Friday, June 1, 2012

Vegas Vacation, Part 1: Holstein's

Welcome back, dear readers! I have returned from Sin City having visited two of the Strip's most lauded burger establishments. This is not just a small local blog highlighting the great burgers of Canada's capital; no, I fully intend this little corner of the Internet to have an international perspective. Hopefully I can bring back some research to inform our own burger scene so I put this fierce and narrowminded dedication to good use!

Las Vegas is an interesting visit for burgerati because you can't walk ten steps without hitting a place flipping patties, but like most of the town you should be highly suspicious of the quality. In the dense tourist clusters of the Strip, West Strip or Fremont Street, everyone is hustling to bleed you of your hard-earned cash in exchange for mediocre product. You either have to go in with a keen eye and all your wiles charged 100%, or just shrug and let the city's seediness wash over you and accept the consequences.

My wife and I celebrated our second anniversary in Las Vegas and wanted to limit burger visits to two so I had to be judicious. The first choice was Holstein's in the Cosmopolitan, and the second was Burger Bar by Hubert Keller in Mandalay Bay. These two entries are aimed at tourists, who will likely not venture off the beaten path, and will only have Strip options to choose from for sake of convenience. Vegas locals should go check out Erik Chudy's venerable Vegas Burger Blog for your perspective, because you are eligible for local discounts at most of these places (eg 20% at Public House) so your value estimates will differ from the fanny pack'd hordes.

Holstein's is located in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and shares much of its DNA with its surroundings. The Cosmo is - depending on your perspective - hip and sexy or gaudy and obnoxious. As a result, Holstein's belts out house music, employs very attractive staff, and serves up cocktails with as much gusto as its 100+ beer selection. It is owned by Block 16 Restaurants, a Vegas-based restaurant conglomerate that owns five properties in the valley with similar-feeling schtick, from the hip Barrymore Lounge to LBS Patty Wagon food truck.

Holstein's offers a nice range of sliders and full burgers with different meats and topping combinations, cooked to order. The beef is grass-fed and most of the toppings organic, and prices range from $14 for straight-up to $28 for wagyu and foie.

Bull-gawk-eye view
I was excited to try Holstein's for a while now, especially one curiosity on the menu that I felt was a really interesting concept. The Korean "Bull"gogi burger is a sweet soy marinated beef patty with kimchi slaw, chili mayo, kalbi glaze and a fried egg on top, for $16.50. Was it as intriguing as it sounds? Read on after the break.

The burger

The patty was big; an 8oz, inch-thick beef slab with good char-crust and good beefy flavour. I ordered it medium-rare but it was definitely medium, with a warm pink centre obscured slightly by the ocean of added liquid courtesy of the glaze and marinade. While seasoning was there the sweet-soy marinade was dominant in its sweetness. This wasn't a terrible thing, as a burger with this flavour profile was actually a refreshing change.

I know a burger joint like this will probably prep a day's supply in the morning with a hand-cranked patty press, and that's fine. They key is not to have the meat pressed so hard that the fat has nowhere to go but out.  Using a marinade after the beef is ground requires tighter packing or else the meat will disintegrate, but this obviously comes with a cost. In this case it left the texture with somewhat of a pre-made feel.

Patty with char and slaw.

The bun was fresh and delicious but woefully unprepared for the task at hand. When first picking up the burger, the bottom half of the bun was already soggy from the liquid. In fact the liquid factor was ridiculous, with stuff pouring out the back and a nice puddle of sweet soy and beef juice forming on the plate. I suppose the meat:bun ratio would have been on the mark, but the bottom bun had utterly disintegrated by meal's end.

Look carefully; you can see the super-saturated bottom bun.
One of the most attractive elements of the burger on paper was the kalbi glaze. For those of you not in the know, kalbi is a Korean dish of ribs marinated with soy, garlic, sesame, sugar and sometimes some heat - easily one of the most delicious preparations of meat in existence. Ottawans can visit Le Kim Chi on Preston Street for a good intro to the stuff. In terms of this burger, I felt that the kalbi flavours were there - especially soy and sesame - just not enough to counter the sweetness.

The kimchi slaw was too much like slaw and not enough like kimchi; it did not have that characteristic bite that everyone loves kimchi for. That said, it provided a great textural break in the umami of the meat and egg. It was both crunchy and refreshing.  Speaking of the egg, it was fried and seasoned perfectly and was a lovely addition. There was chili mayo for more fat and moisture (seriously), but the heat wasn't really present.

Egg yolk and chili mayo
I figured that the goal of this burger was to balance the sweet meat, biting slaw and salty glaze into a harmonious ode to Korean cuisine, but it failed to live up to that ambitious task. It's actually reasonable value for $16.50 and a good buy for a Strip restaurant, but I would stick to more traditional offerings on the Holstein's menu. This is clearly a case of a burger being defeated by its complexity. I personally would have left the marinade out of it, and instead brushed the patty with a perfectly-executed kalbi glaze and ramped up the kimchi's bite, relying on the egg to soften any extremes.

The sides

We started with deep-fried pickles, which were awesome. I mean deep-fried pickles, ha! I upgraded my regular fries to sweet potato fries and was met with the most average set I've ever eaten; these were so ordinary that I doubt they were made in house.

Side note

Amy had the Nom Nom Burger, which was wagyu, potato chips and cheddar cheese with 1000 Island dressing. I had two bites and don't feel that I got enough intel for a full review, but we were both very disappointed with this burger. The patty was really skinny and dry and as a result what should have been a very moist, soft wagyu texture was completely lost to the toppings. This was likely due to the patty being pressed too hard. This is bad period, but completely inexcusable with wagyu, which should never meet a patty press in its life. Avoid.


No comments:

Post a Comment