Tag Archives: restaurant

The Wren

28 May


Location
: 1382 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.thewrendanforth.com/

After seeing pictures of the various burger specials at the Wren roughly a billion times on Instagram over the last few months, my excitement level was pretty much at a fever pitch; it’s not easy to get me to venture too far east in Toronto (I’m lazy, you see), but for an amazing burger?  Yeah, I’ll go out of my way for that.

Alas, this place suffers from a very pronounced case of Sweet Jesus-itus — highly Instagrammable, but otherwise not particularly great.

I ordered the Backyard Burger, which is the most bare-bones burger they serve (they also have a much more Instagram-friendly creation called the Uncle Buck Burger, not to mention the veritable Instagram-catnip that is their rotating special).

The Backyard Burger comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.

Sometimes, you can just look at a burger’s cross-section and know you’re in trouble.  If you can tell just by looking at a burger that the grind is too fine and it’s too densely packed, you’re in trouble.

And yeah, of course the grind was too fine and it was too densely packed, because just look at it.  Look at it and weep.

It was also cooked all the way to the wellest of well done, and was almost entirely moisture-free.  It wasn’t the worst patty I’ve ever had, but it was kinda unpleasant to eat.

The taste, while not offensive, was non-existent; there was no particular beefy or meaty flavour.  Aside from the subtle smokiness from the grill, it didn’t taste like anything.

Everything else was fine.  The burger comes topped with ketchup, mustard, and mayo, which is more condiment-heavy than I’d usually like.  Here, however, those condiments are actually fairly essential to provide the burger with some much-needed moisture.  I actually could have used more.

The bun, though a little bit too crackly on its exterior, was mostly quite good.  It help up to the patty and the toppings nicely, and didn’t overwhelm.

The fries were the clear (and only) highlight.  They were perfectly cooked and tossed with a seasoned salt that made them taste pretty great on their own — no dip required.

1.5 out of 4

The Wren - the outside The Wren - the restaurant The Wren - the burger The Wren - the burger The Wren - the burger

lbs.

30 Apr


Location
: 100 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://lbstoronto.com/

You know when you’re watching a movie, and it kind of sucks, but the lead actor is clearly trying really hard and actually giving a great performance? And it’s a shame, because all of that quality acting is wasted on such a middling film? That’s pretty much how I feel about the burger at lbs.

Not that the burger is even particularly bad; it’s actually fairly good. But it could have very, very easily been great.

The lbs burger, as per the menu: “6oz brisket + aged cheddar + bacon rasher + kozlicks mustard + house pickles + brioche bun.”

If nothing else, the patty is amazing; extending my strained “great actor in a bad movie” metaphor to this hamburger, the patty is the actor. It’s so, so good.

It’s cooked to a nice pink medium with an enviable amount of crust from the griddle. That crust isn’t just for show, either; it adds a great amount of crispiness that contrasts very nicely with the tender beef. And the beef itself is coarsely ground and loosely packed — the texture is perfect.

It’s also super juicy, with a ridiculously satisfying wallop of buttery, beefy flavour.

It’s a great patty, no doubt about it. Everything else, on the other hand…

There’s way, way, way too much going on. Between the very liberally applied strong mustard, the abundant sharp cheddar, the vinegary pickles, and the sweet caramelized onions (which are unmentioned on the menu, but quite abundant), the amazing flavour of the patty is absolutely buried. It’s gone. It never had a chance.

And that cheese. Yikes. There’s so damn much of it, it’s so intensely flavoured, and it’s completely cold and unmelted. It’s just a big old slab of cold, crumbly cheese that absolutely dominates the hamburger’s other flavours.  It drops trou and takes a metaphorical dump all over that magnificent patty. Even if it were melted, it would have been too much and too strong — but unmelted? Unmelted it’s ruinous.

I’ve ranted about cold cheese on a burger a few times before, so I won’t do it again. I’ll just say that clammy, unmelted cheese on a hamburger is horrible, and if you’re serving a burger like this, you should feel horrible. It almost single-handedly ruins this hamburger.

There’s also a thin slice of back bacon, which is fine, but it’s completely overwhelmed by the burger’s stronger flavours.  I could barely even taste it.

Then there’s the bun, which in theory is great — soft, fresh, and slightly sweet. But the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink burger has way too much going on; the soft bun just can’t handle it. By the last few bites, it had almost completely disintegrated into sodden mush.

Still, as much as this burger bums me out, it was good; I enjoyed it.  It’s a bit on the pricey side at 22 bucks, but the quality of the patty was so good that I can still easily recommend it, but with a big, fat asterisk.*

The fries also make this easy to recommend.  They’re crispy, creamy, salty, and perfect.  They’re some of the best fries I’ve had in a while.

*The toppings try their best to ruin it.

3 out of 4

Lbs. - the outside Lbs. - the restaurant Lbs. - the burger Lbs. - the burger

3 Brewers

16 Apr


Location
: 275 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://les3brasseurs.ca/locations/3-brewers-yonge

3 Brewers is a Canadian casual chain restaurant, which means by law, it has to serve mediocre food.

Oh, did you not hear about that law?  Yeah, parliament recently passed a law saying that every Canadian chain restaurant has to serve food that is “mediocre at best, with drab, uninspired cuisine that instills a profound sadness into its customers” (that’s a direct quote from the legislation).

So of course, the burger at 3 Brewers — I got the 3 Brasseurs burger, which comes topped with maple Amber beer sauce, smoked Gouda, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion — is mediocre.  I mean, they wouldn’t want to break the law, would they?  The burger here stayed very firmly within the bounds of the legislation; it made me sad, just like it was supposed to.

It wasn’t the worst thing ever, I’ll give it that.  It was griddled and pleasantly crusty, and all the toppings were pretty good.  The smoked Gouda was nice and melty (if a bit too strong) — but then who cares when the burger itself is so poor?  The maple amber beer sauce must have just been globbed into one spot in the middle of the burger, because I got a couple of very sweet bites, and the rest of the burger was sauce-free.  The bun, aside from having an exterior that’s a bit too crunchy, was also pretty good.

It’s the patty that really made me sad.  It tasted like the patty from pretty much every other chain like this — it was well done, dry, and completely lacking in flavour.  The beef is lousy, but not too lousy — it’s the cheapest thing they can get away with without it being too flagrant (it’s not a frozen patty, at least).  It tastes like nothing, but it doesn’t offend.

As for the fries, they were fine.  A little bit better than the burger, but again, not good enough that they’re going to risk getting shut down.  Because of the law, of course.

2 out of 4

3 Brewers - the outside 3 Brewers - the restaurant 3 Brewers - the burger 3 Brewers - the burger

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.

montecitoA

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.

bouludA

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