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I am certain that this year will bring the lion’s share of great burgers to me as I sniff out historic hotspots and chic and trendy grub purveyors all over California. The road is endless and I see that we may be transitioning out of the feared burger Renaissance—the excuse to over-complicate a simple American staple and charge excessive prices (at least if you are in Los Angeles) for, in some cases, total drek—and hopefully entering a time of burger Reformation, where artisans may differ with orthodoxy but still produce simple and wonderful tasting burgers. Headlong into an expedition for exotic sandwiches, pairing them with wines as I go, I hope to finally make it down to New Mexico (Bobcat Bite) and possibly tour the east coast to audition classic burgers that grew up in very different environments. Before I leap carelessly ahead I want to take a look back to a very interesting burger from Napa to draw inspiration.

2011 was rough for people who, like me, support the Ducks (Anaheim), but outside the realm of hockey and in terms of food it was more than interesting. From all the incarnations of duck between Thai food on Sunset Boulevard or crispy duck in Monterey Park the best may have come from St. Helena—for its sheer originality.

At Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, after a busy morning spent tasting, we (my friend and I) stopped off for a highly touted duck burger. More accurately the “Chinatown Duck Burger” for $15.50, which would include fries and a house made shitake mushroom ketchup. The price was a little elevated but I was in the mood for some good fare and did not flinch too much when I saw the tag.

We sat at the bar to speed along our lunch and a few minutes of talk elapsed between the bartender and ourselves before our food arrived. We ordered identically and were plated nearly the same dishes. The presentation was clean and bistro-esque. A sesame bun enveloped the hearty duck patty, under some miso-glazed mushrooms for added texture and the ensemble rested over a few leaves of rocket (arugula). The burger was cradled by an ample spread of plain spuds. The idea was east-meets-west, a culinary fusion binding a tasty combination of ingredients that most anyone would love.

I took my first bite and found balance in the sweet and savory elements of the burger. Nothing was over-the-top and everything was in proportion. I had no distractions as the bun held up marvelously to any drippings of fat from the patty. However, that was my one bone to pick; among the many things that were executed perfectly, the patty was not—lacking fat and jus drippings. Not to say that they overcooked the meat but perhaps a different grind should be entertained (everyone tries to defat a duck but in this case a little more fat should’ve be incorporated.)?

The lunch was pleasant despite the sans fat issue. It was not cheap, costing me roughly twenty-seven dollars for a spirited burger and beer combo w/ tip, which was not without fault. It is something to build on, expanding my burger horizons until I am able to eat the foie gras burger in New York or at a Laboratory in Seattle. I want to find a burger that is not too small, not exorbitant, but warrants its price tag, and proudly marries simplicity with complexity. Will that be so hard? I remain optimistic.

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Roumier Morey St. Denis 'Clos de la Bussiere' 2008

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