can look past the flaws in execution if the flavor is there, but next time, I’d really prefer a tidier burger – a reasonable portion of sauteed veggies, and less spicy sauce, and you’d have a home run, here.

As I noted above, I only tried a few fries, and an onion ring, and I was satisfied with them. The fries were thick and soaked up lots of habanero sauce, and the onion rings passed the homemade test. Success!

I tried a sip of milkshake (Oreo Cookies n’ Cream), and it was very good. I probably wouldn’t get a milkshake if I was having a burger with sweet toppings, but with the right burger goes the right milk shake! My friends recommended the Nutella milkshake, for what it’s worth.

I feel like I’ve been fairly harsh on Pearl’s. Everything was really good – the ingredients are there, the talent is there, and the price is right – everything was very tasty – but in this case the subtlety and balance was off.

I would come back to Pearl’s again, but maybe opt for something a little more…shall we say…standard.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B+

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

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.

Super Duper Burger

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

There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of grease!

Super Duper Burger has a few locations throughout SF proper. We ended up at the Market Street location, near the border of the financial district/SOMA. I figure SD would be a good place for dinner, as it had come recommended by a friend a few weeks prior. We actually sat outside, right on Market, which was pretty fun, and quite nice in the late October evening breeze. It’s far enough from the sketchy neighborhoods where sitting outside is actually a nice change.

I ordered a burger with grilled onions. Also garlic fries, because, well, garlic fries. For an almost-hipster San Francisco joint, being served a loosely-formed slightly greasy diner burger was a great surprise. Wait, slow down here…a diner burger? What on earth do you mean?

Well, I’d say the Super Duper burger is a great example of what I mean:

-thin, loosely formed patty

– a bit on the salty/greasy side

– gooey cheese

– a mound of grilled onions

Obviously, Super Duper is not doing my arteries a favor, but that diner burger always satisfies my taste buds. It’s not a huge burger, but it’s rich, so I found myself fuller than I thought I’d be upon first looking at the burger. Restaurants could take a page from the SD book – the diner burger is an art form. Does Super Duper have a clue what I’m talking about when I describe the style of burger they make so specifically? Who knows. But in my repertoire, there’s a place for a juicy, slightly salty burger such as this one. If you like that diner kind of burger, you’ll like Super Duper.

Garlic fries were a nice accompaniment to the main meal.

Noah ordered a milkshake, but it was a big disappointment. Extremely overpriced for a single glass of milkshake with no refill tin. Glad I skipped on that overpriced item.

I do want to return here!

The Last Bite: 

Burger Rating: B+

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

Keep on nomming!