blogging for burgers

Ramps. They're back.

“Dis-moi ce que tu manges et je te dirai qui tu es.”

If Brillat-Savarin’s old adage is true, then consider me a ramp for the next month or so.  For all of my readers on the East Coast, GO GET SOME.  For those of you that are elsewhere, sorry, you are pretty much out of luck.  Imagine the taste of a scallion, then add in the aroma of garlic and you’re just beginning to understand the flavor of the ramp.  They have just arrived in NYC, so get to the farmer’s market early if you want to even have the opportunity to try them out.

Some of my favorite applications include:

– Pickled ramps: So easy, but so tasty.  On sandwiches, on burgers, on hot dogs, by themselves.

– Pasta: Add a little extra garlic, sauté the bulbs up with some of the greens, add in the breadcrumbs for some texture, and toss with spaghetti.  You’re singing.

– Soups: Chiffonade some of the leaves and add to soup for a subtle aromatic, and add some sautéed bulbs for some extra flavor.

I’m sure there are a million other things you can do with them, and all of them will be equally delicious.  Do yourselves a favor and just get some.  You’ll know what I’m talking about afterwards.

A whole new appreciation for food texture.

So it’s been six days since I got gum surgery, and from this side of having 99% of my meals either blended or liquid-based, I can honestly say that texture is a very important element of plate construction.  Meals just aren’t satisfying, mentally or physically, without some bite.  Maybe it’s a carnal instinct that we need to chew our food and attack it like animals, or maybe it’s just the satisfaction of masticating things to a pulp.

I don’t know, but I miss it.

I have been, however, reminded how good sweet potatoes are.  They are awesome.  So it butternut squash soup.  Especially with some Tamarack Farm bacon and shallots.

Jell-O pudding packs are also pretty tasty.

I don’t really have much else to say, but this explains my absence from the blogosphere.  I spoke with Seoul Brother, and hopefully we’ll be getting an update from his end of the world in the near future.  Since his last post on Smokey Saloon, he has confirmed a couple of things.  He had predicted a proliferation of burger joints in Korea, but that has not actually happened.  However, what has happened is that he can buy American and Australian ground beef, which is a vast improvement in the burger-making department.  Cheese continues to elude him.

But there is plenty of fermented skate to go around.

Also, I was watching No Impact Man, and he paid the folks up at Ronnybrook Farms a visit.  Man, I was jealous!  It looks like a good time up there.

Lastly, a fellow food blogger out there has sourced some material from b4b while compiling his list of great burgers from around the globe.  Check it out and let him know what you really think: Matador Night’s List of 50 Burger Joints around the world.

Beacon Restaurant Bar Happy Hour

Burgergal recently enlightened me to a happy hour special at the Beacon Restaurant and Bar.  For a mere $19.95, any time from noon to 9pm, you get two drinks (well, beer, or house wine) and a burger or pizza.

Of course we had to be there.  And my recent oral surgery (today, in fact) requires me to take a break from solid foods for a bit.  In fact, one of the two things that I could do to “really mess it up”: take a bite into a sandwich.  Now, before we get into a philosophical debate about whether a hamburger is a sandwich or not, safe to say that I will be heeding my periodontist’s advice.

All of that said, I needed one of my last meals to be a good one.  And I’ve gotta say, the burger at the Beacon did not disappoint.  I unfortunately did not take any pictures, since I was too ravenously devouring the burger, but there is a great set of pictures taken by our friends over at Midtown Lunch.

The burger comes out pre-cut, immediately revealing how cooked it is.  Ours were a perfect medium, with a rosy color all the way through and a nice char on the outside.  When I first saw the inside of the patty, however, I thought that it looked a little pre-salted, like Kenji on Serious Eats had warned not to do.  It didn’t look like it would be as crumbly as a JG special, or even a Shake Shack smashed burger.  This gave me my doubts, but at the price, who was I to complain?

But then I took my first bite.  The meat was well seasoned, and it was juicy as could be.  The flavor was great, enhanced by the onion bun, which absorbed all of the umami-rich fat that was dripping from the patty.  The burger had a smokiness to it that was earthy, reminiscent of the black label (although much less aged tasting), which was further enhanced by the smoky ketchup that was served with it.  With a slice of American cheese (as Laurent Tourondel says, “for a cheeseburger, the only cheese you can use”), it was great.  Even now, the memory of the burger is with me, as I am relegated to Jell-O pudding and yogurt, and even that hurts to eat 🙁

The fries were ok, but nothing to write home about.  They were a little inconsistent, with some being a little soggy.

But I still devoured all of them.

And that was that.  And today I went to aperiTIVO with uberchef for a my true last solid/tomato-based/spicy/hot meal for a week or so.  And it was great.

The spice man cometh.

Today I was at the 77th St. flea market with Burgergal and saw this spice guy, reminiscent of markets in North Africa.  Anyway, I thought it was cool so I snapped a photo.  He also had that neat stick with a scoop on the end of it.  He was like a craps dealer, but with freshly ground spice blends.

It’s been a while, and I’ve been up to some random stuff.

Nougatine Burger

Since the blog started as a blog about burgers, I’ll kick off this post with a review of the most recent burger I’ve had.  After a slew of press about the burger at jean-Georges’ Nougatine (just another La Frieda black label rumour– no need to pay it any heed, the only place that has it is Minetta) and a glowing review from my buddy Ben, I had to check it out.  I’ve been to Nougatine and had great, although not memorable, meals, so I figured it had to be pretty good.

Continue reading ‘The spice man cometh.’

Stuff I like right now.

I thought I would take this opportunity to write about a few things that I like right now.  This post is totally selfish, but what the hell, it’s my blog.

The first thing I like is Ronnybrook Farm’s Greek Yogurt.

I picked up a tub of this stuff a couple of weeks ago at the midtown farmer’s market.  Based on its less-than-perfect logo and label, I knew it was fresh from the farm and was in trial runs.  We all know that I’m a fan of RB Farms anyway, so I knew that this would be pretty good stuff.  But would it be as good as siggi’s?  More importantly, would it be more creamy (and less liquidy) than the regular creamline yogurts?

The short answer is yes.  This stuff was thick and creamy like Greek yogurt should be, but it still had that silkiness indicative of the RB farms.  True to form, the honey and vanilla were top-notch quality.  It was not quite as dry as a mass-produced Greek yogurt, but it was definitely a strained yogurt, with good density.  Speaking with my girl at the market this past week, she let me know that they are making a few other flavors in the Greek Style, so I’m looking forward to that.

I like sandwiches.

You know when you make something in your kitchen and right after you taste it, you say to yourself, “I am the man”?  I recently experienced this.  I had some random things lying around from which I was going to construct a weeknight dinner: some fresh rosemary from the awesome short ribs that burgergal made, some Ardith Mae doolan soft-ripened goat cheese, a couple of thin slices of pancetta, an end piece from a not just rugelach seven grain loaf, some red russian kale, a few past-their-prime cherry tomatoes, and some eggs.  I figured I could make something happen there.

My original plan was to crisp up the pancetta, sauté the kale, add the tomatoes and cook until they burst, then throw the egg on top and cover, letting the whole thing come together (I often make this type of thing during the week, having been inspired by some shakshuka I had with burgergal at Hummus Place back in the day before she was burgergal, which was really a sad time).  I figured on the side I would make a little grilled cheese sandwich with the doolan and a touch of rosemary for extra earthiness and a little bit of woody flavor.  Then a funny thing happened: I decided to kick it up a notch.

To the sandwich, I added some of the sautéed kale and a few morsels of the crispy pancetta.  Instead of just crisping the outside of the sandwich in a pan, I infused some olive oil with rosemary by adding fresh leaves as the oil heated in a non-stick pan.  After they had imparted some flavor into the oil, I took the leaves out of the oil and added them to the inside of the sandwich, which was already oozing with goat-cheesy goodness because of the hot kale.  I browned up the outside and set it aside for a second while I finished up the egg/kale/tomato thing.

While this sandwich stuff was going on, a mere inches away on the front burner was my egg concoction.  Although I wasn’t sure how all of the flavors were going to work together, they looked pretty, so I figured half of the battle was won.  The white of the egg looked set, and the yolk was looking nice and oozy.  I grabbed the widest spatula I own and transferred the whole thing to a plate, being careful to not break the yolk prematurely.   The last thing I wanted to do was lose this masterpiece to a last second flub.

At this stage, I had two separate items.  In a moment of brilliance, I decided that I could combine and make them one.  What could be better than a sandwich of fat dipped into a substance that is entirely fat?  I went for the money shot.  Being a complete nerd, I dipped with my left hand and photographed with my right.

Wait, what was that?  You couldn’t see the goodness?  No problem!

When I put the combination in my mouth, the heavens opened and I realized I had created something truly magnificent.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I just wanted more.  I finished the sandwich in .3 seconds.  I needed more.  I needed to re-create this, and soon.  I made sure to take mental note of what was going on.  I took pictures of it just to remember how spectacular it was.

Now that that’s done…

I thought a better sandwich wouldn’t be possible.  Until it was.

About a month ago, Bon Appétit featured a short rib and arugula sandwich on its cover.  It looked pretty good, but I didn’t bother clipping the recipe or anything.  It was just a sandwich, after all.  Little did I know that a single ingredient contained in that recipe would change my life forever (yes, forever).

The recipe called for pretty “basic” stuff (especially if you happen to have some delicious short ribs in the freezer): short ribs, good white bread, monterey jack cheese, arugula, butter, pickled caramelized onions…  umm, what?  Pickled caramelized onions??

Yes.  Pickled caramelized onions.

Step 1: Caramelize onions in butter.

Step 2: Add red wine vinegar and sugar.

Step 3: Cook that down until the liquid is gone.

Step 4: Change your life forever.

The pickled caramelized onions were a game-changer.  I cannot imagine eating any savory sandwich without them again.  Burger?  Pickled caramelized onions (like they had at Dumont).  Ham and cheese?  And pickled caramelized onions, please.  Hot dog?  Hot is gettin’ me some pickled caramelized onions on that, dog.  You get the point.

We combined all of those ingredients on some freshly baked artisanal bread we picked up at Zabar’s.  A quick lather of butter on the outside (not a healthy recipe) and we were in business.

Like french toast but better.

Get me a picture with some softer lighting.  Some of that lighting like all the food-porn sites have!

Thank you!

Seared duck is something I like, too.  But much more tersely.

See?  Easy.

Bill's Bar and Burger. Meh.

When B.R. Guest recently opened another restaurant, I was skeptical.  I used to be a fan of the upscale-casual company’s concepts, and I actually was talking with them about joining their team a few years back.  However, as of late, I have been less than impressed with the quality of food at some of their locations.  The charm has worn off a bit.  That’s why when Bill’s Bar and Burger opened up in the old Hog Pit space, it wasn’t first on my list.

But they do have a smashed burger, so that was intriguing.

On a chilly night at the Standard Beer Garden a few months back, we tried to snag a quick burger at Bill’s, only to find that it was packed with the MPD-gensia.  This type of experience turns me off for a good few months (like when I refused to go to Di Fara again after confronting a two-hour wait).

About a week ago, the opportunity arose again, only this time I knew it was going to happen.  A Conde Nast Traveler party was happening, again at the Standard, and I knew that a mid-week pop-in to Bill’s would out a bit more positively.

We walked in around 8 o’clock and were quasi-immediately shown to a table.  The décor is fine, nothing really to write home about.  They didn’t mess around with too much of the raw elements that the Hog Pit had left behind.  The bar was where it was and the walls were where they were.  The front room is filled with high tables, and combined with the low-ish ceilings, it actually makes you feel like you are stepping into a cave (or, a pit, as the former establishment’s name might indicate).  It actually reminded me a little bit of the front area at the Corner Bistro, only this was filled with artsy and trendy types (and a lot of tourists).

The smells coming out of the tiny kitchen were pretty solid.  I could catch a corner of the griddle top from the bar, and I could see some smashed burgers doing their thing.  Just like at Shake Shack, the griddle top yields very little smoke but a ton of odoriferousness (yep, that is a word).  The beer selection is pretty good, and they’ve even got Abita root beer on tap (and when you order it, the waitress will confirm that you know it’s non-alcoholic, as she did to Uberchef).

Just like the Shack, Bill’s has a selection of burgers available.  We were four, and fortunately for me, we all went with something different.  Burgergal stuck with a plain old boring hamburger, Uberchefette went with the Bobcat (burger with green chili and jack cheese), Uberchef went with the Sunset and Vine (a take on the INO burger, with special sauce), and I went with a Bacon Cheeseburger (I was feeling adventurous).

Starting from the most basic, the smashed burger was pretty good.  Although La Frieda supplies the resto with its beef, the meat blend wasn’t quite as flavorful as the Shack, but was still decent.  Maybe the patties were a tad under-seasoned or something.  In any case, the patty hit the spot for me.  My bacon cheeseburger was great, and unlike some larger bacon cheeseburgers, I didn’t feel like a huge fatty afterwards.  Uberchef’s Sunset and Vine was ok, although the special sauce was way too sweet for a burger.  It was almost cloyingly sweet, which was not all that pleasant to eat.  Uber-C wasn’t a fan at all, and tasted curry in it, while I just tasted some sort of sweet spice, like a sweet relish.  It was definitely no In-n-Out special sauce (aka, thousand island dressing).

I’ve gotta say, the surprise winner for me was the Bobcat.  I found the green chilis to be spicy yet addictive, and the acidity of the toping really cut into the blandness of the patty.  I found the combination to be flavorful, and it made me wish that I had ordered it for myself.

On the side, we had some disco fries, which were pretty good, but I think that any diner in New Jersey would rock out a better version.  The regular fries were unremarkable.

Overall, I was satisfied with Bill’s, and I would probably go back if I were down in that area on a weeknight (meaning, a return visit is pretty unlikely).  The prices were decent, and the ambiance was pleasant enough.  I felt like they rush you a tiny bit, like the Bistro does, but I guess that they have to do that, since it’s not exactly a “relax with a bottle of wine concept.”  The burgers were more than palatable, but there are definitely better places here in NYC (to completely disagree with Josh Ozersky).  3 out of 7 cows.

BG and I are hitting up Nougatine at Jean Georges tomorrow night.  Supposedly they have a great burger.  Only time (and I) will tell.