An L.A. Gourmet Burger Eatery Scores a Major Achievement in Sourcing its Meat!
For the past year I have been researching an article on the Burger Scene in Los Angeles. I've eaten well over a hundred and fifty burgers so far, and if I play my cards right I will never finish and have to write my article. I'm often asked what is the best burger that I've found in Los Angeles, and of course there is no single hamburger which fits that definition. I've enjoyed dozens of outstanding ones, but interestingly enough the best burger that I can ever recall eating... which was in New York... and the one I most enjoyed in L.A., are related. By birth, or actually by meat source.
L.A.'s Natural Burger made with Pat La Frieda 40-day prime aged beef for $29
To explain, on my last visit to New York I spent an evening at Keith McNally's newly reopened Minetta Tavern. The purpose was to taste the much-talked about $26 Black Label Burger. Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr told me that they had tried a dozen different blends of meat from the city's top purveyors, including four different ones from the legendary Pat La Frieda wholesale meat outlet. According to the New York Times, the family-owned and operated for over 90 years firm has earned the unique distinction of being America's #1 meat purveyor.
"It was obvious to us that the Black Label blend from La Frieda was heads and shoulders above the rest," Chef Lee said. No one would specify for me the exact ingredients in the burger mix, but I was told that it consisted of dry aged ribeye, along with skirt steak and brisket, the ratios of which are a closely-guarded secret. All of the beef is prime and sourced from Creekstone Farms, Kentucky. Riad told me that the ribeye used is the same cut that is on the menu at Minetta for $90 (and worth every penny.) The chefs told me that it is important to use prime grade beef because, due to its intense marbling, less external fat is required in the blend, thus concentrating the beef flavor. The aging process is extended, which accounts for that $26 price.
Using the bakery at their sister outlet, Balthazar, they developed a brioche roll with a dark tan crust studded with sesame seeds. When I ate my burger there, I remarked that the bun tasted almost like the challah of my youth. Lee told me that they bake the rolls a day in advance, with extra salt and butter, and then cut them and let them stand overnight, so they will be slightly stale and able to contain the juices of the burger. The 'regular' $16 burger they serve, using La Frieda's premium blend of meat, is served with cheddar cheese and carmelized onions, but they recommended that the Black Label be eaten naked, without cheese, to get the full flavor of the meat. They said that the meat was delivered daily, the 8 oz. patties are hand-formed and worked as little as possible, resulting in an extremely loose burger, extra juicy. They cook it on a plancha/griddle, but explained that it is not extra hot, so that the thick crust it forms can be matched with a pink interior. Minetta uses grapeseed oil on the grill because of its high smoke point and neutral flavor. Clarified butter is drizzled on top of the patty and copious amounts of salt and pepper are added throughout the cooking process.
Until last week, this was the best burger I can ever recall eating. Right up there with those at The Grill, Spago, Comme Ca, Father's Office, Golden State, The Foundry, Apple Pan and some other delicious burgers I have encountered in my recent culinary travels here. (Fast food burgers are another category entirely, and no one has greater enthusiasm than me for In-N-Out Burger's Double Double Animal style, with well-done fries. And don't get me started on Umami burgers, which are the latest fast-food marketing phenomenon). But last week I had a revelation....a burger which was related in a familial way with the stunning Minetta burger.
Alan Saffron is the Australian-born restaurateur determined to offer the best burger in L.A.
It came about when I heard that a father-and-son team, Australian-born Alan and native-born Daniel Saffron, along with Alan's wife Genevieve (of Brooklyn origin, like this writer), had opened a burger joint on Third Street in midtown, The Burger Kitchen (8048 West Third St., at Crescent Heights (323) 944-0503) valet after six and street parking) and were about to become the exclusive purveyors of Pat La Frieda meat in California. On my first visit, they had not yet worked out the details of the NY-LA La Frieda transaction, but I did have a truly delicious burger which, at $75, was also the most expensive I have ever eaten...called From Siberia with Love, it featured American Kobe (Wagyu) beef from Idaho's esteemed Snake River Farms, topped with osetra caviar! The saltiness of the caviar contrasted beautifully with the deep, mineral flavor of the prime beef. And the bun from Ca'd'oro Bakery was a replica of the brioche roll I had encountered in New York, although without the sesame seeds.
But it was the Pat La Frieda burger meat which I craved...and that was to come! As it did, in mid-June. One evening I settled in for a serious exploration of the newly-added burgers to their extensive menu. The Siberia With Love at $75 was still on the menu, now made with La Frieda meat, but it was the more affordable The Natural, at $29, which drew my attention. Made from 40-day dry-aged Pat La Frieda prime mix, served on the self-same brioche bun, with romaine, tomatoes and sliced red onion on the side, it was absolutely delicious, juicy and deeply mineral in flavor, the essence of fine beef wrapped up in one heavenly morsel. I had called New York and asked the younger La Frieda son why they had agreed to sell their meat exclusively to Alan. "We've been besieged for some 20 years with people from California wanting to buy our meat, but I never felt that the time or outlet was right. Then Alan came along and I immediately sensed the difference; he was absolutely passionate about making the best burgers imaginable, and would not be refused. We worked out a delivery schedule, so that our Las Vegas truck shipment would be extended to L.A., and now the West Coast can enjoy the Pat La Frieda experience." For almost a century Pat La Frieda Sr. and Jr. have been providing custom blends of top-notch grass-fed burger meat to a few exclusive restaurants in Manhattan. It is the gold standard of hamburger meat.
The Australian Meat Pie for $10 in delicious, flaky and filled with fine beef!
The Burger Kitchen menu is extraordinary, and I have managed to explore other facets of it apart from the amazing burger experience. Paying tribute to Alan's heritage, they offer amazing Australian Meat Pies ($10), the national dish of that country, large flaky pastries filled with either beef, curried beef, chicken with mushrooms, or lamb (my favorite), served with fries. I have taken several home and enjoyed them slightly heated. Another menu selection is not called a Shrimp on the Barbie but it is Grilled Tiger shrimp with a ginger/chili sauce, but the New England Lobster Roll ($19) is a valiant try at the original from Maine, though I more enjoyed the Lobster Decadence ($20), a lobster patty with grilled sweet onions and a lemon/lime sauce.
Now here's a shocker: You may recall my writing about various outlets in L.A. for great steaks, but who would have imagined that a Third Street hamburger joint would serve a sensational New York Steak, not inexpensive at $48 but truly extraordinary! It's a one-and-a-half inch thick 16 oz. prime New York steak prepared exactly as you desire, served with grilled onions and house potato chips. "I owned a steak house back in Sydney, Australia," Allan explained, "and never lost my touch for preparing the best steaks imaginable. I'll put my New York Prime up against any in this city...and win." Did I mention that there are at least 35 burgers to be had here, many featuring Pat La Frieda meats in some configeration, from a $9 Burger Delicious to the Kobe Beef Burger ($17) to the 24 oz. prime ground Cowboy Burger ($39). Yet to be tried is the Died and Gone to Heaven Burger ($50), made with La Frieda beef and lobster medallions with truffle oil. Last night I stopped in to have The Natural topped with a dollop of camembert cheese, one of the most delicious beefy tatstes ever. Before I forget, the Onion Rings ($3.50) are sensational in their beer-battered crunchy greasiness. Also go for the Sweet Potato Fries ($3.50).
Incidentally, for those of you who are addicted like me to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books and film, the burger chef here is the beautiful 25-year old Holly Benadum with nose rings, tattoos and piercings like the fictional heroine Lisbeth Salander. All to the good. Some twenty two craft beers served by the glass and pitcher are offered, as well as a small but select list of 35 wines by the bottle and glass. Breakfast is served daily at 8 am to 11 am, and you will be pleased with - we're not making this up - the Lobster Benedict Burger ($16)!
The playful, bright interior is conducive to overeating, and superior quality, enormous selections, and everyday prices make this burger palace a real find! But it is the taste of the Pat La Frieda meat which you will go home remembering. Open from 8 am to 11 pm daily.
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