742 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles CA 90038 (map); 323-203-0500; eatatstreet.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: The irrepressible Susan Feniger builds a burger that shines as brightly as she does
Want Fries with That? Yes; these spiced up spuds have a heavy kick, but are still pretty darn tasty
Prices: Street Burger, $12
It's not often that I describe a restaurant as fun. I've long since past the age where I use that word much. These days I mostly just want things to not annoy me. Yet after a third visit to Street, Susan Feniger's exploration of global street food, I couldn't help but admit to myself that it's a damn fun restaurant. Of course this doesn't just mean that the place is lively and the servers are friendly. Fun means that the food is tasty and a bit unexpected. I find myself smiling as I pop one Feniger's Miller Puffs; it's crunchy and chewy in a South Asian Rice Krispies Treat sort of way. When I dive into the multicultural meat balls I'm met with three distinct flavors that all challenge this Italian-American's notion of just what makes for a great meatball.
That the food Feniger dreams up (or, in this case, street food she re-imagines) should be full of whimsy is probably no surprise to those of you who even have a passing familiarity with her. Once upon a time, she was half of the Two Hot Tamales and more recently found her way onto Top Chef Masters 2. Even on television Feniger exudes an easy earnestness and purveyor of good times. These two qualities are how I might describe the personality of a great burger. And that's just what Feniger cooks up at Street.
The Street Burger makes it under the heading of "Classic Street" on the menu. Interestingly at a restaurant that seems dipped in Feniger's Asian discovery, classic is still a warranted descriptor. Her burger gets a six-ounce patty that is a blend of Angus chuck and hanger that comes in at an 80/20 meat to fat ratio. The grind is medium and the meat is sourced from the reliably excellent Premiere Meat Company. The golden tomato isn't a classic color, but tomato nonetheless. The lettuce is sweet Gem (like a small romaine) and the cheese Cabot white cheddar. The only Asian tinge to this burger comes in the form of a yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) and kosho (a mild chili) paste mixed with Kewpie mayo. The brioche-style bun is made by one of LA's best wholesale bakeries, Ca D'Oro.
You can tell from the photo that this is a beautifully composed burger. There was little out of place on both occasions I tried it. The first bite reveals that Feniger is in full control of her craft. The rich, deep beefiness of the patty was griddled perfectly (in a sautée pan), giving it a crunchy, sweet layer of Maillard crust. The tomato and lettuce were both fresh and beyond reproach. The mayonnaise concoction added an interesting and welcome bit of the unfamiliar. Once again, Feniger can't help but make eating fun. The bun was in the order of the new style of brioche burger bun, which is to say it wasn't really a brioche. The soft, spongy texture matched this burger beautifully.
I also enjoyed the bowl of fries that Feniger makes, which are decidedly less classic. Feniger does opt for using pre-cut, frozen Russets like how many classic french fries begin, but once they come out of the oil they make a decided turn to the global influence. The fries are coated in a powerful blend of the Ethiopian Berbere spice (a mix of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, dried basil, korarima, rue, white and black pepper, and fenugreek) along with some garlic oil and chopped parsley. It's a bold seasoning reminiscent of smoked paprika and cumin. I really enjoyed the flavor, though caveat emptor: These won't sate a straight-up french fry craving.
I want to mention one last dish that has garnered an odd mix of adulation and infamy. The Kaya Toast also earns a spot under the "Classic Street" portion of the menu and could fairly be called the restaurant's signature dish. Feniger made this dish for the Top Chef Masters judges and was subsequently eliminated. Now having tried that dish I must rush to its defense. On this plate of Singaporean delight you'll find brioche-style bread that's toasted with a filling of egg and coconut custard infused with a pandan leaf alongside a fried egg and gobs of dark soy. It's rich, sweet, herbaceous, and (from the dark soy) deeply savory. It's a surprising and delightful collection of flavors that would punch Feniger's ticket to my Top Chef finale.
In many respects what makes the Kaya Toast a great dish is what makes Street such a good restaurant. Eating there feels like the playful world tour one imagines inspired Feniger in the first place. When you go, try as many dishes as you can handle before ordering the one that's sure to bring you home with a smile: the burger.