Off the Menu: Hamburgers Versus Sushi

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May is National Hamburger Month, so each week I’ll share some of my favorite gourmet burgers available at local restaurants. These are burgers I love for their creativity, flavor combinations and toppings, and of course the fries that come with the burger.

When I sit at the bar at Olea on Westcliff Drive, I can almost hear the American Wagyu Wine Country burger calling my name. When I think of a perfect burger, this one fits the bill. They use hooks two-year aged cheddar, red mustard leaf, cabernet-bacon jam, preserved tomato, pickled onion, soft potato bun and secret sauce for this beautiful burger.

The herb fries that come with this dish are also beautiful: large, crispy on the outside, soft inside, with a light herb coating. Add a craft beer (or in my case, a glass of Opolo zinfandel) and you have the perfect burger combo.  Visit OleaNewportBeach.com.

And then there’s Arc Butcher & Baker in Cannery Village on Balboa Peninsula, which opened a few weeks ago. It’s the sister property to Arc restaurant in Costa Mesa, which has a legendary burger: 16 oz patty with a stack of accouterments piled on top, served on a wood platter. It’s an impressive sight, but so is the baby Arc burger ($14) at Arc Butcher & Baker.

According to co-owners Marin and Chef Noah von Blöm, they mix the beef patty with herbs and whipped duck fat, then add roasted garlic, red onion, tomato, and homemade aioli. The bun is buttermilk cornmeal crusted. Add an order of wedge cut fries ($7), or up the ante with the decadent cheesy bacon wedge fries ($12). The burger is darn near perfect, as are the fries (and yes I’ve tried them both ways).

But as much as I love the burger, the tuna melt ($15) served on toasted buttermilk bread may be the best I have ever had.

“We take fresh albacore, steam it with white wine and back peppers, mix in housemade pickles, celery and red onion, and then when we’re ready to make the tuna melt we fold in shredded cheddar so it gets melted throughout,” explained Marin. “It’s so simple but so good.”

Both times I went to Arc Butcher + Baker, Marin was at the counter taking orders while Noah happily prepared the food. The Newport Beach residents look to be having fun with their new concept.

By the way, Arc Butcher + Baker only has seating for about eight people, and everything is served to-go in high-quality branded containers. This is the perfect spot to grab lunch for a picnic or beach outing, or for a Duffy cruise around Newport Harbor.

ARC Butcher & Baker is located at 417 30th St. and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit arcbutcherbaker.com.

Sushi Roku Introduces Vegan Omakase

Sushi Roku in Fashion Island has introduced a new Vegan Omakase offering with vegan nigiri, rolls and vibrant plant-based dishes. Guess what—the dishes are tasty and creative.

The Vegan Omakase consists of four courses: Organic Kale Salad with king oyster mushroom, crispy shiitake and ginger plum vinaigrette, followed by a trio of appetizers with roasted cauliflower, miso eggplant and grilled corn.

The menu includes a choice of three entrees: Tofu Steak with Mixed Mushroom Tobonyaki; four-piece Vegan Nigiri and Vegan Roll plate; and grilled avocado with ponzu. Dessert is avocado vegan chocolate mousse in a vegan filo cup.

I admit to not normally dining vegan-style, but this excellent Vegan Omakase could change my mind. The grilled avocado was wonderful, but it was the nigiri and roll plate that surprised me, both in the amount of food and in the vibrant flavors that included pickled Napa cabbage with shiso (a herb with a minty flavor) and lemon zest; strawberry ceviche wrapped in daikon; cauliflower salad wrapped in daikon; yuzu guacamole topped with wasabi root and rice crackers wrapped in cucumber; and a vegan roll with grilled asparagus, jalapeno, butter lettuce, soy paper and almond sauce.

The Vegan Omakase is available for lunch or dinner for $40 per guest. Visit sushiroku.com.

Jam Sessions at Bayside

Hard to believe it’s been six years since Bayside launched its Friday Night Jam Sessions series featuring Ron Kobayashi on piano. Kobayashi headlines the Thursday eve jazz in the lounge, but the Friday night sessions crank up the jazz to another level with many local musicians sitting in on the sessions, which start at 10 p.m. and go until midnight.

This Friday, jazz lovers are in for a treat: trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo of Tower of Power is the special guest.

The Long Beach native will join Ron and any guests that want to come jam with the duo. Bring your own instrument, sit down at the piano, or step up to the mic, if you’re musically inclined. Or join as a music lover to listen and watch the music come alive in the Bayside lounge.

A late night menu and specialty cocktails are available.

Here’s to many more years to jazz at Bayside. Visit BaysideRestaurant.com.

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