Last week, Jardinière chef/owner Traci Des Jardin introduced diners at her Hayes Valley restaurant to a plant-based burger from Impossible Foods, a company for which she is a consultant. Due to its use of a plant-based form of heme, the ingredient in muscle tissue that contributes to the characteristic color and taste of meat, the burger has been described by many as remarkably similar to meat, and is available at the restaurant's bar and lounge area, with fries, for $16. It's already a much-buzzed about item, and it should be added that Chris Cosentino at Cockscomb also has a version on his lunch menu. Last night, SFist's senior vegetarian editor Eve Batey and the website's assistant omnivore editor Caleb Pershan gave Jardinière's take a try. We discuss below:
Caleb: Eve, when's the last time you had a real, honest-to-god beef hamburger? I had one Saturday, no big.
Eve: It's been at least 12 years, and it was probably from In-N-Out.
Caleb: Did this bring you back? What was your first bite like?
Eve: Weird! They definitely captured what I recall as the mouthfeel of meat, and it had that char taste (which you never get from veggie burgers) that I associate with a burger fresh off the grill. I had that feeling all vegetarians know, where you think "oh, rats, they fucked up my order and this is meat." The couple to our right said the same thing, as you'll recall.
Caleb: I feel like everyone at the bar was eating the burger. That's why they give out tickets starting at 7 p.m. for people like us who were planning to come in and try it — they've been selling out, I hear. My first bite was honestly the best. I was hungriest, and dove right in, and yeah I was immediately wowed. It's a burger! And with all the fixings, I think I wouldn't have known the difference right away, although maybe I would have by bite number two.
Eve: Yes, I definitely think the copious toppings and dressing might have masked any failings of the patty. The avocado helps make it feel fatty, and the relish and the vegan mayo added a lot of flavor. On reflection, though, the vegan mayo might also be a little problematic -- do you remember how I said that I could taste a little soy/faux finish? Once the server told us that it was a fake mayo, it occurred to me that the very subtle "fake" taste I got when eating the burger was similar to the fake taste a lot of mayonnaise substitutes have. I'm obviously speculating here! I'd have to taste the burger and the mayo on their own to determine where it actually came from.
Caleb: Oh interesting! Wonder if it was the Just Mayo stuff — hope not though. But I get that they wanted to do it vegan.
Eve: Yeah I admire the ballsiness of going all vegan with it, and not masking its flavor with cheese. That would have been a very easy fake-out — and would have solved the arguable problem of the thin, crumbly patty. I suspect that if you made it into a big, fat, "bistro" style burger it would be outed as fake immediately. But presented as a 1/2 inch (or so?) patty in dim light it passes admirably.
Caleb: Yeah, I agree with you on the crumbles. That unsettled me a bit — there's this uncanniness to the meat that those diners to the left pointed out, and I totally felt a little squeaked out, just instinctually, when bits of "beef" that were oddly geometric started to fall apart. I mean, ground beef can be crumbly too, like if you break the fibers too much before grilling it or something. So, I guess beyond this just being a convincing burger, I'm wondering if you thought this was it a "good" burger?"
Eve: Well of course the company helped. But, yeah! I definitely want to eat it again. Would you?
Caleb: Eve, I'd eat dinner with you out of the garbage. As for this burger, well, thinking back on that burger from Saturday, which was covered in bacon jam and just so fatty and disgusting and great, I think I'd prefer the real thing. This one satisfied my stomach and my tastebuds, but more so my curiosity. Speaking of stomach... how did this burger sit with you?
Eve: I suspect that this was really, really salty, because I had that "wake up in the middle of the night to drink a bunch of water" thing one gets from, say, pizza or a big bag of chips. But I don't mind salt, so that's OK. Digestively, I was surprised — it didn't sit there in my gut like a miserable ball like some of the grain heavier burgers do (say, the Plant burger) or leave me bloated and bummed like I am sad to admit that most Beyond Meat products do.
Caleb: Yeah, according to the Chronicle, the Beyond Burger is pea protein isolate, canola oil, and coconut oil (and is available in supermarkets in the Midwest). The Impossible Burger is wheat protein, potato protein, and coconut oil. So the gluten intolerant, if they weren't already scared off by the bun, should be warned! As for me, so far so good, digestively speaking — I'm pretty tolerant, you might say. Don't worry E, I'll keep you posted, as always.