238 South Lake Avenue, Pasadena CA 91101 (map); 323-665-5670; abricott.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An Asian fusion burger that delivers on the best of both worlds
Want Fries with That? Yes! These fresh, shoestring spuds are expertly handled
Prices: Abricott Burger (w/fries) $11, add $1 for pork belly
I might have missed out on the Halloween tricks this year, but my treat came in the form of the playful new restaurant Abricott (a combination of the English and French words for apricot). This experiment in fusion cooking opened about eight months ago on what is probably the hottest strip of Pasadena, South Lake Avenue. While there is a rookie restaurant exuberance from the staff in this upscale-casual dining room, this is far from a tyro's effort. The restaurant veterans that own Abricott, husband-and-wife team Jo and Don Wee, found success with their first effort, Daisy Mint on Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena. That one became a local favorite for Thai and Korean fare, but its nouveau take on the classics pointed to something more.
That something more is Abricott. The menu is a wacky admixture of Thai, Korean, and French dishes driven by Jo and Don Wee's love of food. When I chatted with Jo about the origin of the menu's diversity she laughed and explained that they created (and continually revise) the menu simply based on what excites them (and some generous recipe sharing from friends and family). Don loves all cuisine but has a soft spot for burgers, so he decided to add one to his new menu that put into practice the restaurant's defining fusion aesthetic. Although I've eaten a good portion of the menu over my couple of visits, I hadn't gotten to the burger until this past weekend. I shouldn't have waited so long.
The patty on the Abricott burger ($11) is eight ounces of fresh ground in-house chuck roll that gets a wallop of flavor from being marinated overnight in a Korean-style sesame marinade. They add lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo, and serve it on a brioche bun from Whole Foods. You can add some Gouda or Korean-style pork belly for a buck more each. The cheese didn't sound like it would match the Asian flavor of the marinated beef, but went for a side of pork belly.
The first bite of the burger took some time to develop. The patty is formed in a thin, large round, which, while normally my preference, means it takes a moment to show itself amid the heap of toppings and brioche bun. That said, once the flavor of the meat shone through, it became clear that this is special burger. The beautifully griddled crust of the patty gets the twofold sweetness from the Maillard reaction and the marinade. I was worried that the overnight marination would tighten up the beef (it looked like it had in the cross-section), but the texture of the beef didn't suffer. The grind was coarse enough to resist the meatloaf effect that occurs with early salting or marinating.
The veggies were fresh as can be and had some good flavor. I would say that Abricott could reduce the amount of each a tad, but that's a nitpick. What isn't a nitpick is finding fault in the brioche bun. It looks fantastic, which I feel is the main motivation for the brioche choice, but, as all traditional brioche buns, this one has a less-than-ideal texture. Still, it isn't enough of a mark against this burger to call it anything but excellent.
What's more, the addition of the pork belly is perfect. I ordered mine on the side, but next time I'll have them put it on the burger from the get go.
The fries are fresh-cut shoestring spuds that are expertly handled. They were delicious and piping hot when they arrived, so much so that I had to back off so as not to distract myself from the main event. Of course, this was partly motivated by the inherent problem with the shoestring cut: They cool off way too fast. This isn't a fatal flaw though, as the few minutes of hot fry consumption was bliss.
In fact, most of my experience at Abricott has been bliss. I've been so pleased by so many of the dishes on the menu that I feel like I need to give the Wees a huzzah on more than just their great fusion burger: The Chicken Salad is a magical satay-inspired affair, the Korean tacos are as good as any of the name brand versions, and the yellow curry is about my new favorite version of the Thai classic. The food is tasty across the varied menu, the staff is smiley and solicitous, and it all comes at a surprisingly affordable price. It's a treat to find a great new burger, but it's even better to find a great new burger at a great new restaurant.