Category Archives: Restaurants

When a Burger is More Than Just a Burger

I really love a good burger but sometimes a burger is more than just a burger.   Just saw a post over on Eater about the lines in London for the opening of their first Shake Shack.

I’ve walked pat Madison Square Park in NYC.  At any point in the day, there’s a 30 min line to get to the Shake Shack stand.   I’ve seen Twitter accounts that tell you how long the line is.  It’s incredible.

DC had a Shake Shack and I went there a few times.  It’s good.  It’s not amazing but it’s good.  It’s cheaper than Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR.   People in DC did go crazy for it.   As a matter a fact, they just opened up a second (and maybe third) location.

The key is that for Shake Shack a burger isn’t just a burger.  Yes, people go there to be fed but, at least for the ones who stand in line when a new shop launches, a burger at Shake Shack is about more than just getting sustenance.

A Shake Shack burger is about an escape.  It’s about comfort.  It conjures up memories of something from the past that makes you feel good.    That’s what people stand in line for.

Eating a Shake Shack burger also makes you look cool.  The last decade has really seen the start of consumer-friendly designer food brands.   It’s cool to be seen eating a Shake Shack Burger or In ‘n Out.  It’s cool to be seen eating a Sprinkles or Georgetown Cupcake.

If you’re working on a product or service that you’re offering for your business, how do you go beyond just satisfactorily meeting your requirements?  How do you help go beyond?  How do you make your product cool or make the people who use it cool?

Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, NV

IMG_0887Lauren and I have some friends in town this weekend. Thought this would be a great opportunity to continue our quest for the best burger in America.  Had seen the restaurant Gordon Ramsay BurGR pop up on lists and you can’t help but see advertisements for it around Las Vegas.  We just had to try it.

So, I went on their website.  It gave me a number to call for reservations.  I called to get transferred to 3 different people, to inevitably find out that they don’t take reservations.  Bummer.

On Friday night, we embarked towards Planet Hollywood.  There was bad traffic around the strip.  It was the Friday of a holiday weekend.   We eventually found self parking and found our way through the maze of the Miracle Mile shops and the wannabe modern Planet Hollywood Casino.

It ended up being about an hour and a half wait to get a table, which was fine.  We got some drinks.  We wandered down to the Bellagio, watched the fountains, and admired their indoor garden.  Eventually, we got the magical text that our table was ready.

The first thing that you notice when you walk into BurGR is pictures of Gordon Ramsay (see below) and fire everywhere.   His initials are also emblazoned everywhere, including the waiter/waitresses overly short and tight uniforms.   The narcissism is slightly annoying but you get over it once the food and drinks come out.

IMG_0884

 

The drinks menu was a vintage iPad, which was interesting.  The beer list had craft beers, which was great but were all fairly mainstream craft beers.   The waiter pointed out that Innis & Gunn was Gordon’s favorite beer and that it aged in a combo rum/whiskey cask.  Decided to give it a shot.   I really enjoyed it.  Had a lot of great flavor.

IMG_0889

Then we moved on to appetizers.  Opted for the Jalapeño Poppers.   The jalapeño sticking out of a cheese-filled shot glass is overly phallic looking.   (Isn’t this the kind of thing that Gordon would make fun of people for on Hell’s Kitchen?)   In the end, it was delicious.  It wasn’t overly spicy, which I liked, but there was some spice for flavor, plus cheese.  :-)

13 - 1

On to the main event… I ordered the Farm Burger.  I was initially waffling between the Euro Burger and the Farm Burger.   The waiter told me the Farm Burger was his favorite.   It was a half pound burger, sharp cheddar cheese, duck bacon, and a farm fresh fried egg.   It was delicious.  Oh and it was one of the first times I’ve ordered a burger medium at a restaurant and it actually came out medium.   It was delicious.

IMG_0892

Then we opted for the truffle fries.  The basket was massive.  It had truffle oil, shaved parmesan, and a truffle aioli to dip them in.  I’m a big fan of the thick cut fries over the small shoe-string variety.   The only problem was the truffle aioli ran out way too quickly. :-)

Net net… I really enjoyed Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR.  The wait to get in and lack of reservations was slightly annoying but once we sat down, I really enjoyed everything.  Plus for what you’re getting, the prices aren’t too bad.  It’s cheaper than some of the other “high end” burger places in Las Vegas.

Honey Salt – My New Favorite Las Vegas Restaurant

Lauren and I were out running errands this weekend and found our way to the restaurant Honey Salt in West Las Vegas.

We were both immediately impressed by the vintage charm.  All of the chairs were miss matched, along with an array of mirrors and lamps.  Some of the bigger tables were reclaimed wood.  It’s the kind of thing you don’t see very often in Las Vegas.

The ingredients are all seasonal, farm to table, and very high quality.   The menu is very New American.  I was impressed that they also had fresh pressed juices on the menu.

The waiter said that the chef/owner was from the Wynn and wanted to offer something to locals that you’d typically only find on the Strip but MUCH more expensive.

This is the burger that Lauren had.  I love that they give you your own little squeeze bottle for catsup. :)   Got to try a bit of the burger.  It was amazing.  One of the highlights was the butter pickle.

98038BD3-E68D-4916-9195-2AA30B67EC4F

I had the grilled cheese with pea soup.  Oh sweet goodness this was amazing.

09758315-48FC-4326-83D8-3D1240E14FA3

If you’re in Vegas and have a car, I’d definitely make a point of going here. I’m becoming a regular there.  :-)

China Poblano by José Andrés

When you live in Washington, DC, it’s hard not to run into one of José Andrés’ restaurants.  There are more of his restaurants in Chinatown than there are Starbucks.  Oyamel is easily one of my favorite restaurants period.

When we moved to Las Vegas, knew we had to try China Poblano.  It’s José’s take on a Mexican Chinese restaurant and is in the Cosmopolitan on the Las Vegas strip.  It’s not fusion but offers both cuisines on the same menu.  Had a reservation there for last night for Lauren and I for our second wedding anniversary.

The restaurant is absolutely delicious.  Even though putting Chinese and Mexican may not may sense on paper, it absolutely works as a restaurant concepts.    Oh and I want to apologize ahead of time for not having more photos of the different courses that Lauren and I ordered.

For cocktails, I tried the green tea margarita (pictured above) and the avocado smash.    Both were delicious.   The avocado slim kind of reminded me a guacamole cocktail and I love avocado so that excites me.

The chips & salsa tasted exactly like the chips & salsa from Oyamel.  It was filled with amazing smokey chipotle flavor and was a good reminder of DC and the many memories there.

We tried the steamed bbq pork buns “When Pigs Fly.”  They came highly recommended.  They were delicious but felt slightly overrated.   Seemed like any other steamed pork bun that you’d get a dim sum restaurant.

Next we tried the Queso Fundido with chorizo.  It’s the best cheese dip you’ve ever had over house made soft tortillas.

Last we had the Dan Dan Mian.  This was the star of the night for me.   It’s wheat noodles, with a spicy pork sauce and peanuts.    This reminded me a lot of the sauce on the ricotta ravioli at Range in DC.  It was amazing.    I loved the way the pork was mixed into the sauce.

All in all it was a fabulous meal.  We walked away full and it wasn’t that expensive in the realm of nice meals you can get.  I’d highly recommend it.

Oyamel

It’d be an understatement to say that José Andrés is a powerhouse here in the Washington, DC area.  He practically owns half of DC’s Chinatown neighborhood with Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, and minibar and he’s quickly expanding to other parts of the region with Jaleo in Arlington, VA.

In the new year, Lauren and I are looking to eat a little healthier and to incorporate more vegetables into our diet.   It’s actually surprisingly hard to find that in a restaurant.  It’s hard to find something that doesn’t incorporate sugar, cooked in butter, or smothered in cheese.  After exploring some menus, we decided upon going out to Oyamel last night.  They do an incredible job of featuring lots of vegetables and lean meats.

Oyamel showcases José Andrés’ take on various Mexican regional cuisines served in a whimsical fine dining atmosphere served on small plates meant to share.  This is definitely not your neighborhood Chipotle.  It takes your idea of what’s possible for Mexican food to an entirely new level.

Of course, when you sit down, you’re given the requisite chips & salsa.  Because the seasoning, the chips are incredibly addictive but don’t eat too many.  You don’t wanna spoil your appetite for what’s to come on the menu.   The salsa was very thick and had this incredible smoke to it.

Additionally, as your appetizer, you have to try the guacamole.   For $12, it’s definitely not cheap and I’m not sure that it’s that much better than what you can make at home but you have to try it.  The novelty comes in that your server will come to your table and serve it to you table side.   It’s slightly entertaining and adds to the enjoyment of the dish.

Now, it’s on to the small plates…

Lauren got a ceviche.  I don’t remember which she got and I didn’t take a photo.  I just tried a bit of it.  It was crisp & refreshing.  Oyamel has its own ceviche bar where it’s fish masters dish out the evening’s delight from the sea.

These were little tortillas filled with turkey confit.  Had a nice spice.  There was a nice textual component from the pecans on top.

The thought of brussel sprouts makes most children shudder.  Somewhere in my adult life I learned that brussel sprouts can be delicious.  They were crispy and perfectly caramelized to bring out the sweetness in the sprouts.  They tasted like vegetable candy.

This was the taco with beef tongue.  I know you’re like “beef tongue” ?!?  Honestly, I don’t know if I was blind folded and fed the taco if i’d be able to tell the difference between it and any other kind of beef.    It was texturely pretty similar.

The finale was the pork belly taco.   What shall we say about pork belly?   It melts in your mouth.  It’s one of my favorite cuts of meat on the pig.

All in all, we left the night happy and full.  It was a delicious meal.  It continues to be one of our favorite restaurants and I’m sure we’ll go back many more times.  I’d recommend everyone making a reservation.

Thank you José Andrés & team for taking us on the continuing Mexican adventure.

H &Pizza

One of my favorite new DC food finds is H &Pizza on H St NE in the Atlas Neighborhood. My wife and I had just gotten an end of week happy hour cocktail up the street and were looking for a place to grab a quick bite. H &Pizza brings that fast casual “Chipotle-like” vibe to the world of pizza.

We got there and there was a line almost out the door. As we continued in line, it became out the door. Just like Chipotle, there’s a station where you choose all your toppings, they run it through a quick oven and then you’ve got delicious pizza.

The pizzas are delicious. First thing you’ll notice is H &Pizza’s pizzas are long. Perfect size for one person. You can choose your own toppings or you can choose a preset pizza. Looks like they tried to get as many local ingredients as possible. They also had vegetarian and vegan options which is cool if that’s your thing.

I got the Farmer’s Daughter pizza. It had house made mozzarella, spicy sausage, and a farm fresh egg which was the star for me. For ~$9, it’s a great deal for a delicious single persons meal.  We’ll definitely be going back again.

Shaw’s Tavern

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8478/8238725899_6838b5247f_n.jpgKind of seems like our friends and us have been doing a tour of DC neighborhood watering holes for dinner & drinks.  First it was Tunnicliff’s Tavern in Capitol Hill and then it was Mayfair & Pine in Glover Park.  This time we want to Shaw’s Tavern in DC’s Shaw Neighborhood.

Got there at 7pm for drinks before dinner and Shaw’s Tavern was already hopping.  Definitely a nice vibe.  Everything is very rustic with exposed brick.  Quite a few of the tables were communal, which was kind of cool and seemingly unusual for DC.

Grabbed a seat at the bar, while I waited for everyone else to show up.  Was impressed with their craft beers on tap.   I had the 3 Stars Brewing Company Lime Basil Session Saison.  It was delicious.  At first, I was nervous by the name that it’d be overly flavored but the lime & basil was very nuanced.  It was perfect.    I also had the Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA, which is solid.  Before having a beer, my friend Scott had their rye bourbon cocktail, which I had a taste of.  Delicious!

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8057/8235363712_7e5d36a4a5_n.jpgEventually, everyone got there and we got a table.  Unfortunately, it was near the door so it was a little chilly.  We were all starving so we got appetizers.  Lauren and I got the charcuterie plate.   What can I say, I’m a sucker for cured Italian meat, cheese, and bread.  That’s what they gave us. It was delicious.  The others got the fried green tomatoes and spinach & artichoke dip.   Both delicious staples of any good tavern or gastropub.

For entrees, despite there being a pretty diverse menu, we all got burgers.  I opted for the Bleu Burger.   It was delicious.  I love a good brioche bun.  The fries weren’t anything terribly new or exciting.   I got what I asked for and at a reasonable price.  Next time, I wanna to try the Catfish & Gritcake or Short Rib Ragu.

This is a solid place.   Had a fantastic time.  It had great food, great drinks, and solid & chill vibe, despite being packed.   I’d recommend it.

And yeah… it’s interesting how every neighborhood has their own bar or bars that really starts to become part of the identity neighborhood.   It’s where people come together and live life together.

Mayfair & Pine: Glover Park’s Neighborhood Gastropub

On Sunday, Lauren and I were meeting up with some of our friends for brunch.  We were looking for something around Washington, DC’s Georgetown.  I stumbled upon the Glover Park gastropub Mayfair & Pine.   When I saw the reasonably-priced English-inspired gastropub menu, I knew it was a place to try and our friends agreed.

When we got there, it was around 11am on Sunday.  I was totally shocked how slow it was.  There were only a handful of other people, which is funny because I’d made a reservation.  Apparently, it’s not just a hot time for the bar, which surprised me because beers were half priced.  $3 for a pint of DC Brau’s Public Ale… sweet!  According to the bartender, their goal wasn’t to be a destination bar but to be a neighborhood bar and things are just slow during that time.

Mayfair & Pine shows English Premier League football (soccer) games on Saturday & Sunday mornings.  When we were there, we got to see the start of the Manchester v Chelsea game, which was fun to watch.   I feel like I’d watch a lot more soccer if there was a cool bar to watch it at.  Too bad, Glover Park is so far away.

The gastropub is owned & operated by Top Chef season 2 contestant Emily Sprissler and her husband Jason Cote.  Emily is Executive Chef and Jason is Chef De Cuisine  It was fun to chat with Emily briefly after brunch.

The food was fantastic.  I was one of the only not to get breakfast food.  I had their deconstructed Thanksgiving sandwich, where the “bread” is stuffing.  It was delicious.   There savory pies and fish entrees looked delicious.  Also… everything was reasonably priced at $12-30.  The breakfast options looked delicious, pretty standard, and were also reasonably priced at $8-13.  The best part of breakfast was that you could get bangers.  *giggles*

I think of Mayfair & Pine in a lot of the same way that I do Tunnicliff’s Tavern in Eastern Market.  They’re more than just restaurant.  There a place where the neighborhoods come together to live life together.    It was evident that this was something you could do at Mayfair & Pine.  Plus, the food & drinks are delicious.

This is the kind of placed I’d go to often.

Founders Brewing Co & MadCap Coffee: An Afternoon in Grand Rapids, MI

Lauren and I are here in Michigan this week visiting my parents for Thanksgiving.  It’s so great to be home.   One of Lauren’s best friends and her boyfriend were also traveling through Michigan for the holidays.  While we were here, we decided to meet them in Grand Rapids as they were on their way to Chicago from Northern Michigan.

While I grew up in Michigan, I didn’t spend that much time on the West side of the state.  So I didn’t know good spots to eat in Grand Rapids.  I consulted Foursquare Explore and the first place it listed was Founders Brewing Company.   Was very familiar with the beer.  I’m a HUGE fan of their Breakfast Stout and the Red Rye Pale Ale.  I had no idea they had a taproom you could visit.

I was impressed when we first walked into the taproom.  It was packed with people having a good time and imbibing on Founders fine craft beers.   You could get all of their standard beers (which were $4 *smiles*).  Plus, you could get a variety of beers that were exclusive to the taproom.  I started with the taproom exclusive Whale Ale.  I think it was an easy to drink pale ale (I think).  My second beer was their specialty scotch ale the Backwards Bastard.

Their food menu was pretty simple filled with a huge variety of delicious sandwiches.  I had the Backwards Bastard sandwich (bbq pork, colby jack cheese, and coleslaw).   It was DELICIOUS.  There was a ton of meat on it.   I left full.

Founders Brewing Co taproom was a fantastic experience.  If you’re looking for a relaxed environment for a moderately priced and delicious craft beer & sandwich in Western Michigan then this is the place for you.

After lunch, I wanted a quick coffee and knew that MadCap Coffee wasn’t far away.  I’d heard about MadCap via some of the food blogs that I read but had never been there.   So I knew we had to stop.   Not only is MadCap a great coffee shop.  They also roast their own beans.

When you walked in the front door, you noticed that like most indie coffee shops MadCap was an enclave for all kinds of Grand Rapids hipsters.  There menu was small with the classic espresso made drinks (with latte art).   Additionally, there was an extensive drip coffee list that you could get from their pour over bar and all of those coffees plus more were available to take home in 12 oz bags for your own brewing adventures.

I’m always on the hunt for a great cup of coffee, cappuccino, or latte. MadCap is great and definitely worth stopping by.

Grand Rapids isn’t the first place I’d think of for great food, beer, and coffee but it definitely proved itself.