Friday, March 8, 2019

My first Impossible Burger (and from a Top Chef who was eliminated making burgers!)

The realization of this day has taken far too long to arrive.  I have read far too many articles and blogs and seen far too many videos.  You'd think I were an industry insider trying to gauge public perception of it.  But nope, I'm just an enthusiast.  And I don't even eat that many burgers.

Despite the acclaim, an amazing number of people don't know what the Impossible Burger is.  There are tons of articles out there telling you what it is (I should know, I've probably read half of them).  But in 60 seconds or fewer, the Impossible Burger is a vegan burger patty designed from the ground up to taste like a hamburger.  While obviously not the first entrant into the veggie burger market, the Impossible Burger is part of a small group of new patties designed from the ground up to be everything a hamburger is without being a hamburger.  Impossible Foods' scientists examined the burger in order to understand what makes a hamburger a hamburger.  (I've now used the word "hamburger" five, er, six times in the last few sentences.  Sorry not sorry.)  Taste is obviously one thing, but there's more to it than that:  There's the way it cooks up, the way you can sear it and have a great crust on the outside and a tender reddish inside.  Speaking of "reddish", there's color.  There's smell.  Ultimately, they identified several proteins, the most predominant of which is called "heme" (think "hemoglobin").  Heme can be derived from plants.  Get the right ingredients in the right proportions, assemble them, add some magical pixie dust, and you have the Impossible Burger!

The menu at Fabio's Osteria.
Problem is, I don't eat a lot of burgers in restaurants.  Not that they're not delicious; more that, if I wanted a burger, I'll make it at home.  I go to restaurants to eat things that I can't eat at home or are such a pain in the @$$ to make at home that I'll happily pay someone else to do it (baked goods, eggs benedict, fried chicken, and pizza come to mind).

But I can't make an Impossible Burger.  So when I was in LAX airport yesterday, I hunted around for one.  Fabio Viviani is a former Top Chef contestant, and how hilarious is it that I came to his 3-year-old restaurant for a burger, considering that he was eliminated from the contest when his burger failed to make the cut.  On the show, he confessed that he couldn't even pronounce "boo-ger".

A big nothing-burger

The Impossible Burger.  I was healthy and skipped the fries.
Forgive the headline:  The burger was fine.  But I'll cut to the chase:  The restaurant is ridiculously overpriced for what you get.

It looks like a burger and quacks like a burger.
Fabio's description of the Impossible Burger:  Peppers, balsamic onions, sun-dried tomato and arugula.  Actually very befitting an Italian chef.  I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to taste the burger, and I was right.  The burger was so full of rich ingredients that it was also "impossible" to make a full judgment.  It was also so rich, it was nearly "impossible" to eat.  I didn't finish it.  Normally, I feel badly about such things, as I do not want an animal to die and end up in the trash.  Fortunately, no animals got killed, here.  Just a bunch of arugula.  And those arugula leaves had it coming, anyway.

The burger lives up to the hype of being "impossible" to tell it from a regular burger.  Well, actually, I detected an aftertaste, but I'd never know if that was the burger without either ordering a completely plain version of it, or ordering the exact same burger made from felled bovine.  But ultimately, if somebody handed the burger to me and didn't tell me anything, I wouldn't have noticed that I was eating vegan.

At the end of the day, I'll eat an Impossible Burger again.  But as for Fabio's Osteria....

What bothered me about this place was the brazen pricing.  I've eaten my way through probably 30 Michelin stars in my life.  I'm willing to shell out good dough for some good eats.  But in this place, a burger, cocktail, and an order of meatballs does not a $70 meal make.  Especially not when the waiter forgets part of your order and nearly makes you late for your flight.

Sorry, Fabio.  Please pack your knives and go.

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