Momofuku Daisho

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Location
: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://momofuku.com/toronto/daisho/

When I heard that Daisho was going to start serving the Momofuku collaboration with Shake Shack that reportedly caused the longest line-up in Shake Shack history, I was pretty excited. And by “pretty excited”, I mean crazy excited.

Alas, it turns out that this burger is only served at lunch, and Daisho only serves lunch during the week. Seeing that I work in Mississauga, trying this burger suddenly seemed like an impossible dream (see here for an approximation of my reaction to this fact).

But then I remembered that I was taking a week off for TIFF, and all was right with the world again. I made sure to leave a gap in my schedule, and I was off to the races.

The Momofuku Shrimp Stack is described on the menu like this: “beef, hozon mayo, kohlrabi slaw” (very descriptive, I know — because everyone loves menus that just list a few ingredients and tell you nothing about what the dishes are actually like.  I’m sorry, did I say loves?  Because I meant hates).

Not that you’d know this from the super vague menu description, but the thing that makes the Shrimp Stack a shrimp stack is the thin shrimp patty resting atop the burger’s more traditional toppings (cheese, pickles, etc.).

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The best thing about this burger? The beef patty. It’s ridiculously juicy. It is amazingly, awe-inspiringly juicy. It also had a good amount of crust from the griddle, a great texture, and a decent (if not particularly overwhelming) beefy flavour.

It’s pretty great. Also great? The soft, pliant, incredibly fresh bun that held up to the rest of the burger amazingly well. It added just the right amount of breadiness without ever over-asserting itself or getting in the way. It was perfect.

I wasn’t quite as crazy as the burger’s eponymous shrimp patty, however. While it was tasty enough, it was deeply shrimpy and was easily the burger’s strongest flavour. Of course, the burger is called Shrimp Stack, so perhaps criticizing it for being too shrimpy is ridiculous. But this is a burger blog, so obviously that’s where my head’s at.

My other main objection is that the burger’s flavour is overwhelmingly rich. Between the melty American cheese, the juicy beef patty, and the concentrated shrimpiness of that patty, the flavour is a bit one-note. You’d think the pickles (traditional pickles and pickled onions) would cut the richness, but you can honestly barely even tell they’re there.

Still, though the whole thing wasn’t quite as earth-shakingly delicious as I had hoped, it was still pretty damn tasty, flaws and all.

The onion rings, with their delicately crispy batter and perfectly cooked onions, were outstanding. I’m normally not a dipping-my-onion-rings guy, but it came with a curry-tinged ketchup that was too good to resist. The kohlrabi slaw was also well above average.

Momofuku Toronto - the outside Momofuku Shoto - the restaurant Momofuku Shoto - pickles Momofuku Shoto - the Shrimp Stack Momofuku Shoto - the Shrimp Stack
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Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers

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Location
: 333 Bay Street, Toronto (inside the Bay Adelaide Centre)
Websitehttp://www.manhattansburger.com/

Odds are pretty good that you haven’t heard of Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers, an under-the-radar spot that’s nestled away in an underground food court downtown. There’s not a whole lot of chatter about it online, and if you don’t already know about it, you’re probably not going to run into it (and even if you do know about it, you might struggle to find it, as I did).

There didn’t seem to be a signature burger among their handful of pre-topped specialty burgers, so I went simple with the Yankee Burger, their no-frills choice. It came up to about ten bucks for the combo, so it’s not a bad value at least.

I was given the choice of bun, and went for white. I could have picked whole wheat, but since “whole wheat” and “hamburger” should never be in the same sentence together, that obviously wasn’t going to happen. I asked for the burger topped with my usual pickles, tomato, and mayo, and watched the man behind the griddle do his thing.

On their website, Manhattan’s proudly proclaims that they “strictly use Lean Ground beef with half the fat content of the regular grind.” Obviously, the alarm bells were going off in my head. I’m a broken record about this, but the reason so many GTA burger joints serve dry burgers is this weird compulsion to make burgers healthier by using leaner beef. This is the equivalent of trying to make a cookie healthier by cutting out most of the sugar. It might end up being much healthier, but if it’s not sweet, what’s the point?? Same goes for a burger: juiciness comes from fat. Cut out the fat, and you end up with a dry burger. No ifs, ands, or buts.

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Still, that doesn’t mean that my mind was entirely closed. If your preparation is otherwise solid (ie. a good grind, good quality beef, no extraneous seasonings, etc.) you can still serve a burger worth eating. Case in point: Fresh Burger. They come right out and admit that they use sirloin (a super lean cut of beef) but because they use good quality beef and the burger is well prepared, it’s still pretty darn good.

Sadly, the burger at Manhattan’s Hand-made Burgers is not pretty darn good.

For one thing, despite cooking the patties on a griddle there’s very little browning. Though the patty has the vaguest inklings of a crust, it’s clear that the griddle wasn’t nearly hot enough, which means that the burger misses out on a lot of potential flavour.

And of course, it’s dry. The burger was cooked to well done but not overcooked, and though it did have some juiciness (not much, but some), it was clearly dryer than it should have been.

The biggest issue, however, is the way that they’ve ground the beef. It’s way too fine, giving the beef an oddly mealy, somewhat unappealing texture. I’ve certainly had worse, but the texture holds the burger back from being anything particularly worth eating.

The flavour isn’t much better. Again, I’ve had worse, but the patty definitely had that very distinctively muddled flavour that you get from middling quality beef. I also don’t think it was seasoned at all, which didn’t help (as much as I hate overly-spiced meatloaf burgers, a little salt and maybe some pepper is fairly essential to bring out the flavour of the beef).

The sesame seed bun was fresh and suited the burger quite well, at least, and the toppings were fine.

The fries were the highlight — they were excellent. Crispy, perfectly cooked, amazing. I seem to be going to a lot of places recently that have great fries and mediocre burgers. I wish it were the other way around, but at least something is good I guess?

Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the restaurant Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the food court Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the fries Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the burger Manhattan's Hand-made Burgers - the burger
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The Gabardine

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Location
: 372 Bay Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thegabardine.com/

The list giveth, and the list taketh away.  I am referring, of course, to Toronto Life’s list of the 25 best burgers in the city, which seems to be guiding quite a few of my burger choices recently.    I had a pretty awful experience at that list’s number 23 restaurant, The Queen and Beaver, which made me wary of its choices.  The Harbord Room was much, much better, however.  This made me much more inclined to trust the list.

I’m wary again.  Boy, that list is hit-and-miss.  Yikes.

The Gabardine is, bizarrely, closed on the weekends, which might be why it’s taken me so long to check it out.  It’s a fairly small room, but it’s cozy, and they seem to be doing well.

The burger, as per the menu: “sirloin bacon cheeseburger with aioli, tomato, lettuce & fries.”

I’ve mentioned it before, but sirloin is an absurd cut of beef to make a hamburger out of.  I know why some restaurants do it, because it sounds fancy — hey, sirloin is steak, right?  It must be good!

Well, no.  Sirloin is super lean, and pretty much all of a burger’s juiciness comes from fat.  No fat = dry burger.

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To the Gabardine’s credit, they at least don’t cook the burger all the way to well done, which would absolutely guarantee that a burger made from beef as lean as sirloin will be dry.  The grilled burger I received was cooked to medium, with a little bit of pink in the middle; this helped negate some of the dryness. It was still quite dry, no doubt about it, but they at least tried to serve up something worth eating.

Much, much more problematic was the burger’s texture.  It was finely ground to an almost criminal extent, giving it a dense, oddly mealy texture that I found quite unappealing.  It was as if they ran the beef through a meat grinder, and then ran it through again.  Then again, then again.  Then one more time.  Then, hey, what the heck, once more, let’s make sure it has the most off-putting texture possible.  Between that and the lean beef, this was a burger that required a lot of chewing.  I felt like a spittoon should have been provided.

It tasted okay, but with the abundant, sharp cheddar and the salty bacon, there was zero flavour from the beef.  Like, none at all.  The cheddar flavour so thoroughly dominated the weakly-flavoured beef that it was like chewing on some kind of beef/cheese hybrid.  It was like science had created a new substance that has the texture of beef, but the taste of cheese.

I liked the bun, I’ll say that.  Very delicately crispy on the outside, but fresh, soft and pliant on the inside, it was pretty great.  If it could talk, it would have expressed its sadness to be part of such a sub-par burger, but it’s okay: I don’t blame you, bun. You did your best.  You brought your A-game.

Also bringing their A-game?  The fries.   Man, those were good fries.  I’m baffled as to how the same kitchen puts out fries that great and a burger that middling.  The universe is mysterious.

The Gabardine - the outside The Gabardine - the restaurant The Gabardine - the burger and fries The Gabardine - the burger
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