Marlowe (San Francisco, CA)

Marlowe
330 Townsend St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dining date: 12/22/11

exterior

Marlowe opened at the beginning of last year and has been a popular spot for its neighborhood bistro fare. Its consistent popularity has already led to another restaurant from the Marlowe team – Park Tavern, one of the bigger restaurant openings in SF this year. Marlowe is probably best known for its burger, often cited as one of the best in the city. It was also named one of the best new restaurants in 2010 by SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer.

Each year for the last few, myself and fellow grandchildren take my grandmother out for her birthday. Not quite as ballin’ as my dad’s birthday dinner for her, but we put a lot of thought into it and always find something equally satisfying. Marlowe was the choice this year.

The menu is fairly focused, with a few options in various menu categories: appetizers, “pots,” snacks, soups/salads, mains and sides. We ordered a variety of appetizers/small plates as well as an entree each (plus one more burger for good measure).

Warm Deviled Egg aged provolone, pickled jalapeño & bacon

deviled eggs

Served warm, the eggs were complemented primarily by smoky, crispy bacon and a mild provolone. I didn’t really pick up any of the pickled jalapeno, but this was still a good bite or two.

Crispy Brussels Sprout Chips lemon & sea salt

brussels sprouts

Lightly crispy with smoky charred ends, these were quite tasty…though some pieces were a little oily. Because they were so thin, the leaves/chips quickly became soggy in any residual oil. Some lemon provided a nice touch of both citrus and acid.

We also ordered a few “pots” served with crostini/lettuce.

Warm Marinated Mussels & Monterey Calamari grilled country bread & green garlic aioli

calamari mussels

Duck Liver Mousse roasted Medjool dates, pickled mustard seeds & crostini

duck liver

Dungeness Crab & Rock Shrimp Louie gem lettuce, eggs mimosa & tabasco

crab shrimp louie

Of these three, I liked the crab and rock shrimp Louie best. The seafood and lettuce cups  felt light while having quite a bit of flavor, particularly with a splash of lemon or tabasco. I thought the mussels and calamari pot was difficult to eat on the crostini, with the small pieces continually falling off the toasted bread. The duck liver mousse was a good one, with the rich minerality playing well with the sweetness of the dates.

Between the six of us, we sampled three different entrees.

Grilled Niman Ranch Pork Chop spinach & ricotta bread pudding, prosciutto & parmesan cream

pork chop

My grandmother got this entree. Very juicy and quite flavorful, this was an excellent chop. A little bit of a smoky flavor was present too, adding an extra flavor profile to the pork.

Marlowe Burger caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli & fries

hamburger

burger

Ah, the much anticipated burger. The meat was cooked a nice medium-rare, though it wasn’t quite as thick as I anticipated. The meaty flavor was there, with a really good smoky char on both the meat and toasted bun. However, I thought there was too much bread (the bread:meat ratio was high) on an otherwise good burger. Overall, disappointing given expectations.

Certified Angus New York Steak Frites red wine- porcini jus

steak frites

A good steak, tender and flavorful. It was cooked right on point, and the red wine-porcini jus was quite delicious as well. The fries were the same ones that came with the burger – crispy yet fluffy, pretty good fries. Perfect for dipping in the jus. A simple dish; this was very satisfying.

TCHO Chocolate Cream Pie Graham cracker & chocolate cookie crust, cocoa nib, sea salt

chocolate

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta Affogato Amaretto & lemon biscotti

affogato panna cotta

We were trying to save room for later, but a meal is not complete without dessert, right? We opted for these two choices, one was fine and one was very good. The chocolate cream pie had the expected chocolate flavor with some nice crumble textures. Nothing special. I thought the affogato panna cotta was more exciting, with the creamy panna cotta doused in a shot of espresso. The bitterness of the espresso countered the sweet vanilla panna cotta quite nicely – addicting!

Marlowe was good. I can’t say anything was special enough for me to return though. Of all of the dishes we ordered, the burger had the highest expectations and fell short. However, the other plates were executed fairly well with the pork chop being the standout entree. And the panna cotta affogato was memorable.

The second part of this evening was a meal at Nopa and an even better pork chop.

Spruce (San Francisco, CA)

Spruce
3640 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94118
Dining date: 5/23/11


Spruce opened in 2007 to high praise and a lot of attention, being one of the hardest reservations for a while. Almost 4 years later, the buzz has certainly calmed. However it remains a a very popular spot, even garnering a Michelin star in the 2011 guide.

Their most famous dish is likely the “Spruce Burger” which is listed in many publications as one of the top burgers (or dishes, period) in San Francisco. I happened to be working in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights on this day, so it was a perfect opportunity to come by and try this burger.

The burger, at its simplest, includes a bun, patty, choice of cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato and side of fries. A variety of add-ons are available including bacon, a fried egg, mushrooms, caramelized onions and even foie gras.

We started with an amuse bouche from the kitchen.

Carrot Soup with Almond and Date Foam

Looking like a cappuccino, the carrot soup was comforting, and not overly sweet nor overly carrot-y. I appreciated the subtle nuttiness and sweetness from the almonds and dates, respectively.

Spruce Burger french fries

Now, what we came for! I first noticed the bun. It was relatively thinner and denser than what’s normally seen, with a well-toasted texture…I think it was pretty much like an English Muffin. The meat (Niman Ranch chuck) was cooked a nice medium rare and oozed fat and juices when squeezed. The meat was tasty and the bun did a good job of soaking up the juices. I opted to add on bacon and caramelized onions; I’d have to say both of these were very good and added a lot of flavor. It all came together really nicely; easily one of the better burgers I’ve had in some time. At $16, it’s not the cheapest of burgers, but the quality is apparent. It’s a relatively simple burger, but the execution is key. I think each of the components were tasty on their own, but really came together to pack a load of flavor.

The fries (which came with the burger) were quite good as well, with a delightful crunch on the outside and fluffy potato on the inside.

There’s a whole rest of the menu that I haven’t tried yet, but if this burger is any indication, I expect it to be well-executed, carefully crafted and probably pretty tasty. The burger alone, though, is enough reason for a return visit.

25 Degees & Library Bar (Los Angeles, CA)

25 Degrees & Library Bar
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Dining date: 3/23/11

I don’t tend to seek out LA’s top burger joints, but when I do stumble across a notable burger, I’m almost always game. The purpose of this trip actually wasn’t burger-inspired at all; rather, it was to come try Library Bar, also in the Roosevelt Hotel. Here is where Matt Biancaniello crafts innovative market-driven cocktails. Yes, market-driven. Kind of like a chef’s mentality, but with drinks.

25 Degrees sounded like an ideal spot to grab something casual to eat before hitting up the bar. 25 Degrees (named after the temperature difference between medium-rare and well-done) is a newer, small chain serving up some gourmet burgers – 3 signature options are available, as well as a build-your-own option.

The lone “starter” was a spiked milkshake.

Guinness Milkshake creamy vanilla bean, smooth chocolate, Guinness

Thick and creamy; malty, with just a little bit of alcohol on the end to remind you it’s there. It might be a challenge to tackle a burger and fries after this heavy treat.

French Fries


Our sides came out much before the burgers. This was a very generous portion, and I kind of liked the presentation of the fries spilling out of a Chinese take-out box. I thought the fries were cooked well, crispy, but rather bland. There was an herbal seasoning (oregano was the most prominent flavor to me), but they still tasted somewhat unmemorable.

Onion Rings


The onion rings were better, though not particularly memorable either.

Number Two – roasted tomato, crispy prosciutto, burrata, pesto

I ordered this Italian-inspired creation. The burger arrives on a large brioche bun, topped with burrata and crispy prosciutto. All burgers are made with ground sirloin; in the markets, this is always one of the leanest variations of ground beef. However, this burger was cooked a nice medium-rare/medium and was definitely juicy. The pesto had a strong flavor, but I thought it held up well with the meat and creamy burrata, with the prosciutto being a fun substitute for bacon. The roasted tomato was not sliced; rather, it seemed to be cut into large chunks and easily fell out of the burger.

Number One – caramelized onion, prelibato gorgonzola, crescenza, bacon, arugula, thousand island

I tried a bite from this burger as well, another signature. It might’ve just been my bite, but I was a little overloaded on the thousand island; however, the meat was again juicy and cooked well.

Custom Burger – ground sirloin, fried egg, burrata, jalapenos

“Dessert” was a walk over to Library Bar – a small, dark bar…almost hidden. Upon walking in, I was immediately confronted with fragrant smells of a garden – the bar is lined with a ton of fresh produce from various fruits to all sorts of fresh herbs. One of the more colorful bar setups I’ve seen, for sure.

Between the three of us, we were able to sample an assortment of 8 cocktails. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the names or components of each.

Rum, lime, mint; Mezcal, jalapeno; Gin, sage (left to right)

Mezcal, campari, chili

Gin, aged balsamic vinegar, strawberries, St. Germaine foam

My favorite was probably the beer cocktail. Hops-infused gin, grapefruit juice, lemon juice and an IPA combined to make something that tasted sort of like an alcohol-ed-up IPA – the citrus was a key ingredient in brightening it up.

Beer cocktail hops-infused gin, grapefuit juice, lemon juice, IPA, rosemary

25 Degrees makes a solid burger. The sides were a little disappointing, but I think the burger made up for it. More memorable than 25 Degrees was Library Bar, which was packed on this rainy Wednesday night. I thought the cocktails were really interesting and vibrant; not all of them were hits (a spicy mezcal/campari/chili concoction didn’t work with us), but overall I thought they were fun and tasty. I loved the idea of combining some fresh market produce with the drinks, and I’ll be sure to return for more.

Burger Bar – 7/4/10

Burger Bar
Mandalay Bay
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119

When I first tried Burger Bar, it was instantly one of my favorite burger places. Created by Hubert Keller of Top Chef Masters and Fleur de Lys fame, Burger Bar offers a number of “signature” burgers, as well as completely customizable burgers. Their most notable burger is probably the Rossini – a kobe beef patty topped with foie gras and shaved black truffles. However, my favorite has been the lighter surf & turf, topped with lobster.

Surf & Turf Burger – black angus, grilled half lobster, grilled green asparagus on a plain bun

I really like how Burger Bar uses a nice, thick patty on their burgers, allowing for a nice medium rare to be cooked.

The burger was cooked perfectly with a nicely seared crust and pink throughout. However, the burger wasn’t quite as juicy as I would expect. The lobster also was a little bit drier than I remembered, but the combination still works well.

Other burgers we had were customized:

Angus beef patty topped with portabello mushroom, grilled onions and guacamole and an onion bun

Vegetarian burger topped with mozzarella and eggplant.

In addition, we ordered some sweet potato fries.

These were simple, good. Often I find sweet potato fries are cut a little thicker than french fries, but these were the same size – which was good. Crispy on the outside with a moist, fluffy interior.

I was satisfied with my burger, but I feel the execution has slipped a notch, somewhat reminiscent of the mediocrity of the San Francisco Burger Bar location.

Umami Burger, Scoops – 6/20/10

Umami Burger
4655 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Scoops
712 N Heliotrope Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Umami Burger is currently one of the more popular burger chains in LA – founded in 2009, its success has allowed it to quickly expand to four locations already in the LA area (and one more coming to the SF Valley later this year).  Being a fan of a well-made burger, and hey – with a name like Umami Burger – naturally, it was only a matter of time until I paid a visit.

This location offers 9 burgers – we decided to give the signature ‘Umami Burger’ a try, as well as the truffle burger. But first, the sweet potato fries and french fries.

The sweet potato fries were solid – nicely crisp on the outside and sweet and tender on the inside.

The potato fries were another story. These thick, block-cut fries were lacking crispness on the outside, and were a bit undercooked inside. In addition, they tasted rather plain and undersalted.

Umami Burger

This burger, their signature, was just okay. The meat and bun were both good, though they did not really stand out. I will note that meat was cooked to a very nice medium-rare, however.  This burger is topped with the housemade ketchup, mushroom, and tomatoes – the mushrooms were a bit too much for this burger, as they were overpowering.

Truffle Burger – italian truffle cheese, truffle glaze

The Truffle Burger, on the other hand, was delicious. Again, the meat is cooked a nice medium rare, and topped simply with a truffle-scented cheese. I really liked the subtle truffle flavor in this burger and gobbled it up pretty quickly.

We saved room for dessert and went to Scoops to fill that void. I’d never been to Scoops before for some reason – with it being one of the more popular ice cream joints in the city, a visit was far overdue.

Scoops offers only a few flavors each day, but they’re usually pretty unique.

The first one we tried here was the espresso coffee and salty chocolate. Both of these were very rich, with a good, deep flavor.

This second one is the coconut Thai iced tea ice cream and chocolate. The Thai iced tea was delicious – refreshing and really reminiscent of the drink.

Lastly we had the brown bread and peanut butter toffee. The brown bread was very interesting – mildly sweet with small bits of crispy cereal. The peanut butter tasted very much like peanut butter. Given that, it was good for the first few bites but got tiring rather quickly.

Most of the ice cream came out a bit softer than I would like, so they melted pretty quick too. I’m not sure if it’s always like this, or if the freezer temperature was just not as cold this day.

Father’s Office – 5/8/10

Father’s Office
3229 Helms Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Father’s Office is one of the best (in my opinion – the best) gastropubs in Los Angeles. In my opinion, they also have the best burger in the city. Granted, I haven’t tried a number of the chief competitors (Umami Burger , Rustic Canyon, 8 oz., Foundry come to mind), but this burger has so far been my #1 – taking into account the Counter, Lazy Ox, 25 Degrees, Pie ‘n Burger, Back Abbey, and Golden State. This was the first stop in a mini tour of burgers/gastropubs with Golden State.

Father’s Office is an extremely popular spot, with those seeking chef Sang Yoon’s gourmet fare for reasonable prices, top-notch beers,  or just a place open late with food and drink. Yoon, who comes from a fine dining background, is one of the first in the trend of fine dining restaurateurs opening up burger joints.  While the menu consists of a number of great dishes, the biggest draw is the burger.

Office Burger – dry-aged strip steak, blue cheese, arugula and bacon-onion compote on French bread

The patty was a nicely cooked medium-rare – so juicy that the bottom of the bun was getting a bit soggy. I don’t think the French bread bun is anything special, and would maybe prefer a brioche-type, or something softer. The caramelized onions add a nice sweetness to counteract the arugula’s bite, and really go well with the beefy meat. A very rich burger – it’s definitely the best I’ve had in LA.

The sweet potato fries are also a big draw and are delicious. Nicely crisp, with a soft, moist interior.

TO paid with my burger, I had one of my favorite beers – Pliny the Elder. Father’s Office is one of only a handful of bars in the city to offer Pliny.

Father Office rarely disappoints. The biggest drawback, however, is that it gets so damn crowded all the time. Given the quality of the food, the impressive selection of beers and wines, and the relaxed atmosphere – it’s no wonder why it’s so popular.