Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pearl's Deluxe Burgers

As I mentioned when reviewing my last burger at Umami Burger, a group of friends and I used to get burgers once a week for "B Night".  We've since stopped this tradition, but still occasionally get inspired to do it again.  A what better inspiration than introducing a bunch of friends to GoPago via free burgers?

We headed to a place that has been on my list of places to check out for ages: Pearl's Deluxe Burgers.
Basically everything on their menu sounds tempting: a plethora of choices for milkshakes, burgers with creative toppings, a slew of patty types to pick from (buffalo, kobe, turkey, chicken, veggie, etc), and then of course the fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings.  So much deliciousness!  I've wanted to visit them for years now, but somehow they never made it to the top of my list.  Until I saw them on GoPago of course.

They have two locations in San Francisco, with the same menu, both equidistant from our office.  The bigger, newer one is located on Market St, but we went for the original, smaller location on Post St since it seemed to have more positive Yelp reviews.

The restaurant was indeed tiny, with 5 tables for two, and a counter with a few seats.  Luckily, there were not many people dining in when we arrived on Monday evening, so we were able get seats for our group with no problems.  When I visited on the previous Sunday afternoon however, the place was bustling.  They seem to be handing a lot of togo orders.  GoPago seems to be a hit there, as I heard the chimes going off many times during each of my visits.

The restaurant was clean, the staff friendly, everything was efficient.  Fairly standard burger joint decor with slightly sticky ketchup and mustard containers and much needed napkins on the tables.  Additional sauces, plastic silverware, cups of water, and a bucket of pickle spears (bonus points for this!) were available at the counter.

We ordered from a few blocks away using our phones, and everything was ready soon after we arrived, delivered to us at our table.  I appreciated that when they brought out our food, they addressed us by name, rather than number, like the people who had ordered in person.  Far more personal seeming, even though we'd used technology rather than talking to them to place our orders.  Strange how technology can make things more intimate!

The food was all good for the price point and casual style.  It isn't a cuisine I crave regularly anymore, but I'd go back if I wanted a great shake, some delicious fried sides, and a simple burger.  Or some subset of that.  Ok, who am I kidding, I'd still want it all!
Mint Oreo Milkshake.  $4.49.
While I was excited to try the burger and sides, and had plans to go with friends on Monday night, what I was most excited for was the milkshake, as I've been on a milkshake kick lately, and I had a sore throat and wanted something icy and cold.  And it was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, a rare treat.  So, I decided to go on a "reconnaissance mission" to scout out Pearl's on my own the day before going with the group, to get a shake.

Pearl's offers the largest selection of milk shake flavors that I've come across.  I had an incredibly hard time picking one.  Did I want to go for something slightly refreshing, like coconut, pineapple, or pina colada?  Or try to mimic the greatness of the strawberry shake I'd had from Holy Grill? Or go for the decedent sounding peanut butter, or even better, chocolate peanut butter?  But my throat was sore, and something minty sounding soothing, reminding me of my pretty tasty mint chocolate chip shake from Roxy's Cafe.  I decided on that, but then realized that although they had a slew of flavors, mint chocolate chip was not one of them.  I could do plain mint, but that seemed boring.

I didn't order it in advance with GoPago, because I wanted to see if there were other milkshake flavors available that just weren't listed in the app (like, mint chocolate chip!).  Indeed there were, like a seasonal pumpkin one.  But not my precious mint chocolate chip.  I saw mint Oreo however, and decided that would be a good substitute.

So I ordered via my phone, and eagerly awaited my shake.  Since I didn't use GoPago in the traditional order ahead way, I had to wait a few a minutes.  I could hear the blender whirling away in the background, and it seemed like everyone around me had ordered a shake too.  I was excited!

My shake arrived, a large size.  It had a wide straw.  This was a good sign, as my biggest criticism of the last Oreo shake I had from Bistro Burger was that the standard size straw wasn't sufficient to suck up the Oreo chunks, and it kept getting clogged.

The shake was loaded with Oreo.  I can't even guess how many whole Oreos went into it.  A lot of them.  The chunks were of varied size, some of them quite sizable, but the large straw made this never  a problem.  Normally, I would have loved how much Oreo was in here, but if I'd thought about it more, I would have realized I didn't actually want an Oreo shake.  My throat was sore, and swallowing really hurt.  Chunks of cookie were not actually welcome.  Whoops.

The shake was a fantastic consistency, really nice and thick.  Blended perfectly.

I didn't taste much mint.  If you had told me this was a plain Oreo shake, I would have believed you.  This was disappointing, as I really wanted it for the mintyness.

They do not offer whipped cream.  Minus one point for that, as I do enjoy my whipped cream, but honestly, the shake didn't need it.

Overall, this was a very well executed milkshake, but I didn't love it.  I wanted something with much more mint flavor, and I made this mistake of getting the Oreo.   I can't blame Pearl's for that part though, they did a great job of giving a generous amount of Oreo.

$4.49 is pretty pricy for a milkshake, but it was large, and clearly well made.  I'd certainly consider trying another one, perhaps one of the fruiter flavors.

When I came back the next day, my dining companion got a Oreo malt shake.  I of course demanded politely asked for a taste.  It was again thick, a great consistency, loaded with Oreo.  It definitely made me wish I'd gotten another one!
Bula Burger: 1/2 pound, buffalo, award winning spicy pineapple teriyaki sauce with bacon, mayo and swiss cheese.  $12.99.
First up, the burger.  Pearl's has a variety of burgers with preset toppings available that all sounded pretty amazing, including one with a hotdog on top.  Or you can build your own.  And for the patty, you can pick a "mini" quarter pound beef burger or a half pound beef burger.  Or if you are being healthier, you can get a turkey burger, chicken breast, or veggie burger.  Or you can upgrade for $4 to a kobe burger or buffalo burger.  Soooo many choices!

Had I been alone, I'd have just gone for the mini burger, since a quarter pounder is big enough for me, particularly since I wanted to try the sides too.  But luckily I had a buddy who agreed to split things with me, so we could try even more menu items.  We decided to be slightly more adventurous and went for the buffalo burger.

We also decided to pick the burger that got the most mentions on Yelp, the Bula burger.  It isn't the one either of us would normally pick, but we took the advice of the masses, and thought it was easier than agreeing on a custom built one given our different preferences anyway.

The burger patty was cooked perfectly medium, as we specified.  We both would normally get medium-rare, but we thought that buffalo would do better with a little more cook time.  It seemed like a good choice, as the patty was lean but still very moist, but not too juicy.  One of the least messy burgers I've had in a long time, even though it was coated in sauce.

The sauce was the "award winning" spicy pineapple teriyaki.  It was sweet, flavorful, and pretty tasty, but I didn't love it with the buffalo.  I think it would go much better with a chicken, turkey, or veggie burger.  I didn't think it was spicy at all.

Also on our patty were strips of bacon.  They were not crispy style, which is how I like my bacon.  This is clearly just personal preference though, as my dining companion loved the bacon.  When I told him I only like mine crispy, he laughed and asked how I dealt with the bacon in Sydney.  Easy: I gave up on ordering bacon there after probably 2 tries!

But back to the burger.  It also had a thick slice of swiss cheese on top.  The cheese went well with the teriyaki sauce, but I wish it were either sliced thinner, or melted a little more, as it was fairly solid.  There was also apparently mayo, but I didn't detect it amongst everything else on the burger.

The most surprising thing to me about the burger was the bun.  It was really fluffy, and actually the right size for the patty!  That is, unlike basically every burger I've ever eaten before, I didn't run out of bun.  It wasn't a decadent brioche bun or anything fancy, just loaded up with some sesame seeds, but it really served its purpose well, soaked up the sauce and juices, and again helped make this burger not a mess to eat in any way.  Again, unlike most burgers, I was able to pick it up and set it down several times, without it falling apart, or turning into a disaster.  (Now, beside me, Emil ordered a rare Kobe pesto burger, which was a kinda ridiculous mess.  Between the juices running out of the burger, and the pesto sauce, he was covered in drippings.  There is a reason they have a vat of napkins on the table!  He commented that the burger was cooked very nicely, rare as he requested, and that it had good flavor, although he lamented his choice of pesto, saying it would have gone better with a chicken burger.)

Overall, there was nothing mind blowing about the burger, but it was well done, particularly for the price point and speed of service.  It doesn't really compare to my all time favorite burger from Alexander's, but they are pretty different things, and there is something to be said about being able to get a good, satisfying, quick meal.

The price was good for the size and quality of the burger.  Had I stuck with standard beef, it would have only been $8.99.  I'd certainly get another one if I was in the mood for a casual burger, but I think I'd go for a classic burger, with mushrooms and swiss.  Or maybe cheddar.  Or american.  Ok, somehow, I'm already in the mood for another burger!
Springs: Sweet potato fries and onion rings.  $3.99.
Pearl's has a number of tempting sides.  They also make it easy to be indecisive, offering up combinations of some of the more popular choices.

First, we went for the "springs", a mix of sweet potato fries and onion rings.  When they were brought to our table, the server asked if we wanted ranch or mayo with them for dipping.  I said sure, as you know me, I like to try out all combinations of things.

I couldn't decide which of these I liked more.  Neither were amazing in my first bites, but I quickly got addicted.  My initial disappointment was due to the fact that they weren't hot, even when we first received them.  And after I'd taken a few bites of burger, they were fairly cold.

The sweet potato fries were decently crispy, and had a great sweetness to them, clearly made from sweet potato. They were cut unevenly, which I really liked, because it meant that some were more fluffy, and others more crispy like chips.  I could pick and choose which style I wanted every time.  They were good on their own, but I absolutely loved dipping them in the mayo.  I had a few moments of second thoughts, thinking how crazy it was that I'd just devoured a cheesy, bacon covered burger, and then was diving into onion rings and fries, and still felt the need to amp it all up with mayo, but they really tasted so much better with the mayo, that I couldn't stop.  The ranch wasn't as successful, just generic ranch, and I didn't really find a use for it.

The onion rings had a fantastic salty batter on them.  It didn't seem to stick all that well, as the coating was falling off of a number of them, but the spicing in it was great, and they were nice and crisp as well.

$3.99 was a good price for a serving this size, which we couldn't even come close to finishing.  I'm really glad they let you get a mix like this, because I honestly don't know which I'd pick if I could only pick one.  I think the sweet potato fries were the winner, with the onion rings coming in at a close second.
Frings: Fries and onion rings.  $3.99.
We also had to try the fries, as I'd heard that they were unlike normal fries, and were coated in tempura batter.  They were indeed interesting, the extra coating made them super crunchy.  Good, but again not that warm, and my least favorite of the sides.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Catering by Rubio's

I've recently discovered, and really loved, Rubio's.  So far, I've tried a number of their tacos: the classic fish tacos, several different shrimp tacos, and their newest tilapia taco.  I've really liked them all.

So tonight, when I saw the event I was at was catered by Rubio's, I was excited to try out the offerings. Since it was catering, they went for a cold item, one of their new salads.  Unfortunately, it wasn't very good. I'm glad this wasn't my first experience with Rubio's, as I'd never be tempted to visit based on this dish.
Chipotle Orange Shrimp Salad.
The menu describes this as: "Wonderfully tangy pan-seared shrimp, mandarin oranges, fire-roasted corn, fresno chiles, avocado slices and black beans on a blend of spring mix and butter lettuce, topped with tortilla strips and fresh crema. Drizzled with a chipotle orange vinaigrette and garnished with a lime."

Since I absolutely loved the flavor in the shrimp I'd had in my assorted shrimp tacos, I was really looking forward to the shrimp in this.  Unfortunately, they were not the same.  These tasted really fishy, were small, and lacked any real seasoning.  I tried two different salads, and they both had the same poor quality seeming shrimp.

The lettuce blend was some crunchy butter lettuce and spring mix, probably the same as I had in one of my tacos, but it was rather wilted and not fresh tasting here.

The corn was a nice touch, flavorful and added some interesting texture.  The chiles added a nice kick.  The mandarin orange segments seemed like generic canned ones, fairly flavorless and watery.

I had them leave the avocado out of mine since I'm allergic.  They also were not serving it with the black beans, since those are normally hot at the restaurant.

The dressing was a slightly tangy chipotle orange vinaigrette, that was decent, and it wasn't overdressed.  I liked the crema on top, it added a nice creamy component.  The tortilla strips added some crunch, but no real flavor.

This just didn't really come together, and things didn't seem fresh.  But it was catering after all, and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, since their tacos have been so good.  I'm sure I'll still go back!
Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 24, 2012

More Blue Hawaii

I first visited Blue Hawaii in early August, when I had a cold with a sore throat, and wanted to try out GoPago for the first time.  As "luck" would have it, they just sent me another $10 worth of credits as a thank you, right when I somehow got another cold.  (Seriously, I haven't had a cold in several years, and now I'm getting them regularly?  Not fair!)

Anyway, I went again several times to get something relieving for my sore throat.  This time, I properly used GoPago, placing my orders on my phone while I was waiting to cross the street a few blocks away.  Both times, when I walked in the door, the staff member looked up, greeted me by name, and told me she was just finishing up my order.  What a wonderful experience!  It was interesting to me in that felt even more personal that ordering in person, which isn't what you'd expect since I was cutting out a human interaction step by ordering on my phone.

I have been really impressed with the staff at Blue Hawaii.  On every visit, they have all been friendly and personable.  They make you feel very welcome.  They also have a commitment to quality, always slicing the fresh fruit to order.  Nothing is pre-made here.

I don't love the smoothies or the açaí bowls, but they are not things I normally order, and all of my visits have been when I'm sick and a little grumpy.   I think I need to return sometime when I'm NOT sick to give them a fair evaluation!
Small Simply Blue: Proprietary blend made with organic açaí, fresh banana and berries, topped with granola & bananas.  $4.95.
On my previous visit, I got the signature Blue Hawaii, which was this bowl, but with berries and honey on top as well.  I felt it was too sweet then, so I wanted to leave off the honey this time.  And I'd had some really amazing berries for breakfast, so I was hesitant to get berries on it, since it didn't seem like they'd measure up to the ones I'd had earlier.  So I went for the simplest bowl, the aptly named Simply Blue.

The açaí mixture was the same as before: icy, well blended, but it again it seemed too sweet.  I love sweets, so it really weirds me out that I felt that way, and last time I blamed it on being sick, but I'm starting to think that perhaps it is just a sweetness that I don't care for.  It made me really want some water to go with it, something to help cut the sweet.

On my previous visit, I didn't like the granola because my throat was so sore that it hurt to swallow the chunks of granola.  This time, my throat wasn't quite as sore, but I still didn't like it.  It seemed more rice crispies than granola, and it quickly got soggy when mixed with the açaí base.  I did like having something else in the bowl as a textural contrast however.

The banana was just banana, but it was done as good as it gets: freshly sliced to order, perfectly ripe.  There was a generous amount of it, since it was my only topping.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this very much, as it was too sweet, and I just wasn't into the granola or the banana really.  It did feel good sliding down my throat.  I think I might have just been in a grumpy mood from not feeling well though, as I kinda hated everything all day long.
Outrigger Cooler.: organic soy milk, apple juice, mango, papaya, pineapple and strawberries.  $5.45.
On my final visit, I went for a smoothie.  They have a few smoothies available, all with soy milk and apple juice as the base.  I went for the tropical sounding Outrigger Cooler, which had frozen mango, papaya, pineapple, and strawberries freshly blended in.

Since I was splitting it with someone, I tried out a feature of GoPago I hadn't yet explored: "add special instructions".  I entered a note asking for it to be split into two cups.  They saw my note and nicely split it for me.  Thanks, GoPago!

The smoothie was really well blended, a great consistency.  The flavors were nicely balanced, it wasn't too sweet at all.  I could taste the soy in the base a little, but as I love the flavor of soy, I do wish it were a little more pronounced.

Overall, well executed, clearly higher quality than what you'd get at Jamba Juice or elsewhere, but not really my thing.  Again, I was mostly getting this just because I had a sore throat and wanted to soothe it.