Restaurants

Farm Burger

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Christina of East Bay Dish invited me out on this media lunch to try Farm Burger in Berkeley. Obligatory disclaimer: Our meal was comped. Non-obligatory disclaimer: Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs as we pretty much tried two or more items from every section of their menu.

Farm Burger is a small hamburger chain, and the Berkeley store is their first on the West Coast. They are committed to using grass-fed beef, sourcing it from BN Ranch and Stemple Creek Ranch for this location. They also grind their patty meat in-house daily. Local farms provide their veggies.

The rest of Farm Burger’s stores are in the South, and those Southern roots are just as present on their Berkeley menu, with side offerings like collard greens and boiled peanuts. I don’t think this joint is going to have any problem keeping busy—it was swamped midday on a Saturday, and it’s been open since November in West Berkeley’s Gilman District development, which looked to be quite popular! The crowd only started to thin around 3 pm.

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In addition to sides and burgers, there are salads, several varieties of fries, shakes, and boozy and standard floats.

The Young's Chocolate Stout float

The Young’s Chocolate Stout float

I could taste the quality of their ingredients, always a plus, but a few dishes rested too firmly on those all-natural laurels—in other words, they were bland. The fried chicken livers, in particular, are a dish I would not order again.

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I’m not a fan of liver in general, but the usual reasons why were not on display here: the taste of iron and the silky texture of pâtés. These livers were dry, which is better than silky for me but not by much. The breading was rubbery and barely salted, if at all. That salt must have abandoned ship for the cheesy grits.

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Those weren’t up to snuff for me, either, but maybe I’m spoiled from all those fluffy, stone-ground grits served up by the chefs of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. These were more, well, gritty. Did I mention the salt? Waaay too much of that for me. But the cheese flavor was robust, and when I bit into a warm, gushy tomato at the same time as the grits, it was more appealing overall.

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Food Should Taste Good Brunch with Tablehopper!

It’s been three weeks since I was invited to brunch at the Cavalier in downtown San Francisco, hosted by Tablehopper Marcia Gagliardi and the Food Should Taste Good (FSTG) snack food brand. It’s never too late to write about great food, right?

The brunch was part of FSTG’s national promotional tour that’s been challenging star chefs, like the Cavalier’s Jennifer Puccio, to make inventive dishes featuring FSTG’s products. Obligatory disclaimer! The brunch was entirely free. The invitees were a fun mix of new media types in a variety of industries, and we were thrilled to be ushered into a reception in Marianne’s Room, a speakeasy-style nook concealed from the restaurant proper and full of lush red furniture and saturation-drenched artwork.

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As we mingled, Bloody Marys and Pimm’s Cups flowed.

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Our expectations rose with our hunger; the Cavalier was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant award last year, after all. Light appetizers included FSTG peppercorn crackers topped with deviled egg salad, provolone, and pickled jalapeno and FSTG’s “the works” chips with smoked salmon, avocado, spices, and sprouts.

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Both provided an appeasing nibble before the much heavier—and mouth-watering-delicious—roasted garlic and cheddar fondue appeared.

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The fondue was served with FSTG sweet potato kettle chips. While great on their own, the chips weren’t really large enough to hold up to fondue dipping. But that didn’t stop us from making messy attempts to scoop it all out anyhow. Hot cheese! Must eat hot cheese!

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Mac & Cheese Night #8 at Fat Angel

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Fat Angel’s menu is focused on nibbles to go with their exceptionally long list of beers, wines, and meads, including after-dinner selections for all of their beverage categories. As usually happens, that leads to meat and cheese boards, nuts and olives, and in their case, a selection of fancy butter schmears served with Firebrand breads. Because they also offer flatbreads, salads, and a trio of larger plates, Fat Angel doesn’t operate quite like the typical trendy wine/beer bar. They do, typically, not take reservations, but you don’t have to fight for elbow room and hunker over a tiny corner of surface space and can instead enjoy your meal with friends in relative peacefulness after your wait is over—ours took about 20 minutes for 3 people at 8 pm on a Saturday.

The main dining room.

The main dining room.

We opted to start with one meat and one cheese, choosing the El Trigal semi-hard sheep’s cheese and the salametto piccante for $10.25 total. I don’t think I’d order either the meat or cheese again—the meat was too dry and thinly sliced to leave an impression, and the cheese had good texture but not much flavor.

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The most memorable part of the cheeseboard was the jam, which was overloaded with vanilla bean. Like wow. That was a lot of vanilla! Perhaps lovers of vanilla would be pleased? For me, it was too much, especially in light of meat and cheese that couldn’t stand up to it.

Of course, the mac and cheese was the real reason I was there. It’s one of Fat Angel’s larger plates.

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Price: $12. Worth it.

Cheese: Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The cheddar stood out most, which I consider essential for a good mac and cheese. I’ve had enough at this point to know cheddar really is better.

Creamy vs. Stringy: Creamy. I have had few stringy contenders during these mac and cheese nights. I guess the Bay Area prefers their mac and cheese saucy? This béchamel cheese sauce was possibly too thick, in that it threatened to congeal fast. But it did taste luxurious. Of note, a ton of cayenne is mixed into the sauce as well, making for a very spicy dish! We loved the spice. It actually tasted more like jalapeno than cayenne, to the point that I wondered if jalapeno had been pureed into the sauce, but the ingredient list verifies cayenne as the spice factor.

Noodles: Corkscrew, cooked almost to the point of falling apart. I have learned that overcooked is a good thing for mac and cheese, as it contributes to making it all come together as one dish rather than disparate elements.

Breadcrumbs: Sparse, fine dice, and toasted croutons of bread. Just the right amount not to detract from the dish.

Grease: None.

Verdict: This is a definite contender for best mac and cheese. The heat of the cayenne made every bite stand out and it did the important job of cutting through the rich sauce. Great cheddar flavor. Will happily eat again.

My husband, who’s cut carbs out of his diet, went for the romaine salad instead ($12).

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He added roast chicken for $3, and without the chicken, the salad would be on the boring side. Interestingly, the salad includes fried capers, whose texture and salty flavor actually gave a nice approximation of anchovies. It’s a unique caesar but could use livening up.

Friend #1 had the chicken pot pie ($13; I mainly feasted on mac and cheese).

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It used the same roast chicken as the salad and boasts of carrots, sherry, and tarragon on the ingredient list. Perhaps unsurprisingly for our Fat Angel experience, it needed more flavor and we had to hunt down the waiter to acquire salt and pepper. Good chunks of chicken and a nice pastry crust, but not a stand-out selection.

Now that I’ve written up the review, my impression of Fat Angel has become clear. While offering some inventive ingredients, most of our selections underwhelmed. But the drink offerings are great, and the mac and cheese is worth coming for all on its own. Pair all that with a pleasant atmosphere and sure, I’d drop in again. As long as an order of the mac and cheese is placed for the table.

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Fat Angel
1740 O’Farrell St.
Fillmore District, San Francisco
Website
$12–$15

Reviewed 21 March 2015.

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