Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Elevated Burger

Last week I drove up to Carlsbad to try a burger. I don't usually eat burgers anymore, much as I love them--but I was so intrigued by the concept behind Elevation Burger that I made an exception and off I went.

Elevation Burger was founded in 2005 in Virginia by Hans Hess, a former Californian. Looking for an alternative experience to the grease bomb many of us have scarfed down and then regretted, he came up with a fast-food concept that uses organic, grass-fed, free-range beef burgers with the meat freshly ground on the premises. There are also two types of veggie burgers, fresh-cut fries fried in Bertolli olive oil, salad, and hand-scooped milkshakes. Plus, a cookie or mandarin oranges for dessert.

It's not just the ingredients that are elevated. Carlsbad franchise owner Ron Weinberg explained that staff is paid above minimum wage and get health care benefits. The franchises all use renewable, non-polluting materials such as bamboo flooring, compressed sorghum tabletops, and low- or no-VOC paints and sealants. And they recycle.

All that's well and good but how's the food? I enjoyed it a lot. I ordered the Elevation Burger (two 1/5-pound patties, two slices of aged cheddar cheese, and a boatload of toppings--ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, raw onions, elevation sauce and a fabulous hot pepper relish on the side to taste). I got the fries, which were crispy and fresh tasting. And I ordered a thick coffee ice cream shake with chocolate syrup. I also got the fat cookie, made with chocolate chips, oatmeal, and pecans, which I saved for later.

I loved their idea of using metal baking pans as trays for shuttling the food and drinks. I appreciated that these weren't mammoth burgers. Patties are a fifth of a pound and the buns fit snugly around them, not overpowering the meat. And, I loved the prices, which are very reasonable, especially given the quality of the products. The Elevation Burger is $5.99. The fries are $2.89. The shakes are $3.89. The cookie is $1.79.

The friend I was with ordered the Veggie Burger #1, and it truly tasted like vegetables blended with cheese--as opposed to a substance that just wasn't meat. The other Veggie Burger (#2) is a vegan burger. There's also the Half the Guilt Burger, made with one meat patty and one veggie patty. And, you can order your burger carb-free, wrapped in lettuce. Don't like burgers? They have a grilled cheese sandwich. Love burgers with an insane passion? Fill 'er up with the Vertigo Burger; you could order up to 10 patties.

Elevation Burger has storefronts across the country. In San Diego County, it's located in Bressi Ranch Village Center at 2641 Gatway Road. According to Weinberg, who is Elevation Burger's area director for San Diego, they are scouting new locations--looking at UTC and Mission Valley as their next destinations.

Print Page

Friday, February 4, 2011

Relate at Bistro St. Germain's: Introducing the Peripatetic Pop-Up to San Diego

Chef Dan Moody brought the pop-up restaurant concept to San Diego this week, settling into temporary digs at Bistro St. Germain's in Encinitas for three weeks with his Relate restaurant.

Moody has plenty of experience with the concept, having worked as sous chef at LudoBites in L.A., the hugely successful pop-up creation of Chef Ludo Lefebvre. In fact, a couple of the dishes he offered on his first menu come from his time at LudoBites.

I'm of two minds about the pop-up concept. It certainly offers chefs an opportunity to open a new restaurant without the drain of capital investment costs. For diners scouting around for new places where chefs can have a free hand to experiment with new concepts, it can be a terrific adventure. But, a temporary showcase can also mean a dining adventure that includes inexperienced staff in an environment that is makeshift at best.

I got to try Relate on Wednesday night at a preview dinner. And both of those experiences butted up against each other that evening. The dishes--a prix fixe meal of five dishes paired with wines from Mount Palomar Winery--were clever and delicious. But Moody definitely has some fundamental work ahead of him to make it an extraordinary evening. His staff appeared inexperienced and confused about what to do. The guests entered the restaurant at 7 and they left us standing around trying to figure out what we were supposed to do before Moody appeared and directed us to take seats at various tables. When it came to table service, our server couldn't answer questions about the dishes and basically giggled at his ignorance. Chalk this up to too little time to train staff that are not professional servers. But at $55 a person, this will need a fix. Fortunately, Moody, a San Diegan, has plans to open pop-up restaurants in other locations, which should gradually help address some of the experience problems in the staff he's developing. In the meantime, expect some adventures in dining.

Moody was charming about other issues that came up. The French Onion Soup listed on the menu couldn't be served because one of his kitchen staff, moving the pot from one part of the kitchen to another, tripped and lost all the contents to the floor. And a dish calling for beet chips wasn't going to have them. Stuff happens.

But dinner itself was lovely. It opened with a sweet Carrot Consommé Shooter with Ginger Foam, skipping past the misbegotten soup to a Roasted Baby Beet Salad with Golden Beet Vinaigrette. Unfortunately, I don't like beets -- but that didn't prevent me from enjoying the salad's leafy greens, judiciously sprinkled with fresh lavender, and featuring a dab of sweet cherry yam preserves.

Photo courtesy of Megan Novak Shockney
Then came a luscious dish of Butter Poached Lobster, Warm Egg & Caviar Salad, and Leeks with Fennel Jam and Onion Froth. (My photo was too dark so I'm using this from the PR person from a tasting done earlier. It's similar enough to give you an idea of what we ate that evening.) The salad was perched on challah toast and adorned with a creamy lobster hollandaise. It was a delicate dish that would be a perfect brunch item, but that evening it was a sweet segue to more substantial dishes to follow, like the Rabbit Cassoulet.

This had to be the best dish served that evening. The rabbit was tender and sweet and the flavor combination exquisite. It was a small serving but those few bites yielded perfectly cooked beans, pieces of rabbit, and a savory bit of sausage all joined together in a rich and mellow sauce melding rabbit and duck confit in veal stock.

The cassoulet yielded to another hearty dish, Spiced Beef, Spinach Avocado Puree, Crispy Porcini Spaetzle with slices of black truffle, and a Guinness Gastrique. Moody explained that this is basically his signature dish. The meat is rubbed with a spice mixture of chipotle, ancho chile, coffee, cinnamon, and clove resulting in a heady flavor that has just enough bite but is mellowed by the cinnamon and clove. The spaetzle was terrific--very earthy tasting with a nice chewy feel. The slices of truffle were a lovely extravagance and complemented by the sweet gastrique. The only thing that felt out of place was the puree. It was designed to offset the meat's spiciness but I didn't find it necessary and it seemed a clunky addition to an otherwise wonderful pairing of ingredients.

The meal ended with a dessert of Smoked S'mores, House-Made Graham Crackers, Agave Marshmallow, Chipotle-Orange Ganache, and Tequila Crème Anglaise. This is something you might also find on a LudoBites menu, but Moody made sure we knew it was his creation. At LudoBites you'll find it served with avocado ice cream--Lefebvre's adaptation of Moody's dish. It's a fun dessert and, indeed, smoky to imitate the effect you'd get making them at a campfire.

As for Relate's ambiance, there's a little work that needs to go into that, too, to match the caliber of the food. The night I was there, the place definitely looked like the casual breakfast/lunch spot it is. There were no tablecloths, the large display case that holds the day's pastries was uncovered, revealing the several leftover muffins left stranded inside, and the lights could be dimmed. But, on all the walls were charming paintings by culinary artist Christopher M. And, in fact, the artist was at dinner that evening and presented Moody with a pen-and-ink drawing of the chef examining his knives.

When you make reservations--and I suggest you do--check to find out what wines are to be paired with dinner before you commit to paying extra for the pairing. The Mount Palomar wines we were served were unimpressive and some diners said that next time, they'd bring their own. However, if Moody changes the wines, it would be worth exploring that and any craft beer pairings he does in the next three weeks. The menu I experienced will run through the weekend, then Moody will periodically change it up during the rest of the three-week run.

Relate at Bistro St. Germain's is at 1010 S. Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas. It's open Tuesday through Saturday until February 26, from 6 to 10 p.m. You can make reservations on the website or call 858-367-379.

Print Page