Sizzling hot

In case you missed it, here are my first impressions of 400° Gourmet Burgers & Fries that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

Just in time for the holiday weekend and the close of National Hamburger Month, 400° Gourmet Burgers & Fries made a splash in the Carmel last week.

400 Degrees opened in the Carmel Plaza just in time for the Memorial Day holiday.

This new project from David Fink and the Mirabel Hotel and Restaurant Group finds chef Jason Balestrieri — also executive chef at Mirabel-backed Cantinetta Luca — trading Italian fine dining for good old-fashioned burgers. (And don’t worry, Balestrieri isn’t leaving Luca — he’s juggling both kitchens.)

What better way to kick off the holiday weekend than with a burger, fries and a shake?

I popped into the new burger joint twice last week. This isn’t really a review, but more like my first impressions of things that showed promise and things that needed a little work. (It’s only their first week of service, after all.)

The burgers at 400° are cooked medium on a custom-made cast-iron griddle.

On opening night, I ordered The Kobe — a Kobe beef patty with soused onions, smoked cheddar cheese, crispy potatoes and 400° spread ($13.95).

It may not be real Kobe beef–that’s only found in Japan–but the Kobe burger was pretty tasty.

The burger (ordered medium-rare) was juicy and flavorful, a rich patty complemented by tangy onions and smoky cheese.

The bun was grilled with olive oil, leaving it a little greasy, but no less effective at holding onto the juicy patty. I was impressed that even with all those toppings it didn’t turn too soggy.

The turkey burger was nicely seasoned, and I liked the contrast of pepper and tart cranberry.

I sampled a couple bites of the turkey burger, with cranberry-currant spread, Swiss cheese and wild arugula ($8.95) in a tasty nod to Thanksgiving.

On my second visit, I ordered a cheeseburger, with cheddar, lettuce, tomato and 400 sauce ($8.95, double for $13.95). I made it breakfast for dinner and added applewood-smoked bacon and fried egg ($1.50 extra each).

The addition of bacon and eggs was a nice touch to the cheeseburger.

I’m a big fan of bacon and eggs on a burger, and this burger didn’t disappoint.

I also tried a few bites of the veggie burger, with chopped spinach, bean and grilled vegetable patty, griddled mushrooms and eggplant-miso spread ($8.95).

The veggie burger was a little mushy, but the flavors were nice.

The patty was a little mushy, but I liked the earthy flavors of the mushrooms and spinach. I recommend adding crispy onions ($1.50) for a bit of sweet crunch too.

While the burgers were pretty tasty, the much-hyped duck fat fries ($3.95) were a bit of a disappointment.

Sadly, the duck-fat fries weren’t as crispy as others I’ve had.

Cooking in duck fat should have yielded rich, crispy fries — that’s the experience I’ve had with other fat-fried foods. But honestly, I couldn’t tell much of a difference between the house-cut Kennebec fries ($2.95) and the duck-fat fries.

There’s no formal table service at 400° — you order at the counter, get a number for your table and food is bussed by floating waitstaff, a model that stirred up quite the controversy in Carmel.

I thought the counter service model was perfect for a burger joint, but even my patience was tried opening night when customers and servers piled up at the counter in an awkward traffic jam.

I also found it a little odd that my ticket stayed open throughout my meal. Most times when you order at a counter, you pay at the counter, end of story.

This has been the top complaint on Yelp, confusion and frustration when it comes to pay.

Tablet computers made it easy to order from the table . . . when the technology actually worked.

On my second visit, each table was equipped with a tablet computer for ordering. The tablets were supposed to make it easy to place, modify and pay for your order from the comfort of the table. But mine kept popping up error messages, and I had to seek out a human being instead.

I think service would be improved by keeping things as simple as possible: clear direction for ordering and paying, and reliable technology.

The burgers haven’t ousted those at Umami Burger for the title of all-time best in my book, but 400° is a welcome addition to our local food scene that’s sure to be sizzling this summer.

400° Gourmet Burgers & Fries is at the corner of Mission Street and Seventh Avenue in Carmel. 244-0040. 400degrees.com.

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