Friday, October 23, 2009

Max Burger, West Hartford, CT, October 2009

Food: A-
Service: B+

Joanne and Amy write:

Amy and I have been meaning to go to Max Burger since it opened. Fans of all the Max restaurants, and unabashed burger lovers, it really was a must try for us. We missed our opportunity to go for lunch this summer, but committed to a date and decided to go right after school, as late lunch/early dinner—daring to dine in that time Amy and I sometimes feel is The Dead Zone, when you can’t signal a server to save your life.

I had heard rave reviews from fellow burger buffs and had been on line a dozen times to view the menu (three the day we were going) but still had trouble deciding. In the end I chose to begin with a Max salad and build my own burger, modifying the 5-ounce Max Classic.

The Max salad was a simple, fresh and crisp start to my meal. Mixed greens, halved grape tomatoes, Bermuda onion, cucumbers and radishes were delivered cold, on a chilled plate, with blue cheese dressing on the side. The dressing was creamy without being overly thick, and tasted of blue cheese, but not overly pungent. There were chopped scallions in the dressing that gave a nice flavor as well.

I kept wavering between burger selections, but finally decided on the Alfred, an 8-ounce burger with Comte cheese, caramelized onions, and rosemary aioli served on an artisan roll. Since it was a larger burger, I chose not to get a starter. The burger was thick and juicy, with well-seasoned, tasty ground meat cooked to medium as requested. The creamy cheese melted into the burger and along with the onions gave it a nice sweetness that the herby aioli counterbalanced. Unfortunately, the roll was very light and airy, and while I think it would be great alongside a bowl of soup, it wasn’t sturdy enough to handle the burger and its juices; it fell apart on the first bite. I enjoyed the crisp, hand-cut fries with ketchup and with the garlic aioli that was served with them.

The menu lists allowable substitutions for $1.50. In addition, it lists toppings and cheeses available for $1.00. My classic burger came—as requested—with the addition of bacon, mayonnaise on the side, and arugula instead of lettuce. I declined on the Max sauce, which was described as a spicy, chipotle mayonnaise, but our server was kind enough to offer it on the side and, though both Amy and I thought it lacked the kick it should have, we found it just as tasty as the aioli for dipping the fries. My burger was cooked a perfect medium and the flavor did not disappoint. It was a combination of my favorite sandwich—bacon, arugula and tomato—and a burger and just what my taste buds expected it to be. I would have preferred hot bacon over room temperature and a better bun. Though more substantial than Amy’s artisan roll, the standard supermarket bun was a disappointment. A ciabatta roll would have elevated the burger from delicious to exceptional.

The Cabrini Malbec, an Argentinean red, was berry-forward and complimented the burger nicely. The $6 per glass price made it a good value as well. For dessert, we had to try the whoopie pies, which came two to an order and were perfectly sized for our almost-full stomachs. The cake wasn’t overly dry, just dry enough to hold up the frosting, which was creamy and sugary. Other nostalgic offerings on the dessert menu include milkshakes, brownies and hot fudge sundaes.

Despite the overkill on the cow motif (no pun intended) throughout the restaurant and what we would consider weak buns for such delicious burgers, we would both return. Neither of us tackled the Fatty Melt (a burger sandwiched between two grilled cheeses) and it calls from the menu like a challenge. Meanwhile, the special of the day was a scallop dish that, had we not been there specifically to sample their burgers, we would have been interested in trying. Our service was good but it took some time, and appearance of other patrons to be seated, before our server was more visible and available.

That being said, we might not travel long distances or make pilgrimages for their burgers, but Max Burger does pass the Max Restaurant Group test and makes its way onto our list of restaurants we’d recommend.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sakura Garden, South Windsor, CT, October 2009

Food: B
Service: A-

Amy and Joanne write:

My husband loves sushi, so I often find myself at Japanese restaurants noshing on a bunch of appetizers – a Japanese version of dim sum. One of the places we’ve visited is Sakura Garden, where Chris enjoyed a humongous sushi/sashimi platter and I, uncharacteristically not hungry, only had the chicken tempura app with some white rice. That tempura, however, was delicious. I had that delicious tempura in mind when Joanne suggested Sakura Garden for our latest outing.

We decided to make it an early dinner and take advantage of Sakura’s great Happy Hour menu, on which soups, salads, hot appetizers, maki and hand rolls, well drinks, beer and wine all range from $2 to $4. It appeared this could be our cheapest outing yet.

We started with the tempura, which was as I remembered it. It had good structure – it was well-battered, but fried lightly enough to make it good and crispy out the outside with tender, juicy chicken inside.

We were off to a tasty—and free—start, as I had a coupon for a free tempura. Now it was time to work our way through the rest of the appetizers. I had looked at the menu while waiting for Amy, and decided that everything in the appetizer column, except for the edamame and the miso eggplant, appealed to me that afternoon. She agreed, so once the tempura came out, we worked our way down the list.

We loved the gyoza (pan fried dumplings) as much as the tempura. They were the perfect contrast of textures--tender inside with a nice crispness to the dumpling. The sesame ginger dipping sauce went very well with these. The haru maki (deep fried spring rolls) were also good, although we would have preferred them crispier and the peanut sauce that accompanied them, while tasty, was a bit thin. The yakitori, (chicken skewers) were tasty and tender, served with teriyaki for dipping.

All of these appetizers we would order again; the one big disappointment was the shrimp shumai. These were steamed to the point of sogginess and the consistency was quite mushy. As for the flavor, rather than fresh shrimp, all we could taste was fish. Fishy fish. A few of these remained on the plate.

Because this was Happy Hour, we were seated at the bar, of course, and always within eyeshot of our server, who was attentive and prompt. Toward the end of our appetizer sampling, we were offered a complimentary sake tasting—a nice, and unexpected, touch that brought our meal to a satisfactory close. We were full, we felt taken care of, and it didn’t break the bank. This was one of our least expensive excursions to date and a place to which we would both return—even on a tight budget.