12/16/14

Western Burgers and Garlic Fries at Rounds Premium Burgers

As American as apple pie. That is how the saying goes but it could probably be argued that said honor should rightfully belong to the hamburger. Wherever I have been in the world,it is the one dish which is universally associated with the United States. Fried chicken might be a distant second place.

When you stop and think about most other food we think of as quintessentially American though,most of it has its roots elsewhere. Pizza is clearly Italian. Hotdogs hint back to Germany and anywhere else that served sausage with bread. Even the hamburger’s best buddy the French fry has its roots in Belgium and France.

Hamburgers,however,are about as American as it gets.

Good then to see that we’ve started to take pride in our culinary heritage by demanding more from our fast food hamburgers than a microwaved patty of questionable origin. From Five Guys to Umami Burger and The Counter, higher quality burger experiences are now available across a spectrum of price points. Some of which aren’t too far removed from the drive through giants.

Particularly true in the Los Angeles area where you could eat at a different high end burger joint every night of the week and still not scratched them all off your foodie bucket list.

As with all things,some gourmet burger places in Los Angeles are better than others. Finding somewhere that cooks the burger just the way you like it is part of the battle .  From there, it comes down to who does the combination of burger toppings that has you coming back for more.

For the past year or so, that place for us has been Rounds Premium Burgers. Chris was seduced by a spot we saw done on them during a show on The Cooking Channel because the burger they were highlighting – The Western – was a burger without cheese.

He doesn’t eat cheese and so he has either had to avoid most featured burgers on menus or ask to have the cheese left off. Nobody has ever refused to do that but if the flavors were built with cheese as one of the ingredients then he isn’t really getting the experience the chef had intended.

We headed on over to give the Western Burger from Rounds Premium Burger a try and found it to be delicious. The beef patty was cooked to order (medium in our case),dressed with barbecue sauce,bacon and crispy onion strings.

western burger

Juicy beef and crispy bacon strips worked together to make the Western Burger a particularly succulent burger. I was a bit unsure about the onion strings because of my life long hatred of raw onions. Cooked onions are good but I straight out hate raw onions and onion rings can be raw onion roulette. If cooked properly they are great but often enough the onion is just the wrong side of raw. Rounds Premium Burgers got it just right. The onion strings were crispy on the outside and had the texture and taste of a grilled onion on the inside. All of it was brought together but a rich barbecue sauce that relies on tang rather than heat to wake the taste buds.

Since that first visit, we have been back to to Rounds Premium Burgers a bunch of times. More often than not, we end up at their West Hollywood branch but lately we’ve gone to the Pasadena one. While the Pasadena branch certainly has a better parking situation, I have to take a moment to say that what really make the WeHo location special is the service.

We have had the same two members of counter staff serve us each time that we have gone and we have never failed to be impressed with their friendliness and quality of service. On our second visit, we were truly impressed that the gent behind the counter not only remembered us but knew our past order as soon as we walked in. The owners of the WeHo branch should make efforts to hang onto their staff because they are something special.

Over our visits, Chris has remained a devotee to the Western Burger whilst I have made my way through their premium burgers menu. The most unique of which has been the PB&J which is topped with caramelized onions, bacon and peanut butter and jelly. Yup, I said peanut butter and jelly on a burger. It was super messy to eat but it worked a lot better than I would have thought. Perhaps they could use the peanut butter to develop some sort of satay sauce for a new burger. I’d be sure to try that.

Apart from their set menu, Rounds Premium Burgers also has a build your own burger option. On recent visits, I’ve been playing around with that.

rounds premium burger

My latest combination was the burger in the above photo which was made up of a beef patty, mild cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions and a garlic aioli. Nom nom!

garlic fries

I’d feel like I was doing Rounds Premium Burgers a disservice if I didn’t mention their garlic fries. They are super good and not at all for somebody who is even the slightest bit worried about getting garlic breath. Just take a look at them and the chunks of real garlic that is piled on top. My tip is to eat them hot. They are still good when they cool down but hot and fresh out of the fryer is how they are meant to be enjoyed. You will need some strong breath mints afterwards but it is worth it for those crispy garlic fries.

 

12/9/14

Did I just find the best cupcake in Pasadena?

As of late, we have been spending a good amount of time in Pasadena. Of all the places we have been so far in the Los Angeles area,Pasadena feels the most ‘us’. Perhaps one day we will set up home there but for now we are having fun exploring. With me around, that is always going to include checking out the foodie scene.

Happily, I can report that Pasadena has a very healthy foodie scene indeed. Putting aside the plethora of independent food spots, the town has its own outposts of Dupars, Rounds Premium Burgers and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Factor in the inclusion an Arclight movie theater and just about everything that I have come to enjoy in LA is within a few well-manicured blocks of one another.  Oh and Old Pasadena alone has a British pub (though really it is a wannabe style place but I’ll take it) and at least three Indian places that I counted.  So, yeah,I could probably be happy in Pasadena.

By the standards of a foodie, no town can be given a proper thumbs up without the availability of decent cupcakes.  Really. I’m not sure I trust somebody that would turn their nose up to a good cupcake. To be fair though, cupcakes are a bit of a thing for me. It isn’t an accident that a cupcake ended up in the hand of the Doughgasm girlie. So, maybe others don’t give them such prominence in their foodie rating system but I do and that meant checking out the cupcakes of Pasadena.

In the Summer, I dragged Chris to a food truck event at the Rose Bowl. It is one of those events where you pay a hefty price to get in but then you are able to sample from all of the vendors once you are inside. I’m a bit of a sucker for them and this one and the LA Weekly event in the Spring are the two I make a point of attending. Each year, I discover a bunch of places that we then go visit throughout the rest of the year.  Already since this year’s LA food truck event we have become regulars at Short Order and Salt & Straw (how have I note done an entry about them yet?!?)  purely off the back of having tried their samples at the event.

Now we can add ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake to that list. At the food truck event, Chris was particularly taken with their Brown Butter Bacon cookie. I think it may have been one of only a few dishes that drew him back for a second helping. On my part, I was just happy to be trying a cupcake from a bakery that had won on Cupcake Wars.

Purely by accident, we found ourselves driving by their storefront on our first day out in Pasadena. For a moment we considered exercising restraint but then we regained our senses and headed in to check out what ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cakes had to offer.

Chocolate cake is a good benchmark of the quality of a cupcake place for me. Remarkably few get it right. Lack of a real chocolate taste or moisture are the most frequent casualties. So, on our first visit to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake, I gave their Black + White cupcake a try.  My thumbs went up as soon as I tasted the dark chocolate cake. It was super moist and I could taste the chocolate. Which, if you are going to say something is dark chocolate is a requirement. Also pleasing was the creamy vanilla frosting. It was light and fluffy with just the right level of sweetness to contract the dark chocolate.

Chris went all out chocolate and had their Chocolate + Chocolate cupcake. It certainly looked delightful and from his reports it was every bit as tasty as my cupcake.

Cool, I thought. We found a cupcake place we like and we can go back to now and then. Now and then has turned into most weekends for the past month. At this stage it may all be bordering on an addiction. Doughgasms  have a tendency to be habit forming. Understandable when each time we’ve gone to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake the cupcake I’ve had has been even better than the previous offering.

Much of the enjoyment for me is the creativity shown in their menu. I’ve never seen much point to having a vast cupcake menu if most of them never see the light of day. For the most part that leaves you with the same red velvet and yellow cake with chocolate frosting cupcakes that is on everybody’s menu. ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake has those too but each time there has  also been something truly different to tickle my taste buds.

Deciding to try the Nutella Supreme cupcake was a bit of a ‘duh’. The base vanilla bean cupcake was ultra moist and of overall high quality.

Nutella Supreme Cupcake

Looking at the frosting on the Nutella cupcake, I made the assumption that it would have been a hard set frosting. Most likely, that illusion was created by the liberal scattering of hazelnut chunks. I was pleasingly surprised when I bit into the cupcake to find that the chocolate-hazelnut frosting was actually a super light whipped frosting. Both the taste and the consistency created by the pairing of the frosting with sizable chopped hazelnuts resulted in a sensation reminiscent of of a Ferrero Rocher. Rarely a bad thing.

Next up on the ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake adventures was the Chocolate Bacon Caramel cupcake.  I was skeptical. The whole bacon in baked goods thing has been pretty well played out now. To the point where I’ve nearly forgotten that I rather like bacon. Kind of like when you like a song but you’ve heard it too many times that it has become more of an annoyance than entertainment.  Salted Caramel is also something that tends to make me a doubter because it is one of my favorite flavor profiles but there are so many lackluster salted caramel offerings from shops that think you just need to chuck a bit of sea salt on something for it to qualify.

My doubts were completely unjustified. The chocolate bacon caramel cupcakes were amazingly good. Letting the ingredients do the talking was the trick. The moist dark chocolate cupcake had a rich chocolate taste, the fudge frosting was dense enough to hold up to the caramel and bacon topping but light enough to not dominate.

The caramel and bacon were so buttery and yummy that I probably would have licked the excess caramel off of the paper if we hadn’t been eating it on a public street. That’s how a fat girl ends up a Vine meme!

It will take some doing for another cupcake shop to make a bacon cupcake that I enjoy more than I enjoyed the Chocolate Bacon Caramel cupcake from ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake.

As great as those cupcakes have been though, this weekend’s visit to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake I had the best cupcake I have had in a very long time.  Even better, it was unlike any other cupcake I have had in my life. I’m talking about the Armaaan Baklava Cupcake.

IMG_0512

I mean look at this thing! Have you ever seen a cupcake with baklava on the top? If you have leave the name of the shop in the comments so I can try it out because if it is anything like this baklava cupcake then it is something special.

From Chris’s account, I pulled a true Doughgasm face when I bit into the baklava cupcake for the first time. I couldn’t help it. There were simply so many sensations going on in one bite.

The baklava nest on top had a satisfying crunch which pushed down onto what I thought was the frosting. It turned out that it wasn’t frosting at all but instead it was a vanilla whipped cream. Delicate in texture but beautifully flavored with specks of vanilla bean. All of that before we even get to the actual cupcake itself.

Baklava Cupcake

It was so good that I am practically drooling thinking about it again.

Rather than going for a generic vanilla cupcake, they went all out and used a honey-almond cake. As with all of the cupcakes I have had from ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake, it was incredibly moist. Honey notes certainly came through but what really made the cake outstanding was the flavor of crystallized ginger that pulled everything together and delivered a touch of heat.

Truly one of the best cupcakes I have ever had. If the trend continues and the next cupcake I have from ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake is better than the Armaaan Baklava Cupcake then I might have to start up a Doughgasm award just so that I can send  it to them!

If your need for food porn hasn’t been satisfied by the abundance of cupcake photos, check out the video I put together of our various visits to ConfeXion Cupcakes + Cake in Pasadena. You might want to get a tissue ready to clean the drool off your keyboard afterwards.