AHT: San Francisco

Burger reviews in the Bay area.

San Francisco: Fancy-Pants Gastro Burgers at Zoe's Bar and Restaurant

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[Photographs: Wes Rowe]

Zoe's Bar and Restaurant

3088 24th St., San Francisco CA 94110 (map); 415-817-1972; facebook.com/ZoezSF
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Wagyu burgers done the right way with minimal toppings
Want Fries with That? Comes with rich hand-cut truffle fries
Price: The burger, $14; w/cheese, +$1; w/bacon or avocado, +$2
Notes: Open Sun. to Tues., 4 p.m. - 1 a.m.; Wed. to Sat., 4 p.m. - 2 a.m.

After reading the recent fancy-pants burger round-up I've been re-assessing what a fancy-pants burger (FPB) is to me, a San Francisco citizen and avid burger eater. The bar is set pretty high in this city and what would be considered an FPB in many other cities wouldn't cut it here. Likewise, many burgers here that are just average would be FPBs elsewhere.

To clear up any ambiguities, the definition of a fancy-pants burger has been extensively written about on Serious Eats by Kenji, Adam and Ed—but sometimes you have a burger that falls in between categories. One such burger can be found at Zoe's Bar and Restaurant, a relatively new spot on 24th Street that sports a small kitchen headed by chef Anu Adeboje. The dark place that was once a Mexican dive bar now boasts an impressive cocktail menu and a selection of big and small plates.

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All signs pointed to this being one great gastropub burger except for one thing: wagyu beef, which Kenji points out should push this into FPB territory. Though many agree a great wagyu burger isn't possible, this was a perfect example of how a wagyu burger should be made. The medium-rare, eight-ounce burger ($14) was moist (but not dripping-down-your-arms juicy), loosely ground, and had a decent crust. It wasn't squishy or mushy—there was no "oozing out the sides or back," as Adam Kuban warns in his burger style guide. The beef, which comes pre-ground from Snake River Farms, lives up to its reputation and literally melts in your mouth, leaving behind a rich beefy coating. Adeboje keeps the burger simple by adding only salt and pepper to let the high quality beef shine through.

For the levain bun, Adeboje worked with the bakers from L'acajou Bakery to create a bun that's slightly undercooked so that it's soft and "won't cut your mouth." The toppings are simple: caramelized shallots, which are hidden between the patty and cheese, and lettuce, tomato, and housemade pickles, which come on the side. My burger came with the freshest looking and tasting tomato I've had all year. For an extra buck you get a choice of cheeses. The goat, cheddar, and Gruyère were all excellent, but the ones with sharp white cheddar or copious amounts of creamy goat really stood out as the favorites.

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The burger came out looking fairly small for half a pound, but once you try to fit your mouth around it you realize how big it actually is. The bun held together well and the burger remained intact until the end even with lettuce and tomato, which can normally make things slippery. The combination of beef fat, sharp cheddar, and caramelized shallots made for a truly amazing burger experience.

The hand-cut, twice-fried Kennebec truffle fries that come with the burger were a well executed example of a typically gimmicky dish. The truffle flavor was subtle and didn't mask the flavor of the fries, which were well salted and topped with parsley. Almost better than the burger was the spicy, garlicky piquillo aioli, which went well with EVERYTHING. After you eat this condiment, ketchup will never be adequate.

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Zoe's has also caught on to the recent poutine fad going around San Francisco. It puts out a pretty tasty version starring a much more truffle-y but not overdone version of the fries covered with mushroom gravy made with shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms and melted mozzarella curds from Formaggi di Ferrante in Fairfield, California. The rich mushroom gravy and truffle oil paired well together, and suprisingly the fries stayed crisp despite swimming in generous amounts of cheese and gravy. My only complaint was that for $9 the smallish serving of poutine should have come with actual truffles on it or been larger.

Although a cheeseburger and fries will set you back $15, they're worth every penny, and with $4 happy hour drink specials you can bet you'll find me at the bar with a burger on a weekly basis.

About the author:Wes Rowe is a photographer and eater based in San Francisco who believes there is no such thing as too many burgers, and when given the opportunity, likes to spend the whole day smoking brisket. Follow him on Instagram @wesrowe.
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