Upland

I’m surprised I’ve never been to Upland before. For one, it’s the type of place I categorically love: clean, quasi-modern aesthetic with luxurious green leather booths and jars of fermenting lemons lining the walls. There’s something very charming about the interior, although the facade itself won’t tell you much about what’s inside. But, the other perplexing part of today being my first and only visit to Upland is simply that I worked down the street from it for three years.

Upland’s namesake comes from the California town that “laid the groundwork” for chef Justin Smillie’s love of cooking. Wherever Upland is, whatever it may have in store for discerning palates, I’m extremely pleased that chef Smillie brought his talents and affinity for California cooking to Flatiron, NYC. When I tell you this place is awesome, I surely hope you believe me.

Our smiling waitress brought over a complimentary bottle of sparkling water to us and handed us a few brunch menus. That Upland labels the menus with the current month speaks to its reliance on seasonal cooking–something I admire. Yet, chef Smillie doesn’t go overboard with his consultation of the seasons: there are dishes you’ll actually want to eat and seem “normal.”

upland pastry basket

pastry basket

We started with the pastry basket, which is chock full of sweet and savory treats. The lemon poppyseed muffin, grapefruit poundcake, baguette, and cheddar and bacon (!) scone were true standouts. It’s no error here that I’ve named the majority of what came in the pastry basket–everything was that good. MDP even commented that the grapefruit poundcake had just the right amount of lemon flair, unlike some confections we had recently sampled.

upland eggs in hell

eggs in hell

MDP opted for a dish called “eggs in hell” that tasted very fresh and enticing. The eggs were runny–not my cup of tea–but he was unfazed and gobbled them up. The sauce was rife with fresno chiles, oregano, and truly spectacular tomato. Grilled bread came on the side, the perfect accompaniment for sopping up the delicious tomato goodness.

upland cheeseburger

upland cheeseburger

I’ve been building up to the moment when I would tell you about this burger I had at Upland. Here’s the spoiler: it was one of the best I’ve ever had. New York magazine tipped me off to this gem, and boy am I glad they did. It’s like a Big Mac but oh so much better. Two cheese-topped patties sat upon a fantastic sesame roll whose crust was crisp and yet the body of the bun was soft. And true to California cooking, chef Smillie put delicately sliced avocado slivers on the burger. I didn’t even have to ask. I was in heaven. The combination of flavors–the unique peppers, the ideal bun, the perfect amount of grease, I could go on–made this a memorable dining experience. At $20, the burger costs a pretty penny but is well worth the fee, ounce for ounce. And the matchstick fries that come with the burger are plenty, offering enough bite to be satisfying.

Our lovely waitress asked if we’d like dessert at the end of the meal, but I was already so stuffed we had to decline. But, given my love for both the ambiance and food, I’m sure MDP and I will return to try dinner one night.

Now, be aware that the burger is only served for brunch and lunch. So plan accordingly.

Upland
345 Park Avenue South (at 26th Street)
Flatiron, New York
Take the 6 to 28th Street and walk south a few blocks.

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Ruby’s

There’s something very special about Australia. I don’t say this only because a dear friend of mine hails from the land down under. And it’s not their divine accents, either, or Foster’s in the giant can, which is, apparently, an American thing and not how it’s actually served in Australia. I simply love their slang. “Dunny” for bathroom and “chat to you” instead of “chat with you” as a mode of conveying a brief, but intimate talk with someone. But, now I’ve found something else to love about Australia: their take on the hamburger. A thoroughly American dish, the hamburger is something I take very seriously here in NYC, and have a lot of opinions on what matters when it comes to crafting the perfect one. I’ll tell you something: Ruby’s, an adorable Australian cafe in NoLita, has hit the nail right on the head when it comes to serving up a delicious burger.

Bronte burger at Ruby's

bronte burger

I selected Ruby’s out of an array of choices Yelp offered me yesterday morning. I was looking for a good burger somewhere in the vicinity of MDP’s workplace, and came across the little Aussie place on Mulberry Street. In general, people seemed to favor the “Bronte” burger in the reviews, which left me feeling wary as I do not trust devotees of any restaurant on Yelp. One reviewer complained about the poor service at Ruby’s–after 10 p.m. one night. Anyone who thinks they’re going to get good service at a restaurant past 8 p.m. any night is out of their mind, in my humble opinion.

So, I hopped the N train and shuttled down to Prince Street, where I detrained and ambled over to Mulberry. Walking down any street in NoLita/SoHo is a treat, since the cute shops and boutiques take exacting care in articulating their brand in the great wide windows facing the sidewalk. Nestled among a Kiehl’s outlet and obscure clothing stores, Ruby’s sits close to Spring Street. Its welcoming exterior draws you in, and they even have several seats in the foyer for hungry “breakie” (as they call breakfast) patrons to use while waiting for a table in the tiny space.

fried chicken burger at Ruby's

fried chicken burger

The dinner menu is spare, with no appetizers to speak of, and short lists of pastas, salads and burgers to sample. In typical fashion, I ordered the Bronte burger with avocado, and felt very grateful that the fine chefs at Ruby’s elect to thinly slice the great green fruit before placing it on the sandwich. Often, adding the avocado is an afterthought, so it usually comes out in huge chunks or in halves, bulging out from under the bun. The Bronte burger comes with “premium” ground beef (which it clearly is, at first bite), tomato, lettuce, sweet chili, cheese and mayo, all compactly situated on a ciabatta roll. The combination of flavors left me speechless. I have to say, Ruby’s Bronte creation is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Re-read the last sentence carefully and take into consideration the gravity of this statement.

MDP opted for the fried chicken burger, which has a misleading name. I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly, but what came out was a hefty breast of buttermilk fried chicken on a sesame roll, with some coleslaw dripping off the sides. It was perfect, and I highly recommend this dish if you’re not into burgers.

Now, as for the fries that can optionally accompany the burgers: they are saturated in truffle oil and chopped parsley (I think?), and deliver a satisfying flavor. Although I ate all of the fries that were served to me, I felt the repetition of the truffle flavor overwhelmed my taste buds. But, for the truffle fanatic, this is the side to get.

salted caramel pots de creme at Ruby's

salted caramel pots de creme

Like the other menus, the dessert list is rather minimal, but I implore you–do get the salted caramel pots de creme. MDP observed that the split pea color of the substance seemed undesirable, but, after one bite, I was completely sold on their fine dessert. First, the buttery caramel sings as you savor its flavor. Second, the “salted” in the salted caramel description is not in name only; the dish actually has a salty taste, but not in a bad way. I loved this dessert, and suggest you order it when you (inevitably, after reading this review) go to Ruby’s.

You must try this place, and, though the space is small, don’t worry about having a large group–they have a table for six in the back corner. Aside from the fact that they sat our party of two at a table for four (which, as I’ve said before, signals an uncanny level of hospitality), another thing I like about Ruby’s is the authentically Australian waitstaff, who are attentive, cheerful and charming.

If you’re not yet an Aussie fan, you will be after trying Ruby’s.

Ruby’s

219 Mulberry Street (between Prince and Spring streets)

NoLita/SoHo, New York

Take the N to Prince and walk along Prince to Mulberry, turn right and walk toward Spring. Or, take the 6 to Spring Street, walk toward Mulberry, turn left and you’ve arrived!

P.S. Below is what my view was of Times Square last night around 6 p.m. I know what you’re thinking: where’s Grover?

IMG_0473

Village Whiskey (Philadelphia)

Philadelphia has definitely been undergoing a food revolution over the past few years. While I (obviously) don’t live there to attest to this fact first-hand, it’s all I’ve been hearing about the city of late. “It’s the sixth borough,” say those who aspire to commuting to New York City from the relatively inexpensive city of brotherly love—and no respectable New Yorker would dream of moving to a place that didn’t have good food. While relocating may not be in the cards for me, an occasional visit never hurt anyone. I’m telling you—if you decide to stop at a bar, any bar, in Philadelphia, make it Village Whiskey in the Rittenhouse neighborhood.

village whiskey village burger

village burger

Village Whiskey features an unmarked exterior, which emanates the speakeasy vibe that comes from within. When you walk through the double glass doors into the mini-lobby where a hostess meets you, you feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. Inside, the walls are lined with white subway tile and stately, dark brown leather booths for a clean, masculine feel. Fewer than 10 high tables dot the left side of the place with a decent bar certain to be packed with locals who enjoy the occasional (or frequent) whiskey on the right.

You see, the eponymous spirit in Village Whiskey’s name is a favorite of Chef Jose Garces—and they’ve got plenty of it. The menu comprises more than 80 whiskeys, which recalls the thorough whiskey list of Maysville. Although Village Whiskey charges a pretty penny for their drinks, they at least offer a decent pour, unlike Maysville where bartenders measure 2 oz. of liquid and serve that up as a “drink.” If you’re into whiskey, you’ll want to stop here, but don’t be surprised if you can’t get a table or a seat at the bar.

village whiskey bbp pork sammy

bbp pork sammy

Now, what about the food? Well, it is, in a word, excellent. I ordered the 8 oz. Village burger, featuring tomato, lettuce and house made thousand island dressing on a delectable sesame bun. I opted to add the mild tasting Jasper Hill cheddar. The puck-like burger was fantastic. The meat was tender and flavorful, and it had a delicious char on the exterior. I can see why Village Whiskey claims they have one of the best in the country.

MDP got the bbq pork sammy and he was very pleased with his selection. While I felt the sandwich had an understated pork flavor, he commented that it could have had more sauce. His sandwich came with fried pickles that were quite good.

village whiskey duck fat fries

duck fat fries

We also ordered the duck fat fries, which were good, but I expected their flavor to be a departure from fries cooked in, say, peanut oil.

Village Whiskey also has a lobster macaroni and cheese dish that I would be interested to try next time I go. And they’ve also got a good selection of drinks on tap, including Crispin apple cider, for anyone who isn’t into the whiskey menu.

I highly recommend Village Whiskey, but definitely go there during off hours (mid-afternoon on a weekend, possibly weeknights) to ensure you grab a table. One last thing worth mentioning is that Village Whiskey has an outpost in Atlantic City, for all you Jersey folks who don’t want to make the trek to Philadelphia (though you should).

Village Whiskey

118 S. 20th Street (across from the Shake Shack, on the corner of Samson and S. 20th)

Rittenhouse, Philadelphia

Dram Shop

To be honest with you, I find it hard to believe that I have not yet written about Dram Shop. It’s probably one of my favorite places in New York. Sometimes, I think, I subconsciously (and selfishly) keep good places to myself and do not share them on Taylor’s Ham, so that it can be for me, and only me. But I recognize the error in my ways and would like you to know about and visit Dram Shop.

dram shop burger

burger

It’s located in Park Slope, on 9th Street between 5th and 6th avenues. It’s kind of like the part of Park Slope that people may not want to call Park Slope since the streets aren’t as tree-lined and pristine, and the brownstones are not on their second or third renovation. Yet, I am fairly certain this bar is, in fact, located in Park Slope.

MDP and I were on our way to a gig at the Bell House just a hop, skip and a jump away from Dram Shop’s locale. I felt it was a good time to return to the bar, a place I hadn’t been for at least a few years, since we had some time to kill before the show got underway. The place was hopping with eager fans of Ecuador shouting at the TV screen as they scored yet another goal in their World Cup game. We snagged a table near the entrance, but there are plenty of tables throughout the bar. And a pool table. And board games. So, if you come here, make an afternoon out of it.

dram shop fried chicken sandwich

fried chicken sandwich

Now, if you go to Dram Shop, you must order the burger. The standard is a double patty with shredded lettuce, tomato, mayo, diced onion, mustard and cheese (you can pick which kind you want). It is phenomenal. You can also order a single patty, but Dram Shop’s burgers are so thin and slender, two patties won’t kill ya. I opted for avocado and their chipotle mayo on the side, which made the burger even better. There’s something about the combination of toppings they give you that makes the burger outstanding. It also comes with fries, which are crisp and delicious.

MDP got the fried chicken sandwich that was topped with coleslaw, which I found to be an interesting, yet quite delectable choice. He was very satisfied with the sandwich and fries that accompanied his dish.

Oh, and don’t forget to order Miss Mcgrath’s Irish nachos to start. We didn’t get them this time, but last time we did, and they are amazing!

Dram Shop is a fantastic place to go on a lazy summer weekend. They’re showing all World Cup games, so it may not be as sleepy and relaxed as it normally is. But, come July 14, you’ll have the place to yourself. Go there. You won’t regret it.

Dram Shop

339 9th Street (between 5th and 6th avenues)

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Take the F/G to 4th Ave-9th Street; you can take the R to this stop too. Walk a few blocks.

Fort Lauderdale Food Tour 2013

This past week, my mom and I visited Fort Lauderdale. We soaked up the sun, took in some sites and ate lots of delicious food. I wanted to share with you my assessment of the food in Fort Lauderdale, so that, when you visit–and I hope you do–you can try some of the places I did on my trip.

But first, a view of the beach. (Ignore the random man in the foreground.)

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Fort Lauderdale Beach

We arrived Wednesday evening and decided to go to Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar down on Las Olas Boulevard. At 6 p.m., the place was already hopping. We parked our car in the valet lot (for a mere $5, which I wasn’t used to, obviously, since I live in New York and parking costs an arm and a leg here), and entered the dimly lit restaurant for some dinner. We opted for the nachos to start, which were outstanding. Thick layers of cheese, ground meat and tortilla chips, and big dollops of sour cream and guacamole filled the plate. Going on the recommendation of the place’s name, I ordered some tacos (chicken and chorizo) and felt less than impressed, but my mom’s burrito was very good. We also tried the tres leches cake for dessert, and this was undoubtedly the highlight of the meal. 

rocco's tacos nachos

nachos

The next morning, we woke bright and early and got a head start on the beautiful day. We went to The Original Pancake House, which is none too original considering the roughly 11 other locations that exist across the state. It seemed Florida is big on breakfast, particularly pancakes, so we were in good hands. I ordered the standard buttermilk flapjacks, while my mom got pigs in a blanket. I also tried a side of turkey sausage. All was very good, but the bill came to over $30, probably due to the fresh squeezed orange juice we ordered on a whim at the start of the meal. 

the original pancake house pigs in a blanket

pigs in a blanket

We skipped lunch and instead decided to have an early dinner at Le Tub, a remote saloon heralded for their burger. I was skeptical at first. The place has toilets in the front of it. But when we sat down, and a charming fellow dropped our menus on our table, I figured it had to be good. The view was inimitable. We saw the Water Taxi I’ve heard so much about pass us by on the water that Le Tub is built over. For an appetizer, we got the mozzarella sticks, which, as my mother observed, were not frozen-tasting, but rather very fresh and had melty, stringy cheese within. We both opted for the classic 13 oz. Le Tub burger, which was stacked high on a poppy seed bun with onion, lettuce and beautiful tomato fixins on the side. The burger was outstanding! The meat was amazing and the sear was perfect. It was juicy and I couldn’t finish it–but wanted to! We ordered fries, too, and they were pretty good. At the end of the meal, we got some key lime pie–because it’s my favorite and I couldn’t resist being so close to the real key limes to not have it–and it was phenomenal! So creamy, so limey. Le Tub’s key lime pie was my favorite, outpieing both the Rustic Inn and Casablanca Cafe, which I’ll report on later in this post. 

le tub burger

burger

For the second morning in a row, we woke early and got on the road to try Mom’s Kitchen, which was located out by the crappiest mall I’ve ever been to. (It was so bad, the nicest store in it was Target.) Mom’s Kitchen is in a strip mall, so I didn’t expect much. And really I didn’t get much in return from Mom’s. I ordered a special that came with biscuits and gravy, eggs, home fries, sausage patties and, for some reason, toast. Not sure why they give patrons toast when they already have biscuits as part of the dish, but I didn’t question it. I even specified rye toast and had it buttered–I’m glad I did since I ended up filling my gut on the toast. The first problem with my dish was the tepid white gravy. It lacked flavor. Next, the biscuits weren’t very good or fresh tasting. Third, the eggs were browned and nearly burnt. Not a fan of Mom’s, I have to say. My mom ordered the steak and eggs, and seemed to enjoy her dish.

mom's kitchen biscuits and gravy

biscuits and gravy

During the day, we went to Zoo Miami because it was overcast (it turned out to be beautiful in Miami), but returned to Fort Lauderdale to have dinner at Rustic Inn. Rustic Inn is not fancy, but it’s food is fresh and quite good. Although they are known for their garlic crabs, we opted for different dishes. We got the baked clams for an appetizer, which were good, but didn’t taste like clams to me. My mother observed that the stuffing reminded her of Thanksgiving. For my entree, I ordered the lobster fra diavolo, which was AMAZING! I’ve never had this dish before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was incredible. Clams, mussels, shrimp, crab and a whole lobster were placed over a pound of linguine in a delectable white sauce. It was so fantastic, yet so large I couldn’t finish it. Mom ordered the scallops, which seemed to literally melt in my mouth. Very good. I highly recommend the Rustic Inn. We also got the key lime pie, which was good, but didn’t knock my socks off. 

rustic inn scallops

scallops

The next day, we went to breakfast at Hibiscus Cafe, which is tucked away in a shopping center, and I nearly passed it. We sat outside, taking in the morning air and enjoying the sunshine (the theme of the trip). Mom ordered the migas, which came with fluffy eggs (as advertised), jalapenos, tortilla chips on top and cheese. She also got some spicy home fries. Hers was very good! I got the blue fried egg sammy, which was supposed to be a fried egg with blue cheese and arugula on some divine toast, but I was served an egg cooked over easy (and I don’t like runny eggs). I sucked it up and ate it anyway, but someone should let Hibiscus know that they should stick to the menu plan when making their dishes. Maybe I should have said something, but, as my mom said, I’m not one to send food back. This was the best breakfast of the week, despite my misgivings over the way the egg came out.

hibiscus cafe blue fried egg sammy

blue fried egg sammy

On our last night, I knew we had to go somewhere good. Originally, we thought about going to a Greek restaurant, but I found this place, Casablanca Cafe, in my guidebook and decided to give it a whirl. Just across the street from the beach, Casablanca Cafe has a scenic vista, yet is a very windy spot, indeed. We were first sat near the front of the outdoor dining area, but the wind was so extreme, we had to be moved inward toward the restaurant. On the pricey side, Casablanca Cafe is good for a special occasion. We ordered the burrata to start. It was creamy and incredible, yet very small. It was accompanied by some halved cherry tomatoes and arugula. I liked it. For our entrees, we ordered the twin lobster tails and the peppercorn dusted filet mignon, so that we could each have surf and turf for dinner. The lobster was tender and flavorful, but the steak was just average. I wouldn’t recommend getting the filet mignon, because it didn’t taste much like peppercorn (I suppose they could argue that it was “dusted” as opposed to “doused” with the substance). However, the vegetables and cream glaze that came with the steak were both very, very good. We ordered key lime pie for dessert, and this was pretty good, but, as I said earlier, Le Tub takes the cake for best key lime pie tried over our five-day stay. 

casablanca cafe twin lobster tails

twin lobster tails

All in all, the food in Fort Lauderdale was impressive. I enjoyed myself greatly, and hope you go there sometime and enjoy it as well! Unlike Miami, Fort Lauderdale is quite laid back and low key, so you can simply relax on the beach and try some delicious food, without the interference of too many rowdy young’uns.

Happy dining!

Clarke’s Standard

I’ll admit it: I’ve never been to P.J. Clarke’s. Everyone raves over their hamburger, but I have an inkling that it isn’t really that good. To me, P.J. Clarke’s is in the same camp with Donovan’s, which, in my estimation, never served a decent burger in its existence, yet had “Voted Best Hamburger in New York City” emblazoned on its facade. We all have our opinions.

clarke's standard's burgers

clarke’s standard’s burgers

Yet, when I heard Clarke’s Standards were popping up all around the city, I knew I had to try one. So, I picked the Clarke’s Standard most convenient to me (the one in Flatiron/Union Square) and gave it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.

The interior of Clarke’s Standard is cool, clean and comforting. Black-and-white photos of butchers of yore are plastered onto the walls. Friendly employees greet you and comment on your choices (“The Cadillac is the best burger on the menu,” one told me, when I whispered my selection to MDP). Clarke’s Standard is definitely an upgrade from the goodburger outpost that once stood in its place.

Now, the food. Clarke’s Standard boasts interesting offerings in the burger department. The Standard is, as you may be able to tell, a standard cheeseburger. Then, there’s the Cadillac that comes with white cheddar, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and their special sauce, which is something like Shack sauce, but not quite as thick. They also offer a Brooklyn Au Poivre edition of the burger, accompanied by cracked pepper sauce, gouda, and a few other toppings. There are several additional burgers on the menu, but these mentioned stood out to me as being the ones I’d like to try.

clarke's standard's cheesy tater tots

cheesy tater tots

And I was certainly impressed by the Cadillac. The ground angus beef was obviously fresh and extremely flavorful. Though my burger came out looking a bit disorganized, the delicious bacon and cheese added a hearty touch to the sandwich. I enjoyed the sauce, but felt there could have been more ladled on. MDP opted for the green chiles cheeseburger, which has American cheese, charred green chiles, garlic aioli, and mustard on top. I felt the chiles were apparent and bursting with flavor, but MDP did not see it this way. He experienced the heat of the peppers, but not the flavor–interesting dissonance.

We had to order the cheesy tater tots just because they sounded marvelous, as well as the natural cut fries. But the tots came out rolled in parmesan cheese, as opposed to having melted cheese dripping all over them. This was a minor disappointment. However, the tots were still pretty good–potatoy and crisp. The fries were definitely delicious. I might like these fries better than the Shake Shack’s fresh cut fries. “Might” is an underestimation–I definitely like Clarke’s Standard’s fries better. Unlike the Shack’s, which are flaccid and lacking flavor, Clarke’s Standard fries are medium-cut, rigid (in a good way), and chocked full of potato goodness.

All in all, Clarke’s Standard is pretty good. I’ve read some terrible reviews of it on Yelp, but this doesn’t surprise me. Just an aside: People don’t know what they want, unless it’s to complain, which is all they ever want to do on the Internet–and that’s about all Yelp is good for.

Clarke’s Standard

Multiple locations

New York, NY

San Francisco Food Tour

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I decided to take a trip to San Francisco last week. We had a great time! Although the city is gorgeous for its ambitious hills and lovely bay, the architecture left something to be desired. The city literally lacks luster, in stark contrast to shiny New York. But, the food is pretty good, so it’s definitely got something going for it. If you’re visiting any time soon, follow my food guide to learn about what to try and what to avoid.

We started our journey with a trip to the inimitable In-N-Out Burger on Jefferson Street. A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a stop at this incredible burger joint. I had a Double Double and Animal Style fries. The burger was extraordinary and the creative use of grilled onions on the fries delighted me.

In-N-Out Double Double

Double Double

After In-N-Out, we walked up to Ghirardelli Square and stopped by the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. We ordered the classic sundae, which came with vanilla ice cream topped with the most decadent chocolate fudge I’ve ever had and delicate whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry. It was incredible. I’ve never had a sundae like this in my life.

ghirardelli ice cream sundae

ice cream sundae

The next day, we took a trip up to wine country and checked out a diner in Sonoma. The Fremont Diner is a hole-in-the-wall place located on highway 121. It’s easy to miss, which, of course, meant it wasn’t extremely busy for a Tuesday morning. We ordered a biscuits basket, which was filled with the most delicious, light, fluffy biscuits I’ve ever had. I opted for the ricotta pancakes, which came with the most delicious cherries I’ve ever had (thanks, California!) and MDP got the brisket hash which was topped with a fried egg and tasted amazing.

Ricotta Pancakes at the Fremont Diner

ricotta pancakes

After checking out Benziger Family Winery (which has a great story and I urge you to visit it if you go out west), we returned to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge (which doesn’t take cash at its toll, and that’s just crazy talk to an East Coast driver like myself). We went to Chinatown via a streetcar and beelined to the main attraction in this neighborhood: the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It was AMAZING!!! See below for an image of a woman making fortune cookies. This was truly a highlight of the trip for me.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

making fortune cookies

Afterward, we headed up to Fisherman’s Wharf (again, because it was one of my favorite tourist attractions to explore) and stopped by Alioto’s for some fresh seafood fare. I tried the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, which was scrumptious. The chowder was thick (though not too thick) and creamy, and the bits of clam were phenomenal. I also got some crab on my salad on the side, very good. MDP ordered the crab cake sliders and they tasted delicious, as well.

Alioto's clam chowder in sourdough bowl

clam chowder in sourdough bowl

On Wednesday, we had breakfast at a diner close to our hotel, and that wasn’t exactly remarkable so I didn’t take any pictures.

For dinner, we went to Brother’s Restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood for Korean barbecue. It was phenomenal! Our table had a barbecue pit sunken in the center. A small man came to our table and placed two receptacles filled with coals into the pit. A kind waitress (the service was very good) brought over some raw meat and we got cookin’. The kalbi was fantastic (!) and the pork bulgogi tasted very good. I enjoyed the banchan muchly, as well, as they gave us a dish with thinly sliced peppers covered in red pepper flakes–in addition to the standard kimchi and seafood cakes–and this was my favorite of the bunch. You must try Brother’s Restaurant for Korean if you’re ever in San Francisco.

Brother's Restaurant Korean Barbecue

barbecue

On Thursday, we stopped by Boudin, something like an Au Bon Pain, for breakfast. I had the lemon poppy seed muffin and MDP ordered the chocolate croissant. They also had bagels there, and I saw many people eating them…but I’m sure they aren’t very good.

Boudin treats

treats

Instead of hanging around the city, we drove to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Big Sur, down highway 1. It was gorgeous. I have never seen views like these in my life. The rocky coast transforms into a beach paradise as you drive along the highway. Stark blue water contrasts to the coarse, white sand, and you feel like you’re in heaven.

beach off highway 1

beach off highway 1

We went to Nepenthe in Big Sur for lunch. We waited for about an hour for our table, and I’m not sure lunch was worth the wait. It was very good–I had the chicken breast sandwich with chipotle mayo–but it was a tad overpriced. I suppose you’re paying for the view, and, when I see it from that perspective, maybe the cost was worth it.

view from nepenthe

view from nepenthe

I had heard that a good Indian place called Shalimar was in the vicinity of our hotel, so we checked it out. What a crazy place that is. I wouldn’t go there if you have any trace of anxiety in your being. First, you might have to wait, like, 20 minutes for a table. Everyone is confused at Shalimar, including the waiters. Second, you’ll have to walk up to the counter and order your food yourself (even though a waiter is walking around the restaurant). Third, it won’t be clear that they’ve heard your order or that they’re going to actually make it. Fourth, you’ll have your food practically thrown onto your table in front of you. Fifth, you’ll finally get the check and you’ll be afraid you’ll never see your credit card again if you pay with that method, so you pay in cash (even though you may be cash poor on this expensive trip).

With that said, the food is decent. It’s a Pakistani-Indian restaurant, so I can’t be sure whether my chicken tikka masala was influenced with Pakistani flavors. It could have been. MDP ordered a special curry and aloo paratha, a potato-infused bread that was excellent–much better than their naan.

shalimar chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala

Friday finally rolled around and we were beat. We had traveled all across the city and state and simply wanted to chill out in the Mission district on our final full day of our trip. Well, we weren’t exactly impressed by the Mission. We opted for La Taqueria for lunch, which had received rave reviews in my trusted guide book, and I wasn’t amazed by their offerings. I had a chicken burrito and it was just so-so. The strange thing about La Taqueria is that you have to order your cheese, sour cream, avocado and any other topping separate from the burrito. It looks cheap, but it really isn’t (it’s only about a dollar less than Chipotle).

After lunch, we went to Mission Pie for some dessert. I had high hopes for Mission Pie but was largely disappointed. I had expected incredible pie. What I got was a slice of sad peach pie and a much-better-though-still-only-decent slice of banana cream pie. I don’t know, maybe my expectations are too high. Coming from New York, it’s hard not to expect a lot from your pie purveyor.

mission pie peach pie

peach pie

Originally, we had planned to try the Southern Pacific Brewing Company for dinner, but it was packed, so we went to Super Duper Burgers instead. Now, for those of you who know me, you’re aware of my “one burger per week” rule. I violated this, but I’m so glad I did.

I ordered the “super” burger which comes with two 4 oz patties, onion, lettuce, tomato and special sauce. I opted for the cheese and the avocado as add-ons. Wow, what a burger. Super Duper clearly smashes their patty, instead of making a well-formed circular mass of meat on the griddle. The char is perfect and the combination of toppings invigorated my palate. The only thing that didn’t impress me about the burger was the bun, which simply amounted to too much bread. We also got the garlic fries, which were incredible. Crisp fries were presented to us with gobs of garlic on top–amazing! MDP wanted a milk shake, so we tried the cookies and cream version and it was thickly good.

If you’re like me and you have a “one burger per week” rule, go with Super Duper Burgers. Some of you may be surprised to hear me say this (given my avowed love for In-N-Out), but trust me. You won’t be sorry.

super duper burgers

super burgers

We departed from our hotel on Saturday morning and arrived at the airport to enjoy a nice breakfast at the Lark Creek Grill, whose restaurant group has locations all over California. You might try it.

All in all, San Francisco was one big food festival for me. Remember, it’s not New York, so the food isn’t quite as amazing. But it’s pretty darn good!

BurgerFi

I love New York magazine’s restaurant reviews. They’re the best in town—far better than Time Out New York’s attempts at recommendations and superior to even The New York Times, which strives to delineate the entire back story of the food they’re eating. Really, I just want to know whether it’s good or not.

So, when the Underground Gourmet recommended BurgerFi in the “cheap eats” edition of the magazine, I figured I had to try it.

burgerfi double cheeseburger

double cheeseburger

Situated on 2nd Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets, BurgerFi loudly claims its spot two doors down from the low-budget Insomnia Cookies and a few steps away from a frozen yogurt shop. Bright colors—blues, greens, yellows—invite you in, where you will undoubtedly meet a long line of patrons who have likely also read the “cheap eats” issue. The seating situation isn’t especially crazed, but, should it cause you anxiety, you should know you can always take your food to the East River park.

So, how was the menu? Well, decent enough, but a complete, blatant rip-off of the Shake Shack. From custard to concretes to Martin’s potato rolls, BurgerFi eagerly emulates the gold standard burger stand. But there are a few problems with BurgerFi’s approach. One, the meat isn’t nearly as good as the Shake Shack’s LaFrieda blend, nor is the sear as perfect. Two, their standard burger is a double, and that may alienate some (not this eater, though). Three, the fries are wooden and in desperate need of salt, unlike the crisp, crinkle cut fries with ample salt shaken upon them from the Shake Shack.

burgerfi fries and onion rings

onion rings and fries

The meal had its moments, though. The onion rings are fantastic. Gigantic circular pieces of onion are deep-fried, resulting in a delicious, thick coating that certainly doesn’t need ketchup. And the soda machine is redeeming. They have one of those special soda fountains that allows you to select which soda you’d like to try—from a panoply of options—and which flavoring you’d like in your soda. I opted for the Coke Zero with raspberry syrup—very good.

The verdict? Don’t bother with BurgerFi. If you happen to be on the Upper East Side with a hankering for a burger, just go to the Shake Shack on 86th. Its spacious outdoors area is the perfect venue for a summertime dinner or lunch.

BurgerFi

1571 Second Ave. (between 81st and 82nd streets)

Yorkville, New York

Take the 4/5/6 to 86th Street and walk east a few avenues, then south. 

Burger Joint (West Village)

I remember when Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridien (LPM) hotel was the best kept secret in town. I used to go there when I was in college. One of my friends was hip to all the next-best burger places in the city, and welcomed me to the wonderful (and then-hidden) world of Burger Joint. Nowadays, when you go to LPM for a burger, you’re destined to meet a long line of hungry patrons and a no-seating situation.

burger joint cheeseburger

cheeseburger

That’s why it’s so very important that Burger Joint has expanded to the West Village. Situated on 8th Street by Macdougal, Burger Joint is easy to miss. Don’t expect a street address or sign reading “Burger Joint” when you go. Just look for the signature burger that’s emblazoned in the front left window.

When I arrived, I almost asked someone if I had, in fact, walked into Burger Joint. But as soon as I saw the cardboard sign in the window displaying the Joint’s hours, I knew I had found the place. You see, at LPM Burger Joint, the menu is listed, in Sharpie, on a slab of cardboard. The no-frills atmosphere of the hotel version–which is a dive, and that’s being generous–is nearly replicated at the 8th Street location. Yet there’s something classy about the dim lighting and secret room and long, skinny booths at the new Burger Joint that elevates it, in a way. (The menu and instructions for how to order your burger are listed on cardboard, by the way.)

So, how was the burger? Divine, as usual. The LPM Burger Joint serves up one of my favorite burgers, and the 8th Street location is definitely among the top contenders for best burger in the city. I ordered mine with “the works”: ketchup, mayo, mustard, tomato, lettuce, sliced pickles, and onion. All this was on a perfectly rendered patty topped with cheese and laid artfully on a squishy bun. Okay, so maybe it’s not artfully done (as you can see in the picture), but the taste is tops–and that’s what’s important, right?

burger joint fries

french fries

And the fries are stellar. Served in a little brown bag, the shoestring french fries were perfectly salted–as in, not overly salted–and crisp. They were full of potato flavor and fantastic.

I love Burger Joint’s no bullshit approach. I like that they wrap the burgers in white butcher paper and hand them to you directly from the kitchen. I like that there are paper plates on the counter in case you need one for your ketchup and fries. I like the cardboard on the walls and windows and the long, empty bar near the entrance. And, most of all, I like that you can get a seat at this Burger Joint. Apparently, NYU students haven’t found it yet.

So, you must try the new Burger Joint. It’s conveniently located just a block or two from the West 4th Street subway station. Washington Square Park is but a few steps away, so even if the students catch on, you can always take your burger to the park.

Burger Joint

33 West 8th Street (by Macdougal)

West Village, NY

Take the A/B/C/D/E/F/M to West 4th Street. Exit by 8th Street and walk a block or two. 

Red Rooster

I remember a few years ago when Red Rooster opened to much acclaim. I thought to myself, “I’ll never go there because it must be such a mob scene.” Fast forward two years to today, and, lo and behold, I finally made it to Red Rooster. And what an experience I had!

red rooster cornbread

cornbread

I decided to take off from work today and, in step with my culinary aspirations, accordingly made a reservation at Red Rooster for 11:30 am, the only time they had available.

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I trekked all the way up to 125th Street this morning, after a shocking 20-minute wait at our 7 train platform, to get to the restaurant. When we walked in, we were met with smiles. In general, the service at Red Rooster is extremely accommodating, and I felt that the moment I stepped foot in the place.

We sat at a cozy table for two along a banquet that bifurcates the restaurant into a front and back area. In the front, there’s an interestingly shaped bar; in the back, a slew of tables. The restroom is plainly and straightforwardly marked with a sign near the open kitchen.

To start, MDP and I ordered the cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam. You must get this. I think just about every table had a plate of cornbread on it because it’s that good and that cheap ($4). The honey butter tastes incredible and the cornbread itself is moist, dense and delicately ladled with kernels of corn throughout. I enjoyed the tomato jam, as well, but, honestly, the cornbread tastes best on its own, without any adornments.

red rooster burger

burger

Because I recently read that Red Rooster is using a Pat LaFrieda blend for its hamburger, I decided I had to try it. And, boy, am I glad I did! The burger is topped with two slices of New York cheddar, mayonnaise, shredded lettuce and pickles, and is situated nicely on a fresh pretzel bun. I liked that Red Rooster used two, rather than one, slices of cheddar–it enhanced the flavor tremendously. Also, the combination of condiments completely blew me away. This is one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time. And, not to be outdone, the fries on the side were perfectly crisp and brushed with ample handfuls of parmesan cheese. I like that Red Rooster goes borderline overboard with the parmesan on the fries. Parmesan can be an elusive flavor, and I think Red Rooster’s approach is ideal.

MDP ordered the fried yard bird with white mace gravy and buttermilk mashed potatoes. Red Rooster serves dark meat for its fried chicken, which MDP had no problem with. It was thickly crusted and flavorful. The mashed potatoes were delicious, as well. MDP enjoyed his meal, yet found the cornbread to be the overall highlight of his experience. And who can blame him?

red rooster cupcake

coconut cupcake

For dessert, we had to get something, because I knew this might be the only time I’d visit Red Rooster. When I searched for brunch reservations, they only had availability in about a month, and I’m not organized enough to plan that far ahead. So, dessert it was. They have a number of confections on their menu, including items from the Nook, such as whoopie pies. But we opted for the daily cupcake, which was a coconut cupcake today. Served alongside some of the most delicious Tahitian vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, the coconut cupcake was short and sweet, and had a bit of preserves in the center–a welcome surprise. We polished the plate off in no time.

You must try Red Rooster. Anything you try there has got to be some of the best food you’ll ever have. Even if it takes months for you to get there, go. I implore you.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox Avenue (between 125th and 126th streets)

Harlem, New York

Take the 2/3 to 125th Street. Walk north half a block.