Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

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This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

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The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

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Harvest, Brattle Street, Harvard, Boston

A beautiful burger that doesn’t quite live up to appearances

Burger source

I was in Boston for work and my brother happened to be in town to launch the phenomenal Jagged Little Pill musical at the American Repertory Theater. So, we met beforehand and shared a burger and a lobster roll at this popular eatery in the centre of the Harvard campus.

The order

Arvind had the lobster roll; I took on the menu’s sole burger, served with skin on hand cut fries; gratifyingly I was given the option of having it cooked medium, which I took. We shared a cold-cuts and cheese platter to begin with, and a deconstructed Boston cream pie for pudding. Seeing as it was my first trip to Boston, and I was being a tourist, I also had a Sam Adams.

The meat of it

As you can see from the photo, the presentation of this burger is glorious; it’s a perfect stack, a glorious melt on the cheese, fresh, bright salad in call caught between a perfect, lightly seeded roll – I think a non-enriched potato roll rather than a brioche.

The cross section promises even more; the meat’s a perfect pink the whole way through, no graying at the edges and what looks like a decent char on the meat. The grind is coarse and its juicy without soaking the bun. So far, so brilliant. Pickle on the side, tomato, onion and lettuce leaves piled on top of the cheese.

And then the taste; this is where it lets itself down a bit. It’s every bit as juicy as it looks, but the char isn’t quite there so the whole impact is a little soft; in essence, not the best mouthfeel. This could have been addressed with some crispy bacon, or a slightly hotter griddle and a little more seasoning. The meat was good but with this finish they should probably mix up their meat blend – it tasted a little bland; wonder if they overdid the chuck and could have done with some rump in there. But I’m a meat blend amateur here, so could easily be wrong. The salad was as fresh and crisp as it looked; the cheese was a little gungey and bland, and the roll, whilst sturdy, did little to balance out the burger. A brioche might actually have helped with sweet/savoury contrast, as might some burger relish (ketchup is a necessary condiment here). Net impact: it’s tasty but not interesting, sadly. Which is a real shame as so many elements were done really well.

The fries – were slightly limp. They would have benefited from a second, or third, fry. That said, these are high grade potatoes, the seasoning was great, and they tasted good. The portion was the size of my head so they remained largely unfinished.

The cold cuts and cheese were delicious – sorry I didn’t grab a pic. We had a triple-cream soft cheese, like a soft extra salty brie, served with small whole meal toast triangles, prosciutto di parma, cornichons and a sort of beetroot puree. $12 well spent between us.

The Boston Cream pie was really nice, but I have no frame of reference. I understand it’s normally a traditional sponge with cream and chocolate sauce; this deconstructed variant makes me really want to have the original; soft, airy sponge, thick sweet butter frosting/icing, crunchy chocolate pieces and sweet chocolate sauce – what’s not to like?

Sam Adams – is a solid American lager, and tastes exactly the same as it does when you get it on import in the UK. I, worryingly, seem to be acquiring a taste for interesting lagers these days.

I traded a bit of burger with Arvind for a bit of his lobster roll – I’m not a huge lobster roll fan, as find the flavour of the lobster to be too rich for my liking. But you could tell this was special; the bread is a heavily buttered and crisp brioche, kind of like a luxury grilled cheese texture; the lobster was fresh and utterly free of the fishy flakiness you get when you’re not in the lobster roll capital of the world. There was, if anything, too much lobster for the roll!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 5/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4.5/5

Value – ??/5 – A friend picked up the tab but the pricing looked reasonable, even allowing for the ludicrous 20% service that’s more or less standard in the US. $16 for the burger and fries.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s good, but not great. I think if I asked for it medium well and with bacon, it’d probably jump up quite a bit – and perhaps even more if I switched the cheese. So try that if you go!

The deets

It’s just off Brattle, a five minute walk from the Harvard metro station, near the American Repertory theater. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend it — good food, a lovely buzz (though it was graduation week so everything was busy!) and all the food looked great. Portions are big – bring your appetite. Website here for more info.

25 degrees, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles

 

Damp. Sloppy. Messy. But more good than bad in his Hollywood burger…

Burger source

Here’s the name, explaining the point of difference for the burger chefs at 25 degrees:

“Named after the precise temperature difference between a raw and well-done hamburger, 25 Degrees introduces a sophisticated twist on the traditional American burger bar. At 25 Degrees, we not only emphasize the importance of quality hamburgers, but we also serve up an unrivaled experience- complete with chic décor, playful servers and a stream of funky tunes.”

The beef burger meat is apparently ground sirloin, though turkey, tuna and veggie burgers were also on offer alongside a variety of other bits of SoCal Americana, including Grilled Cheese and Kale salads.

The order

There are only four ‘pre-assembled’ beef burgers on the menu – names one through four – though you can have any combination of toppings you want custom assembled.

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That is one big burger

I went for number 1 – gorgonzola cheese, thousand island sauce, grilled onions and crispy bacon, as it was the closest to my more or less reviewer’s standard of a bacon cheeseburger, and I figured it’d give an authentic experience of how the chefs here like to see their burgers assembled. I was asked how I wanted it done, and opted for medium rare as that seems to be the going standard in this part of the world.

The meat of it

The 8oz behemoth makes an impression. This is a BIG BURGER. It has to be coaxed out of the wrapping, and then it flopped onto the plate, trailing juice and thousand island sauce that had come away with moisture from the resting meat. The bottom half of the brioche bun was completely sodden and the burger was practically unhandlable. The thousand island sauce also made the burgery slippery, and it fought for freedom as I sliced it in half.

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Juicy

The cross section cut showed the problem. Whilst the loosely packed, coarse ground patty (with what must have been at least a 25% fat ratio) had been cooked to perfection, the meat/bread ratio was far off sensible. And the saucey toppings took things further out of control; a surfeit of gorgonzola cheese bled onto the plate and grilled onions were flying out with every bite. The bacon, not as generously delivered as the onions or cheese, fails to deliver textural contrast throughout the burger – it just doesn’t have enough coverage. And the arugula (rocket for the uninitiated) adds very little to the overall impact of the burger.

That said, the burger taste itself was not bad – the meat was well seasoned and had a dry-aged funkiness to it that only high quality meat does. The bacon – when it was present – added a delicious salty crunch. The bun and onions contributed a sweetish undertone to what would otherwise have been a very salty burger. The burger’s moistness played really well for mouthfeel. It would just have been better a couple of ounces lighter and the toppings could have been better thought through.

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Magic onion rings, oh yeah.

As for the sides… we ordered a half-n-half onion-ring / fries combo for $7.50. The onion rings were extraordinary. Well seasoned with a light heat, the first bite delivered a wonderful savory crunch… soon followed by a sweet aftertaste as you chewed the onion. The fries were just OK – rosemary and salt on thin cut McDonald’s style fried that weren’t all as fully cooked as they should have been.

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Chipotle sauce vs. Spicy Aioli – spot the difference

$2 bought a selection of sauces; we chose BBQ (American BBQ is sweeter than its British counterpart, and this lacked any other personality to speak of), Chipotle and spicy Aioli.  We honestly couldn’t tell the last two apart, both tasted like mildly spicy mayonnaise. But they were good.

FYI – my brother had a grilled cheese  ((over-thick brad and under-melted cheese) and soup, and his wife had a salad. We did a good amount of sharing to get through it all.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3/5 – $17 for a burger with no fries is excessive, even for the standards of the West Coast..

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – Like many here, this burger is more than the sum of its parts.

The deets

This restaurant is in the base of the Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. You can’t miss it -we walked in on a busy Saturday afternoon and got a booth to ourselves.

Marlowe, 500 Brannan Street, San Francisco

 

Outstanding burger in lovely restaurant in SoMA.

Burger source

My first night in SFO (ever) for a business trip, and US colleague Rene booked us into Marlowe – also on the top three favourite restaurant list of my AirBNB host. Awesome start.

Other than billing the burger as one of the most popular in the city (well marketed by my French bartender), there’s little detail on the meat’s origins, burger style, etc. on the menu. An enigma! Exciting.

The order

Whilst there was a Sunday special that swapped bacon for porcini mushrooms and added gem lettuce and pickles for crunch and tang… I opted for the standard Marlowe burger for the experience. It comes with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli and what looked like fresh cut herb fries. The burger itself – my charming French waiter repeatedly advised – was cooked medium rare… and was I OK with that? Heck, yeah.

The meat of it

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The burger is a ~6oz affair, with a soft-ish white roll well coated with horseradish aioli, and with the patty topped with the onions, crisp fresh lettuce, mega-crispy streaky bacon and super melty cheddar. The “medium rare” looked somewhat medium to me, but no complaints there. The lean/fat ratio was 80/20 according to my French gourmand, so it wasn’t overly juicy but moist enough. The aioli made it somewhat slippery in the stack, and it was somewhat hard to handle. That said; the meat was coarse ground and loosely packed, making for a tender bite and an amazing amount of umami. The crisp bacon and lettuce adds a nice textural contrast and the aioli adds to the meat’s juiciness to take the edge off a slightly too-firm-for-my-taste burger bun. The onions added a little sweetness to the whole thing. The overall impact was excellent, although I must admit, I ate the second half with my cutlery rather than by hand…

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The fries are exceptional; herby, salty, crispy with a soft centre. The side of horseradish aioli was more than I needed; a little ketchup to take the edge off was a better fit for my palate.

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Drinks-wise; an excellent selection of Bourbon had me sample an Elijah Craig small batch, followed by a Templeton Rye Old Fashioned – utterly delicious and unexpectedly sweet for a Rye. I liked it!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3.5/5 – slippery, off centre
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 3/5 – $34 for the burger and sides – which I think is reasonable for San Francisco – and about $1m for the drinks. This city is EXPENSIVE. Subject to review once I’ve eaten anywhere else and know how this stacks up against anywhere else.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – you have to be pretty nitpicky to fault the flavour combinations here, and the overall experience is amazing and more than makes up for the minor shortcomings. Hugely recommend it.

The deets

Marlowe is in SoMA in San Francisco, 500 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. You can make a booking via 415-777-1413 or online at OpenTable. It was busy on a Sunday night – most other places were shut – so do book!