Nor Cal correspondent Sam Waters here, reviewing the best and mediocrest of Bay Area burgers. For my first review, francophile burger buddy Gar Kevranian guided me to San Francisco’s Chez Maman to sample a French twist on the definitive American dish. Could this tiny bistro (just two tables and a counter!) possibly pass the test, or would it leave me searching my French-English dictionary for the perfect exclamation of distaste? Il n’y a qu’une façon de le savoir…
Menu Name: Basic Burger ($14 with add-ons)
- Swiss cheese
- Sliced of tomato
- Caramelized onions
Let’s get some nomenclature issues out of the way. To start, why is this called the “basic” burger? No other “burgers” on their menu feature beef; as we all know, chicken, fish, and vegetarian sandwiches are NOT burgers. I’ll chalk that one up as a translation error. But why does the burger come with fries instead of frites? The stringy fried potatoes Chez Maman serves are far closer to the French style than the American, yet they don’t even label them French fries. Only freedom fries could have been a more inaccurate label.
However, dear reader, you should not mistakenly believe that I had time to ponder these linguistic conundra while waiting for my burger. Nay, I barely had time to sample my beer before the burger was thrust onto the counter in front of me. If these French folks have any talent, it lies in their meat cooking speed and accuracy. I order my burger medium rare, and rarely have I experienced such an expert combination of interior juice sealed by a crispy surface. Before I could experience this joy, though, I had to brave the dreaded knife test.
There is no bun at Chez Maman. Rather, the burger comes with a squarish white roll. It’s a tasty piece of bread, adding a layer of chewiness that must evoke fond memories of mother’s cooking in the mind of every enfant. Even an American can appreciate the simple joy of this roll. Yet every chef should know that food alone does not make a meal. When selecting a tough-shelled roll, the chef ought to notify her waiters that it will require a sharp steak knife to cut. Alas, the chef at Chez Maman did not foresee this need. Instead, I was forced to humiliate myself my slowly sawing through the burger with the weakest butter knife I’ve ever laid hands on.
Despite all these hardships, the burger was well worth it. There’s something mysteriously sweet about this burger (an effect on the onions, suggests my burger buddy) that perfectly complements the juicy meat. The roll holds everything together better than one would expect. The bacon is perhaps not as crispy as could be desired, nor is its flavor quite strong enough to justify the expense. Nothing wrong with the Swiss cheese, which is mild but not undetectable. I advise future patrons to skip the bacon and opt for the Brie or Roquefort.
The fries were all that could be desired, though nothing to write home about. I found myself neglecting ketchup in favor of the aioli I was served, which thankfully was exactly the right amount to go with all my fries. The fries are light yet satisfying, just like the burger.
Burger taste: 44/55
Cheese quality: 4/5
Onion quality: 5/5
Meat quality: 4.5/5
Greens quality: x/x
Tomatoes quality: 3/5
Bacon quality: 2/5
Burger presentation: 3/5
Burger price: 6/10
So did this burger leave me breathless? Non. Nor did it fill me with contempt. This bistro seems to take the attitude that a burger is a burger, not a grand meal. Their burger leaves you satisfied yet it is not one of life’s great experiences. There is nothing wrong with the basic burger, and perhaps that name is more appropriate than I first thought.
Thus sliding into #1 (lucky it’s the first tested) on the Northern California List, The Basic Burger at Chez Maman, San Francisco!