Monday, March 31, 2014

Berger Review: Favorite Burgers of California: In-N-Out Burger, Umami Burger and Grill-A-Burger, Los Angeles and Palm Desert, CA

Eight days in California was not only our chance for warmth and sunshine, but also the opportunity to eat some terrific burgers.  While we didn't have a burger every day, we came pretty close.  And these were some of our favorites:

- In-N-Out Burger:  Planting an In-N-Out steps from LAX is genius.  This pretty much assures you a good burger when you land or one right before you depart, or both.  Every time we hit an In-N-Out we are devastated that they do not exist in New York.  I know they talk about the quality and how its hard to maintain, yet they figured out a way to bring it to Texas.  They could figure out New York.  Just saying...

In-N-Out strives on its simplicity. Burger, fries and shakes. Add cheese, add sauce.
Simple and perfect.  The boys and I chose plain burgers, JB had the works with sauce.  Some fries and vanilla shake make this the ideal off the plane lunch.  

In-N-Out is also a great social equalizer, families, people in business suits, workmen - everyone goes there for same thing - one (or two, or three) great burger(s).  And fries.  And shakes.

For locations visit

- Grill-A-Burger: No, not all of our favorite burger places have hyphens in their name, just two out of three.  If you stepped inside Grill-A-Burger, you'd quickly agree.  It is the exact opposite of In-N-Out with 30 burgers to choose from, plus mini burgers, salads, sides and sandwiches.  Just reading their menu could take all night.  

Tucked in a strip mall in Palm Desert, a few blocks from the main drag, is this unassuming place with, dare I say, tacky palm tree wallpaper and very friendly service.   We were lucky to have a table ready within minutes and started down the path of ordering.

Some research showed that this place is consistently rated the best burger in the greater Palm Springs area and I agree.  There is something for everyone.

JB had spent the day playing golf and rewarded himself with a Big Mock - their take on the McDonald's original complete with double decker patties, American cheese, lettuce, onion, pickles and special sauce on a sesame bun.

My Oooh LaLa! Parisan Bistro Burger was oozing with boursin cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and garlic aoli.  Huge and delicious, while I didn't feel that I was in a Parisian Bistro, I definitely felt like it had the Oooh LaLa effect.  And I would order it again.

But our favorite item of the night was a simple starter of California Avocado Fries.  Just like it sounds these bad boys come rolled in panko and fried in beer batter with your choice of dipping sauces.  The sauce we choose tasted just like key lime pie and I wanted to lick the dish clean.  I almost did.  I've already asked JB to try to replicate these - but to date, he still has not tried.

73091 Country Club Drive at Monterey Avenue
Palm Desert, CA

- Umami Burger: We started our California adventure with a burger and I was determined to finish it the same way.  Umami Burger, a small chain founded in California that recently expanded to New York, was our destination.  We were lucky to go to the Anaheim locale which is much less crowded then some of the others in LA (like the one at Fred Segal in Santa Monica which was packed the day I did some damage).  

Umami is defined as that fifth taste and I think I know what it is: YUM.  Since this was our last meal, we went a little overboard.

JB determined to keep up the double burger trend had the B.U.B. which is two patties, bacon, beer cheddar, onions, pickles and mustard, plus that ever important middle bun.  Because why have two pieces of bread when you can have three.  He was a huge fan.

I opted for the Truffle Burger which had not only truffle cheese but a truffle glaze on top of the delicious burger with a garlic aioli.  This was the best burger of the trip.  You really can't go wrong with truffles. Ever.

The thin fries were shoestring style and pretty amazing, too.  The boys devoured their completely plain burger, as usual.

I can't wait to go back.  And luckily, we won't have to go too far.  In addition to their Greenwich Village location, they are about to open another in the Financial District.

Find your closest location at

Until our next Berger,

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Scrapple and the Mob: Kitchen Consigliere, Collingswood, NJ and Ponzio's, Cherry Hill, NJ

Say what you will about New Jersey, but it's never boring.  A recent venture where I dined in a Mob-themed Italian restaurant and followed by a scrapple breakfast proved this true.

Collingswood, New Jersey still has hints of a Mob-led town where several authentic Italian restaurants serve up excellent fare.  But Kitchen Consigliere goes a step further by incorporating the decor into the theme.  Servers are in full-on Bugsy Malone outfits, the light fixtures are old revolvers and black and white Mafia films air during dinner.

All restaurants in Collingswood are BYO since the town is dry (another throwback) so the prices are slightly inflated to make up for the fact that no one is making money on alcohol.  That said, service is also a little rushed so they can turn the tables faster.   BUT, this place is still full every night because the food ranges from good to amazing.

We tried the Rice Balls to start - these were huge and very crispy. Pancetta was a nice touch.  As suspected though, they did not live up to Marie's, another New Jersey establishment we loved last year.

I attempted to order a health(ier) entree and chose Chicken Sorrento which is sautéed chicken, mozzarella, grilled eggplant and fresh tomatoes.  My healthy vision went out the window when I realized it also came in a white wine butter sauce.  This did help mask the fact that the tomatoes were horribly out of season.

A better pick would have been the Sunday Gravy which my dining companions loved.  The large, steaming hot sausage, meatballs, spare ribs and braciolo over rigatoni covered in a lovely marinara sauce would have done the trick.  Or, alternatively, the house specialty eggplant parmesan is supposed to be amazing.

To make up for my poor entree choice, we chose the Pizzelle and Red Velvet Cake for dessert.  Both were massive in size and huge on taste.

The next morning, we went from one extreme to the other, when we dined at Ponzio's, a local diner.  I ordinarily wouldn't deem a diner like this blog-worthy had it not been for the scrapple.

I did not know what scrapple was and, truthfully, I would have preferred to keep it that way.  For those of you who don't know though, it is (from Wikipedia): a mush of deep fried pork scraps and trimmings, combined with cornmeal, flour and spices.  If there ever were a reason to become Kosher, this might be it.  I'd stay away.  But if you're intrigued the info is below.

Until our next Berger,

Kitchen Consigliere
700 Haddon Avenue
Collingsswood, NJ

7 West Route 70
Cherry Hill, NJ

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Phoenix Round Up – Los Dos Molinos, Arrogant Butcher & Province: Phoenix, AZ

Going to Phoenix in the winter is a no-brainer for the weather.  For the food, however, it can be hit or miss.  My all-time favorite in the Valley of the Sun is Lon’s at the Hermosa – sitting outside under the stars next to an outdoor fireplace – it is the perfect place to escape from anywhere.  Sadly, Lon’s was not on the agenda this visit, but we did hit a few interesting spots.
The highlights:
Los Dos Molinos
Many years ago, I went to a small Tex-Mex restaurant in NYC by the same name, and it was far from your average taco joint.  So, when scoping restaurants for our first night, I remembered that it originated in Phoenix and thought it might be time to try it again.  Turns out the NYC outpost has since closed, but the original Los Dos Molinos is going strong and has a few other outposts in the valley (we dined at the Camelback location).

The food technically is New Mexican, not Tex-Mex, and the biggest difference I see between the two is SPICE.  Wow – was everything hot.  A red and a green salsa accompanied the chips, and though the red was milder, no one could tell.  It was, however, an excellent excuse to keep drinking sangria.

An order of guacamole worked as our palate cleanser.  The lime green color seemed lighter than most guacamoles I’ve eaten though the taste was the same.  Nachos covered in cheese and chorizo were arranged as pie and deemed chorizo pizza, and a delicious one at that. 
Dinner was Enchiladas all around.  My shredded beef version was spicy though it was tempered by the accompanying rice and beans.   A chicken version was also a hit. 
Kind of makes me wish the NYC version still existed.

Various locations in Phoenix, AZ

The Arrogant Butcher
Fresh off a spicy evening, lunch time meant salad time for our large group.  The Arrogant Butcher in downtown Phoenix is the just the spot for the al fresco lunch and wishing your lunch break were just a little bit longer.

Right in the shadow of Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks) and the US Airways Center (home of the Phoenix Suns), the Arrogant Butcher is the place before or after a game when you want something more than the local sports bar.  Sure they have beer and wings, but they also have charcuterie and olives and cheeses. 

I had the “Famous” Oriental Chicken Salad tossed in an Asian Vinaigrette with chicken, wontons, lettuce, almonds, it was good but I’m not sure famous-worthy.  Famous-worthy, though, was the Kale Salad with Salmon, Almonds and Currants that no one at my table could stop eating or talking about.  In fact, there were several post-lunch conversations about how to recreate this at home. 

My only gripe was that bread and oil we requested (and which was quite nice) came at a cost of $3.  Charging for bread when you are already charging $15 for salads seems extreme to me. 
 2 East Jefferson Street
Phoenix, AZ
I was skeptical when we decided to go to a restaurant called “Province” that was supposed to be French but mainly served Tapas in the new Westin in downtown Phoenix.  Lots of red flags were going off when a waitress declared it “Winedown Wednesdays” and that all bottles of wine were half price.  So we stayed.
Bread came immediately and was a pleasing plantain focaccia with a lovely dipping oil.  (And was free, Ahem, Arrogant Butcher). 

We did start with tapas.  Shrimp tacos were sub-par on a very bready-tortilla.  A sea bass ceviche was almost flavorless.  Chicken empanadas were OK, though on the dry side.  I did love the chorizo meatballs that came in a mini-skillet covered in cheese.  (Note to self: I really need to eat more chorizo). 

We had also ordered some soups and salad which came soon before we finished our tapas.  So our table was crowded and we felt rushed.  A chicken tortilla soup lacked the usual zest.  The Chili-spiced Caesar salad, though, was well done.  Maybe the best thing on the menu?
And before those were finished, a skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and mashed potatoes arrived.  While the sauce on the side was fine, the meat itself lacked some seasoning and so the sauce had to compensate.

A chocolate cupcake with a corresponding chocolate sorbet helped the meal end on a high note.

I will give the restaurant points for cool décor, a living moss wall and some upside down trees hanging from the ceiling.  So go for a drink, but that’s about it.  (And I hear they have a good happy hour from 11AM to 5PM on weekdays)
 333 N. Central Ave
Phoenix, AZ

Until our next Burger,

Round Up Recap:
Los Dos Molinos: Go
Arrogant Butcher:  Go  
Province:  No Go 

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Chinatown Destination: Fu Run, Flushing, NY

Today's post on Thrillist titled The Definitive Eating Guide to Flushing, Queens is pretty spot on.   Bookmark it for your next visit to the "Real Chinatown."  The only place missing is Fu Run, where we recently enjoyed a birthday celebration for JB.

Just off of Main Street in Flushing, we were the only non-Asians at this unassuming restaurant.  The food is technically Northern Chinese, which is heavier and, I think better, than your standard fare.

Our party of 10 was placed in a separate room with a huge round table complete with a lazy Susan.  And that table quickly filled up with some of the most delicious Chinese food I've ever eaten.

In truth, we overordered.  We loved almost everything we sampled including:

- Muslim Lamb: This was the dish that brought us here.  Google this term and countless pictures of this dish will appear.  Fall of the bone lamb ribs are completely encrusted in cumin.  It's greasy and spicy and amazing.

- Crispy Beef: Same cumin but with fried beef.  This was a home run, too.

- Pork & Leek Dumplings: We got 2 orders of these steamed beauties.  The leeks added an additional kick and made the ordinary extraordinary.

- Eggpant in Brown Sauce: Fried and creamy purple delights, another winner

- Sauteed Shrimp: These shrimp were lighter than I expected and the accompanying sea cucumbers were a welcome treat

- Mao Pao Tofu: Huge chunks of silky tofu served almost as a palate cleanser for the other spicier fare.  This perfectly complemented many of the other dishes.

The more typical Chinese food here is just OK.  Chicken and broccoli seemed unauthentic, almost too American.  Chicken lo mein was greasy.  Bowls of hot and sour soup were massive yet ordinary.  

But you are not in Flushing for typical Chinese food.  You are here for food that is innovative and different.  Add this to your list.  And whatever you do, please, please, please order that Muslim Lamb.

Until our next Berger,

4009 Prince Street
Flushing, NY 11354

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Korean Find: Surasang, Syosset, NY

When our travels find us hungry - my first instinct is to go for the local Burger place.  But even better, is a hole in the wall, ethnic spot, where we can indulge on something delicious and special that is not in our backyard.

Last night, Korean fit the bill.  I had read an article recently in the Long Island section of the New York Times that featured noodle soup spots (given the winter we've been having.)  The article mentioned a beef dumpling soup, Mandoo Gook, at a Korean establishment called Surasang in Syosset.  We were in.  

This is Long Island strip mall dining at it's best.  From the outside, the sign just reads "Korean Restaurant".  On the inside, it is a non-descript quiet room with a few tables run by a Korean family with a predominantly Korean clientele.  Hot pots don most of the tables. This is our kind of place.

Typical to most other Korean spots I've enjoyed, the minute you order you are presented with numerous small dishes of spicy delicacies - Kim Chi, Eggplant, Spinach, Potato, Zucchini, Radish - each flavored perfectly to complement the meal.  

First up for us was Korean Fried Chicken.  Slathered in a hot, sesame sauce our 6-piece order of wings and drumsticks didn't last long.  And yes, eating wings with chopsticks is the norm here. 

Then, the aforementioned Mandoo Gook soup, was perfect for a cold winter's night.  A huge bowl of an egg drop-type both with cellophane noodles and close to a dozen perfect beef dumplings became my favorite dish of the evening.  The dumplings themselves were steamed and full of spices that resonated with each bite.  And these dumplings were light, too - not an easy feat.

To finish, a sizzling plate of Bulgogi - barbecued rib eyesteak - helped us end our meal on a perfect note.  

We also contemplated a Bi Bim Bop, but settled just with plain rice for all. Next time for sure. And yes, there will be a next time. 

Until our next Berger, 

Surasan (aka the Korean Restaurant)
336 Jericho Turnpike
Syosset, NY 

No website but plenty of reviews on Yelp