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Burgers were included when I initially drew up plans to do a winery tour in Sonoma last week. The plan was to have three different sandwiches in a four-day jaunt between Sonoma County and San Francisco. But it was apparent early on that what was possible would be as whimsical as the draw in a hand of five card poker—and a re-draw would be necessary. My stay was quick, like good trips often are, and it became exceedingly difficult to tailor plans around my beef-patty-dreams, though I did manage to sneak in a burger after a tasting appointment in West Sonoma. Thankful for the tasting room manager’s recommendation, my friend and I were able to discover a bistro burger in the otherwise easy-to-miss town of Graton before ultimately city-slicking down south in the city of the Golden Gate.

Not too far down the road from Red Car Winery’s tasting room, we were able to grab lunch at Underwood Bar & Bistro. The antique town was welcoming and parking was ample in the off-season. Seated immediately amongst locals, I trotted in with a camera bag and some bottles (so they would not cook in the car)—screaming inaudibly “out-of-towners.” Despite our wine-travelers appearance, service was nothing short of smiles and pleasantries (amiable) as we were seated facing the bar. It took us a few minutes of collaborating, but in the end we decided to indulge the cosmopolitan menu by ordering: mussels in Pernod, Chinese broccoli and the burger.

The items were staggered; the mussels hit the table first and the aromatics of the fennel liquor reached our noses before we began to separate the mollusks. We soaked up the saucy broth with pieces of baguette and savored our respective beverages as only shells were left in the wake. A brief respite and then the second wave of gai lan made the table. Glazed in hoisin and integrated with crunchy pieces of pork. The seasoning was perfect and the combinations of texture made a seven-dollar side a dark horse candidate for one of my favorite dishes of the weekend.

After a longer interval the final wave of the set—the plat principal—arrived. Its presentation was simple, showing a hefty burger with fries et fixings on the side. The sidepieces were onions a la Zuni Café (slightly pickled red onions), cornichons, ripe slices of tomato and tender romaine hearts to be compiled at our choosing.

We split it down the center, jus leaving freely from the evenly cooked burger as I knifed down its core. Slight crust on the patty’s edges encased a coarse grind of fresh beef. The execution flirted with perfection and those slightly sweet onions and crunch from the romaine heart balanced each bite with regards to texture and flavor. The only shortcoming was a slight lack of seasoning on the patty.

The whole time eating at Underwood I was really in awe of the community vibe, as parties flowed through the bistro/bar and were greeted on a first name basis. People here were really fortunate to have an outstanding and unassuming eatery within walking distance of their abode. The burger was just shy of awesome but definitely respectable and I wouldn’t skip it if I were in the mood for something other than a classic burger joint style.  In my experience everything was top shelf at Underwood and the burger offerings were only one-upped by that the unexpected choice of a Chinese broccoli appetizer that reigned supreme during the midday meal.

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