Montecito

31 Jan

montecito
Location
: 299 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.montecitorestaurant.ca/

Montecito is the brainchild of Canadian-born director Ivan Reitman (who also had a strong hand in the TIFF Lightbox around the corner).  That said, the question is whether it’s more Ghostbusters, or My Super-Ex Girlfriend.  Twins, or Six Days Seven Nights?

I’d heard good things about the burger (which is described simply on the menu as “milk bun, bacon, fontina”), so I had high hopes.

I won’t lie — I got pretty excited when the hamburger showed up. It was picture perfect: glistening patty, toppings just so, and a perfectly proportionate bun (with the sesame seeds so evenly spaced it looked like they were placed individually).  It’s easily one of the most immaculate looking burgers I’ve been served recently. It was photoshoot-ready.

I got a little bit less impressed when I cut into the burger, revealing a well done patty that was fully gray from edge to edge.

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I got even less impressed when I took a bite.  Certainly, it’s not a bad hamburger, but it’s sort of like meeting someone who’s supermodel-attractive, only for them to turn out to be a hardcore Trump supporter.  You might be able to make it work for a while, but there’s no future there and you know it.

I will say that the patty, despite how well done it was (and it was cooked right to the very edge of well done) remained somewhat juicy; they must have actually started with beef with an appropriate fat ratio, which is always delightful.  But the patty was very tightly packed, so it was a little bit too tough, despite its juiciness.

It also didn’t have much of a beefy flavour, though in that regard the very salty toppings were a pretty serious impediment.  Between the salty cheese, the salty bacon, the mayo, and the seasoning on the patty itself, it’s salt overload.  It makes it nearly impossible to taste the beef, which doesn’t exactly have an assertive flavour to start with.

The buttery toasted bun was mostly pretty great, though I think it was toasted for a few seconds too long, giving the surface a bit more of an in-your-face crunch than you want on a hamburger.

It’s too bad, because seriously, look at that thing.  That looks like it should be the best burger ever, but a few serious hiccups hold it back from being anything much better than good.

It comes with a side of salad and a small bowl of house-made chips, both of which were quite tasty.

3 out of 4

Montecito - the outside Montecito - the restaurant Montecito - the burger Montecito - the burger, chips, and salad Montecito - the burger

Cafe Boulud

17 Jan

boulud
Location
: 60 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.cafeboulud.com/toronto/

After a rocky start, Cafe Boulud was shut down and completely retooled last year; most notably (for readers of this blog at least) this shake-up brought us chef Daniel Boulud’s famous Frenchie burger, which no less than the New York Times dubbed as “the perfect burger.”

Obviously, I had to try it.

After an absolutely fantastic bread bowl, which came with a small disc of what might be the best butter I’ve ever had, the burger arrived looking quite impressive.  I had very high hopes.

The Frenchie Burger, per their menu: “7 oz burger, morbier cheese, dijon mustard, pork belly, tomato-onion compote, arugula, black pepper bun.”

Before I start laying into it, I will say that it’s an all-around good burger.  It tastes good.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with it.  But given its sparkling reputation and the intense $24 price tag, I expected greatness.  It is not great.

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The patty is decent enough, but given the hefty cost, it’s not quite at the level you’d hope it would be. I requested medium rare, and the grilled patty was cooked perfectly to that temperature — but I think it was a bit too tightly packed, and it was slightly more tough than it should have been.  It was also a bit over-charred on the grill, with a subtle hit of bitterness that marred things somewhat.

Otherwise, the flavour of the beef was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t bad by any means — it tasted fine, and is obviously not made with low-quality meat, but it lacked the rich beefy flavour that you’d expect from a restaurant of this caliber.

The toppings were all pretty good, though they were a bit too assertive. The beef-versus-condiments balance was tipped squarely in the favour of the toppings.  In particular, the dominant flavours here were of the zingy tomato-onion compote and the peppery arugula, both of which probably could have been reduced by half.

The Brie-like Morbier cheese was creamy and a pretty good fit for the burger, but like the other toppings, it was a bit too generously applied.

The pork belly, at least, was tasty and in the right proportion — it added porky unctuousness without ever getting in the way.

The bun was great: fresh, fluffy, and packing just enough heft for the task at hand.  Between the bread basket and this bun, Cafe Boulud’s baker clearly deserves a substantial raise.

As for the fries, they were perfectly cooked, but tasted overwhelmingly of roasted garlic.  The flavour slaps you in the face.  It’s excessive.

3 out of 4

Cafe Boulud - the outside Cafe Boulud - the restaurant Cafe Boulud - the bread and butter Cafe Boulud - the burger Cafe Boulud - the burger

Bar Buca

3 Jan

buca
Location
: 75 Portland Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.buca.ca/bar/

Though I think it’s fairly clear that no one should be taking Toronto Life’s new list of the best burgers in the city seriously, Bar Buca serves their number one choice.  As much as I’d like to pretend that list doesn’t exist, that’s hard to ignore.

Bar Buca’s burger — dubbed the Bombolone Burger for the bun it’s served on — costs 14 bucks, isn’t particularly large, and doesn’t come with any sides.  So no, it’s not cheap, but this is a high-end place; I don’t have any qualms paying a premium for a truly exceptional burger.

The thing that really stands out about this burger is the fact that they’ve mixed lardo (essentially cured pork fat) into the patty.  Mixing pork into a burger is a bit of a bastardization, but I hoped the lardo would add richness without overwhelming the flavour of the beef.  I was cautiously optimistic.

I was a bit concerned just by looking at the burger.  The griddled patty looks more like a meatball and isn’t wide enough for the bun — I know this is an Italian restaurant, but learn how to form a burger patty, guys, jeez.  It’s not rocket science.

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Much more concerning is the fact that the burger lacks anything even remotely resembling a beefy flavour, with a taste that I had a hard time putting my finger on.  I knew that it reminded me of something; after several bites, I finally placed it.  It tastes like a slightly muted version of a Bob Evans sausage patty.  I don’t know if this is solely from the lardo, or if they’ve mixed anything else into the beef that would solidify that connection.  Certainly, it wasn’t the most strongly-spiced burger I’ve ever had, but that breakfast sausage taste and texture was undeniable.

The patty was also surprisingly laden with inedible parts that should have been trimmed away long before the meat ever saw a grinder; even hours later, I was still picking stringy bits of gristle from my teeth.  This is inexcusable anywhere, but coming from a high-end restaurant like this (with high-end prices to match), it’s all the more galling.

The menu describes the patty as coming rare, and that’s definitely how they cook it; my burger came almost blue.  Personally, I like my burgers on the rarer side, but if you prefer things a bit more well done, keep in mind that they’re not kidding around.

The patty is topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, and rests atop some peppery coleslaw made with castelfranco lettuce.  These toppings work well enough; the soft roasted tomatoes give the burger a zingy sweetness, and the coleslaw adds crunch and a reasonable amount of peppery bite.

The bun, which the waiter explained is essentially an Italian-style doughnut (a bombalone) that’s baked rather than fried, was a good match for the burger.  It’s a bit more substantial than usual, with a texture that falls somewhere between a traditional bun and a biscuit. Since this is a sloppier burger, the heft of the bun feels right.

The whole thing was decent enough, but best in the city?  Not by a long-shot, but then does it really shock you to learn that a list that includes a frozen burger isn’t entirely reliable?  Would it also shock you if I said that the sky is blue, and grass is green?

2.5 out of 4

Buca - the restaurant Buca - the restaurant Buca - the burger Buca - the burger Buca - the burger

The Opera House Grill

20 Dec

opera
Location
: 737 Queen Street East, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/theoperahousegrill/

I’m going to keep this one relatively brief.  If you’ve read my recent rant about the Opera House Grill’s inclusion on Toronto Life’s new list of the city’s 25 best burgers, then you already pretty much know what I think about this burger: it’s made with a frozen patty, and it doesn’t belong within a million miles of any kind of “best of” list.

Still, that’s not to say that it’s the worst thing ever.  It’s actually pretty okay, as far as frozen burgers go.  The Shaggy Burger (the one that made Toronto Life’s list) is an impressively ridiculous behemoth of a burger.  Piled high with sweet griddled onions, crispy onion rings, bacon, tsatziki, and a healthy mound of cheddar cheese, not to mention the standard burger toppings like lettuce, pickles, and tomato, it’s pretty much the definition of a kitchen sink burger.

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And I won’t lie: it’s pretty good in the middle.  It’s topping overload, but everything in the pile is fairly tasty, and it all tastes pretty good together.  The big mound of shredded cheddar cheese never quite melts as much as it needs to, but aside from that the toppings are solid.

Where the burger really falls apart (figuratively — the bun held up surprisingly well to all the toppings) is around the perimeter of the burger, where all of the many condiments begin to fade away. That’s when you really taste that hot-doggy, mediocre frozen patty, and realize that greatness is simply never going to be in this burger’s vocabulary.

As for the fries, they clearly came out of the same freezer as the burger patty, and were about as middling as you’d expect.

2 out of 4

The Opera House Grill - the outside The Opera House Grill - the restaurant The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy burger The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy Burger The Opera House Grill - the Shaggy Burger

Rose and Sons Swan

6 Dec

swan
Location
: 892 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.roseandsonsswan.com/

Magnificent.  That’s really the only word I can think of to describe the awe-inspiringly delicious burger they serve at the Swan.  I wanna be very clear about this right up front, so that if you’re just skimming this review you know what’s what: this is one of the best burgers in the city.  You need to try it.

Swan, for the unaware, is a venerable diner that went under and was promptly snatched up by Rose and Sons’ Anthony Rose. Though they apparently had some pretty serious kinks to work out in their first couple of months of operation, if this burger is anything to go by, they’ve solved the hell out of whatever problems they had.

When I ordered, the waitress asked if I was okay with medium rare, which to me is right up there with “would you like some free ice cream?” in the pantheon of great questions.  Medium rare is the perfect way to cook a burger, so yeah, I’m okay with that.

The menu describes the banquet burger as coming with “house ground chuck, perth pork bacon, Ontario cheddar, brioche bun, lettuce, tomato, onion & pickle,” and oh man.  It’s all hits, no misses. Perfection.

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I have to start with that patty, which was everything you’d want it to be. Cooked somewhere between medium rare and rare with a nice sheen of crust from the griddle, it had a magnificently beefy flavour and the perfect balance of substance and tenderness.  I wanted to bust into the kitchen and shake the chef’s hand; he knows his way around a burger, that’s for sure.  I haven’t had one this flavour-packed and richly satisfying since Bymark — all without the extra-large price tag or the uncomfortably stuffy room.

It’s topped with with a generous piece of thickly cut, smoky, and unctuously rich bacon, which kicked up the tastiness without ever getting in the way.

Alarmingly, on first glance the slice of cheddar cheese appeared to be completely unmelted, but on the inside it was gooey enough to satisfy.  Some cheddar can be a little bit too sharp for a hamburger, but I think it should be pretty clear by now that this kitchen isn’t going to make a rookie mistake like that; the cheese here was nice and mild, just as it should be.

Also just as it should be?  The fresh, lightly toasted and fluffy brioche bun, which gave the burger a perfect beef-to-bun ratio.

There were a handful of condiments on the side; I spread a very moderate amount of the garlicky aioli on the top bun, but everything else is completely unnecessary.  The balance of cheese, bacon, and the magnificent patty is already perfect; mess with it at your own peril.

The fries were pretty great too, because of course they were.   If you’re making a burger this great, I’m pretty sure you’re not going to mess up the fries.

I’m really excited to go back and try the burger again, because if it’s consistently this good?  It’s a very strong contender for the best hamburger in the city.  This, as you can imagine, is not a claim that I make lightly.

4 out of 4

Rose and Sons Swan - the restaurant Rose and Sons Swan - the restaurant Rose and Sons Swan - the menu Rose and Sons Swan - the burger and fries Rose and Sons Swan - the burger

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