Thursday, March 27, 2008

Urban Campfire: Yay, it's still there!

A couple of days ago, the Arizona Republic's Howard Seftel ran a story that both the Scottsdale eatery Twisted and one of my personal favorites, Urban Campfire down in Tempe, were both a couple of higher profile restaurants to recently bite the dust.  While it is true that Twisted is no more, Urban Campfire is still going strong.  I went recently and everything is as delicious as ever.  Nearsighted people will be happy that they don't have to crane their neck to see the menu written on the wall, as they have now changed over to printed menus.  The yam planks are being cut thinner now, definitely into the realm of chips rather than the chip/fry hybrid that I enjoyed, but still extremely delicious.  They're also baking all of their own breads on-site now.  While the breads tend to be dominated by anything that goes on them (it's barbecue, what did you expect?), they still hold up a lot better than anything store-bought ever would.

So... if you haven't been there, GO.  It's still the same terrific value it was when they first opened.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Short Treatise on the Perfect Hamburger

I recently was going through articles on a food site when I came across a video describing what the editors of the site considered the "perfect hamburger". In the video, I saw a number of things done to the burger that I considered to be complete atrocities. This is my response to their video.

The perfect burger starts with ground chuck. It has enough fat in it that it's not dry when it comes off the grill, but not so much fat that the burger is greasy. It's best if you grind it yourself. you can do this in a food processor with minimal fuss. The burger should be cooked over a searing hot flame, no further than medium unless you enjoy eating hockey pucks. It should only be turned once, and never, ever pressed. The only thing that pressing will accomplish is drying out the burger. If you choose to add cheese, it should go on the burger before the burger itself is finished cooking so it has time to melt without giving the meat a chance to overcook. The cheese should have a personality of its own; American, Colby, and Monterey Jack all melt nicely but are quite bland. Better to go with sharp Cheddar, Swiss, or even crumbles of your favorite blue cheese.

The bun must not be an afterthought. The ones in the bread aisle at the supermarket are almost always flavorless, waifish things that can't hold their own once loaded down with toppings. Find yourself a good bakery and buy their hamburger buns. They should have some flavor of their own, and be big enough to hold up through the entire burger without collapsing, but not so big that all you taste is the bread. Toasting the buns is mandatory. Buttering the buns before toasting is highly recommended.

Toppings are up to you. Some people prefer the clean, minimalist lines of only burger and bun. Daniel Boulud lavishly tops the signature burger at his restaurant with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffles. I believe that a burger should come with a standard set of green leaf lettuce, ripe tomato, sliced red onion, and slices of pickle unless such things are not complementary to other special toppings. A dollop of a spreadable condiment is always welcome even on the simplest burger creation. Mustard, mayonnaise, or ketchup are all classic standards. More inventive creations may include Thousand Island dressing (or for that matter, any creamy salad dressing, blue cheese is especially wonderful), homemade aïoli, a red wine pan sauce if you happened to pan-sear the burgers... Really, anything in the kitchen that's savory and spreadable. From there, the sky is the limit for toppings. Bacon is ubiquitous; the excellent bacon from Niman Ranch can elevate an otherwise normal burger to ethereal status. One of my favorite toppings that is often overlooked is a fried egg. Any manner of roasted vegetables do well on burgers too. Look over the topping list at fancy burger joints, such as Burger Bar in Las Vegas, for some terrific ideas. Don't limit yourself to just those lists; if you think it sounds like it's going to be good on a burger, it almost certainly is going to be delicious.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Review: Chill, Tempe AZ

If you've been reading the blog for a while now, you might remember my recent trip to Las Vegas, where I got the chance to try frozen yogurt from Red Mango, the company responsible for starting the renaissance in frozen yogurt.  Gone are the variety of sweet flavors, replaced by just two flavors:  Regular yogurt, and yogurt with green tea added to it.  The regular yogurt isn't nearly as sweet as the frozen yogurt that you're used to, and it has a bit more twang to it, a bit like the popular Greek style yogurts that grace the dairy case at Trader Joe's.  Think of this new frozen yogurt as... yogurt flavored frozen yogurt.  There are a couple of places up in north Scottsdale that have offered this treat for a little while, chief among them Ice Tango just off the 101 at Frank Lloyd Wright.  I've been meaning to get up there and try it, but that part of town just isn't on my regular rotation.  Somehow driving half an hour just for frozen yogurt seems kind of silly, but planning a trip to Vegas with getting my hands on more Red Mango in mind is easily justifiable.  While I am planning on heading up to Vegas again soon, I was very happy to hear that a new fro-yo place just opened in Tempe, and they even offer gelato.

The new place is Chill, located in the same strip mall that houses Pita Jungle on Apache in between Rural and McClintock in Tempe, a veritable stone's throw from campus.  The interior certainly takes its cues from the industry big shots, with warm colors and modern looking furnishings.  The frozen yogurt machine has the regular yogurt, plus something I haven't seen anywhere else:  Non-dairy frozen soymilk.  Vegans, rejoice!  The yogurt can be topped with a variety of fresh fruits sliced up in-house and small candies such as chocolate chips.  Something you might want to try for a topping is mochi, a Japanese treat made of glutinous rice pounded into cakes.  It has a chewy texture and a lightly sweet flavor that pairs nicely with the smooth tanginess of the yogurt.  The gelato at first bite is better than average.  I'm happy that I didn't see any way out of season flavors that indicate the use of canned bases instead of real fruit (Gelato Spot, I'm looking at you), but I'll have to try more of the gelato before I can say for sure whether it's truly top-notch stuff.  However, the sheer deliciousness of the frozen yogurt may keep that from ever happening.  Stay tuned to find out ;-)