Burger Quest Part 1: Good Stuff

29 05 2010

Quest for the best burger part I – Washington, DC – Good Stuff Eatery

I’ve decided it’s time to start talking restaurants on here. If i’m opinionated and critical, forgive me for insulting your favorite restaurant along the way… but it probably sucks anyway.

I’m on a quest to determine what makes the ultimate burger. I know – everyone has their own (strong) opinions about what makes a good burger – but these are just mine. I suspect this search is going to go on for a while but so far I have some findings…

I got into an argument with my friend Nick the last time I was in Washington visiting Stef. We were sitting around talking and I hadn’t seen him in months, maybe years, and we got into an argument about what has become my favorite restaurant in Washington – Good Stuff Eatery. It’s in Capitol Hill and is owned/run by one of the former Top Chef competitors – Spike Mendelsohn.

I was fully prepared for Good Stuff to suck the first time I went to check it out. Walking in it looked more like a Chipotle serving burgers than a gourmet burger joint. Little did I know, this was just your typical nod to Washingtonian corporatized restaurant identity that apparently sells much more product than individual, quirky style like you’ll find more of in New York or San Francisco.

The good news about Good Stuff for me (and for Spike) is that the product they’re slangin’ is top notch. It far exceeded the expectations I had based on the corporate identity they’re repping. At the rate those bugers are rolling out of that place, I’d wager they have good reason to keep that corporate identity around too because I think it’s likely they could go running with that brand, the gourmet burger and the shake assembly line they’ve got set up.

As far as the food – the menu is simple enough… actually the perfect size for me. Just enough variety but not so much that it’s overwhelming. And, while the prices may seem steep for the size of the burgers, in my opinion the quality of the product that goes into them and the flavor that comes out is definitely worth it.

I have to put this out there – I’m a total sucker when it comes to burgers with eggs on them. That said, I liked these burgers before I even tasted the egg burger… that one just took it to the next level. My three favorites in order are Spike’s Sunny Side (which I think they used to call the 5 Napkin), the Prez Obama and the Blazin Barn. The Obama totes Roquefort (I think?) cheese and caramelized onions, the Sunny Side is one of my all-time favorite combos (bacon, egg and cheese) done the best I’ve ever had on on a ridiculously good sweet roll and the Barn is pretty obviously Spike’s nod to his time in Vietnam – basically a banh mi burger. I was worried about the Barn not coming with cheese because I have to have cheese on a burger but he proved me wrong there too. The pickled carrots and daikon combined with the sriracha mayo bring plenty of flavor and creaminess to keep me satisfied. The burgers themselves – perfectly cooked, perfect texture, nice and fat and super juicy. Quality. And they’re cooked on a flattop griddle, which I’m beginning to realize is one of the keys to the perfect burger. Another key to the perfect burger is the bun – and they have the perfect buns at Good Stuff as well – sweet and soft.

And the fries… the fries are cooked until they’re nice and crispy but they’re still just thick enough to be a little soft in the middle, which I like – but my favorite part is that you can get them tossed with a pretty healthy pinch of fresh thyme, rosemary and pepper.

Oh and the price – the first time I thought the burgers were a little bit small but every time I go I’m totally satisfied with a burger and half a small order of fries so i’m beginning to think it may be just right. They’re around $7 a piece… pretty standard for a burger like that. The quality of ingredients and the taste make that thing well worth the 7 bucks to me.

I was in Washington a couple weeks ago and we had plans to check out Ray’s Hellburger in Virginia but somehow we found ourselves in Capitol Hill and just couldn’t resist Good Stuff. The famous Hellburger will have to wait for another visit. As expected, Good Stuff delivered again and every time it leaves me wanting more. I’m still having dreams about that egg burger. Either way I’ll have more burger news soon as the search continues.

****
Good Stuff Eatery
303 Pennsylvania Ave S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

Hours: M-Sat. 11:30am-11:00pm, Closed Sundays





Yay Area Borscht

11 01 2010

I’d never made borscht before but it always seemed like an appropriate winter soup. It’s not as cold here as it is back in the motherland (no not mine, the Ukrainians’), but we still get plenty of cabbage and beets around here this time of year to make a nice burgundy stew. I’m gonna have to take another photo because this one really doesn’t do it justice… it looks so much better now that the beets have had time to dye everything else purple.

The base typically includes some mix of beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and some meat. I went with a beef shank and also had the butcher cross-cut me a beef leg bone into 1″ segments to make a quick stock since I was all out.

One of the first meals few meals I can remember ever having in Los Angeles was with my friend Mark at a place called Doughboys that, after a sad turn of events, shut down a few years back. Strangely I still remember that meal vividly because I was so impressed by the beef stew… it was awesome, cheap and I just loved how it looked and felt in my mouth because everything in it was diced exactly the same size. Potatoes, carrots, celery(I think?), beef, all about 1/4″ dice. Perfection. Every time I make beef stew or anything similar, I come back to that memory for some reason and I end up dicing everything like that. This stuff tonight was a little bigger, probably closer to 1/2″ but I still always try to keep it consistent. Not only does it look cool, it also ensures that your veggies will be cooked evenly and you won’t have some soft and some hard because you cut em all wonky.

Somehow avocados are always around and always cheap here… all year. I grabbed one to throw on top of the soup along with the usual sour cream topping. I hear dill is traditional but I’m generally not a big fan of dill so I didn’t hunt it down for this one. I also had a giant daikon that I was planning to pickle so I decided to dice some of that up in the stew as well. It’s great in Japanese and Korean stews so I figured it’d go well with this mix of stuff too. It has a great texture when it’s cooked and has a very mild flavor – great filler.

First step, simmer the shank in the stock with some onion. Since the stock wasn’t on for as long as I would have liked, I threw the bones in with the shank to try to drag out a little more flavor. This simmered for about an hour and a half or so until the beef was able to pull away from the bone easily but before it was falling apart. I wanted it to still have some shape so I could give it a nice dice to match up with the veg.

After the beef was ready, I pulled it out and diced it. In went the carrots, potatoes & beets (which I think next time I’ll use a little more of). This simmered on low for about 20 minutes or so until the veggies weren’t hard anymore, but before they turned to mush. After that I tossed in the daikon and the cabbage and simmered just until the daikon was soft, which doesn’t take long.

The soup is way better if it sits in the fridge for a day before you eat it. The whole soup turns deep purple and the beet flavor is a lot more intense.

Ingredients:
1 beef shank
4 or so cups of beef stock
1 yellow onion
3 medium carrots
3 racquetball(?) sized beets
2 medium red potatoes
2-3 fistfulls of shredded cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream and avocado to top

*Next time I’ll start it out with some bacon to give it a little bit of smoke. I think I’d render the bacon in the pan till it was crispy, use the fat to saute the onion in, and keep the crispy bacon to chop up on top with the sour cream and avocado. That’s exactly what was missing – the crunchy topping. You know I love a good crunchy topping… especially when it comes in the form of smoked hog.





Sink Steak

6 01 2010

Sink Steak

 
I’ve been away. But I’m back now and have lots of things to share. First up – two nights ago I cooked a steak in my kitchen sink. It was awesome… and the story goes…

Last weekend I was in New York again and ate at the rest of the Momofuku restaurants, Ssam Bar and Milk Bar. I am totally obsessed with Momofuku and at the same time completely despise David Chang and his crew because they do absolutely everything that I want to do or think about doing or did in a dream or would have done if I just had the chance to think about it myself. Honestly sometimes it makes me sick. Cereal milk? Please, did that last year. But I’m not famous for it, I’m not trademarking it. No no no, and I’m definitely not making money off of it, dammit. But as much as I want to hate them, I just can’t… it’s just so damn good and so f’ing clever. All of it. And I love it that much more because every time I try something new it’s that same “ahhhhh of course!” again and again.

Anyway, that trip to Ssam Bar was awesome but I’ll save the details for another post… I actually took pictures of it all like one of those annoying people you see in every restaurant these days. The point of that whole story was that we had the hanger steak and it blew my fucking mind. It was $21 for what was maybe one of the best pieces of beef I’ve ever had. And it wasn’t even a premium cut!

So naturally, the first thing I did when I got back to SF was pull out the Momofuku book and re-read the section about “ghetto sous vide”. I’ve been playing with sous vide here and there on the stove in a big heavy pot for other stuff but the method he suggests in the book is much simpler – run hot tap water into a bowl, adjust until the temp is right, and drop in the steak. Sounds so sketchy… but also so great – cooking a steak in the sink? Yes please.

“What the shit is sous vide??” you ask? It’s Parisian for “under pressure.” The basic premise is vacuum sealing the food in a bag and then slow cooking it in a bath of water at a temperature very near the temperature that you want the food to end up at. It allows you to bring the food to exactly the temperature you want without overcooking and allows you to hold it at that temp. If you live in NYC, you could sublet your kitchen for the summer and just cook dinner in your toilet tank!

 
“Ghetto Sous Vide” Hanger Steak – adapted from the Momofuku cookbook

You can use a Foodsaver, which I have but was out of bags for so I had to downgrade to sucking and squeezing the air out of a freezer bag. In the book he says to make sure you use the good quality Ziplock brand bags, which is probably a good idea but we didn’t have any so… we used a Safeway brand bag. So far none of us are dead so I think it worked ok.

 

You’re also supposed to marinate the meat overnight but since we didn’t have time for that I just tossed some stuff (butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire) in with the meat for the cooking – one of the great things about sous vide is that something about the full-contact, airless environment intensifies all of the flavors. You don’t have to use as much and you get a lot more flavor from anything you put in the bag that you wouldn’t get from a quick marinade before say, grilling or roasting that same meat.

Lucky for me, our tap water gets hand-scaldingly hot so I had no trouble getting it warm enough to simmer some bovine in.

 

 
The water is supposed to be between 120 & 125F. If the tap doesn’t get hot enough, a heavy pot on the stove will work too with some temperature monitoring and adjusting. The ultimate temp you’re aiming for is around 120 on the steak though I felt like I may have preferred it to get a little bit hotter than it did. The steak sits in the bath for around 45 minutes to an hour.

At this point the steak can be held it in the water at that temp until it’s time to eat. After that it comes out of the bath, out of the bag and into a scalding hot pan for a good sear on all sides.

 

 
We ate the steak with roasted cauliflower, caramelized carrots, butter-braised dinosaur kale and some potato/parsnip puree.

If I did it again I think I’d leave the steak in the bath a little longer, maybe 1.25-1.5 hours and I’d make sure I took it straight from the bath to the searing pan and then to the plate. Because you’re working with such a low temperature already, it gets cold really easily.

 
A couple of words on the beef:

1. Hanger steak is good shit. “Hanging steak”, “bistro steak”, “onglet”, “lombatello”, “solomillo de pulmon”… it’s from the bottom side of the cow and it takes on a little bit of kidney flavor from proximity to, you guessed it – the kidneys. This and more info about the hanger here.

2. I guess it doesn’t go without saying so to be clear – I use high-quality beef that I know I can trust to eat rare. If you’re going to try this, I’d recommend the same. Still there’s always the risk of getting sick when you eat undercooked meat… don’t blame me if you get sick, blame your sink. Or your butcher.

 
 
Also, roasted cauliflower is stupid simple and ridiculously good. Oven to 400F. Break up head of cauliflower. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper. Baking sheet. Oven. 25 minutes later – done.








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