Elevation Burger

As I approach the mid-century mark in less fingers than I can count on one hand (Ay, Dios Mio!), the questions that have been haunting me the last few years are ringing louder in my head by each day: Should I eat less meat? Should I touch factory farmed meat and poultry or buy more organic?  Should I go vegetarian or perhaps vegan?  How about dairy products and egg?  And fried foods?  Sugar? Wow, can I eat anything at all besides raw organic vegetables?  Are my gastronomic adventures going to be haunted by the ghost of guilt?  How long can I continue blogging before making this a vegetarian site?

001.jpgThese questions are picking up momentum and soon turning into a vortex in my conscience as we approach summer, a time when I cannot resist one of my seasonal vices (oops, the ugly head of guilt again) – the hamburger.  There is something irresistible about a grilled beef patty sandwiched by two pieces of fluffy buns filled with the various not-so-subtle accoutrements that satisfy the indulgent craving for sweet, salty, sour, and savory (hmmm, all begin with S’s like Sins).  Slices of crisp lettuce and juicy ripe tomatoes are the saving grace and penance that delude us to think that the beef patty ain’t that thick nor so bad after all.  Like a Catholic trying to overcome Sunday guilt, I visit my Amish butcher to purchase antibiotic and hormone-free ground beef to make the patties for my cookouts.  But what do you do when the craving strikes while out in public?  McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Five Guys – when Hell freezes over!!

Then appears Elevation Burger (imagine the clouds part at this point ☼ and the heavenly choirs sing ♫).  I discovered this burger-serving joint from one of my online coupon sites. When I read the company philosophy and perused the menu to check out their offerings, I knew that this place was worth visiting and writing about, and I paid it a couple of visits.  A burger chain, you ask?  Yes, a different type of burger chain.  Here are my confessions:


DSC_7512.jpgBurgers: The beef patties are made from 100% organic, grass-fed and free-range meat.  They are smaller than your usual patty, perhaps around 1/4 pound, and they tasted not overly “beefy” due to the lower fat content, a purer taste than the usual burger.  The slice of cheese had a slightly granular texture for being aged cheddar cut from the block, and not the insipid processed version.  The burgers come in double-patties, single patty with cheese, one patty hamburger, and one patty plus one veggie (“Half The Guilt Burger” – penance?).  The toppings are the usual that one would find anywhere, but specials are offered on any given day, like sautéed mushrooms and bacon (no lesser guilt here) on one visit.  I found the pickles to be brightly and less metallic, perhaps due to local sourcing and not being factory produced.  The Hot Pepper Relish packed some heat, and although I love piquancy, it did overwhelm the subtleties in the burger (a subtle burger, you ask?).  The burgers may not be as humongous and “meaty” as other places but they make up in quality and in taste. Less meat – check.  Organic grass-fed free range meat – check.


010.jpgVegetarian offerings: There are two vegetarian burgers that are offered here.  Veggie Burger #1 is a patty that is made with pureed vegetables and cheese.  For me it was OK, since the patty did not have any specific taste from the processing that made it a bit nondescript – maybe it is more palatable for those who are not the usual vegetarians.  Veggie Burger #2 comes with a savory vegan patty.  You can see and taste the individual bits of corn, carrots, peas, and rice.  This was more to my liking and it tasted more substantial and flavorful.  Yummy!   Grilled Cheese Sandwich is offered here with that 6-month aged Cheddar for those looking for an alternative to meat or vegetable.  Side and Main Salads are also offered but they looked rather pedestrian to me – at least, these are good substitutes for fries.  Vegetarian and Vegan offerings – check, check.


French Fries:  The shoes string fries are cut from whole potatoes judging from the skin left on.  However, they are more limp than the fries found in other burger places.  Reason why?  They are cooked in 100% olive oil, and since it has a lower smoking point, they cannot be made very crisp due to the lower cooking temperature.  However, I don’t mind not-so-crisp fries in lieu of whole unprocessed potato bits cooked in healthier oil.  On one visit, I thought they were slightly oversalted, but it was perfectly fine the next visit.  Fried foods, if only in healthy oil – check.

014.jpgDesserts:  We tried the Small Cookies which consisted of 3 chocolate chip, pecan, and oatmeal treats made with organic butter and milk.  They were pretty small (photo – “objects are smaller than they appear in macro shots”) but they were sinfully good with a rich buttery taste.  Like all items on the menu, there is a calorie count with these – nearly 300 calories for all three.  These cookies also come in a larger version. If the amount of calories is a bit intimidating, there are also Mandarin Oranges as a sweet alternative.  Sugar – occasional check; sweet fruit – check.

004.jpgDrinks:  The milk shakes are made with organic milk, organic ice-cream, and “real berries and strawberries” (as listed on the menu).  Bits of fruit are speckled on the cup which confirms the use of “real” fruit, which distinguishes it from the use of fruit syrups found in other places.  However, the over 700 caloric count is pretty daunting and a reminder that this should not be a frequent treat.  The eatery also offers bottled drinks that are low in sugar, no High Fructose Corn Syrup, and are made with healthy green tea and real lemonade.  Milk shake – infrequent check. Healthy bottled drinks – check.

Ambience:  The philosophy of this new direction is not confined to just the food and drinks only.  The napkins are made from 100% recycled paper, the light bulbs are highly efficient, the floor are made from sustainable bamboo, the tabletops are compressed sorghum, and the urinal is waterless (too much information here?).  The used olive oil is also recycled to make biofuel.   All these elements add to the feel-good energy when you step into this place.  Even the cook staff step out from behind the counter to bring your order to the table (using names and not numbers) and to check on the customer.  Low polluting sustainable caring environment – check.

Elevation Burger is offering something quite unique and revolutionary in the fast-food world.  But it is about time that we are challenged beyond our old habits and energies in order to be elevated with a new consciousness and direction, much like our President today announcing his support for equal marriage rights.  Putting philosophy and ethics aside, its offerings are nearly as good, or even better (mos def ethically), as the usual versions that we are accustomed and conditioned to.  Currently, they are available in only 10 states including the MVA area.  But judging by the crowd on my last visit, I’m sure this chain will take off in other states soon, and rightfully so.  With many branches in the area, my future visits to Elevation Burger might bring me closer to Burger Heaven/Nirvana.

Elevation Burger on Urbanspoon

Yves Bistro

After nearly 12 hours on a Spanish train with not one common language spoken among all four fellow passengers cooped up in my couchette cabin, and having just finished a six-month study stint in Madrid, I arrived in Paris in the late 80’s to get re-acquainted with a long-time French friend I met a few years back in college.  Great anticipation was running though me as I was eager to venture into a major city touted for its artistic and architectural beauty and for its renowned cuisine.  To my mild surprise, the trip was both a revelation and a disappointment.  My experiences were marred by an over-priced can of coke ($12) at the Notre Dame (naive tourist like me), an unsatisfying Haute Cuisine salad ($20) that barely sated my appetite (Haute is not that hot!), and mediocre bistro food at the Latin Quarter that catered to poor students (moi included).  The upside of the trip, besides Paris’ sheer beauty, was the discovery of Boulangeries (Delis) in which I would purchase baguette sandwiches filled with tasty cold cuts, patés, and a generous dollop of good grain mustard.  Biting into the crusty sandwiches made me wonder if there was French food that was accessible, reasonably priced, and delectable at the same time.

Upon returning to Washington DC, I visited the long-time Bistro Francais in Georgetown where I was rewarded a few decent meals, especially 3-course Early Bird Specials that came with a glass of wine for less than $20 ($25 now).  I had heard of another local haunt, Au Pied Du Cochon, which was a late nighter in the same area that I never had the chance to visit before its much-publicized demise.  Visits to a few high-end area French restaurants only confirmed to me that they can be stuffy, overpriced, and underwhelming.

Around a year ago, a regular dining companion of mine told me of a French bistro that opened up in the Alexandria, VA neighborhood near the Eisenhower metro station.  He was exclaiming how he enjoyed a simple Mesclun salad with a wonderful Quiche, all for a reasonable price.  Such words from a fellow gourmand propelled me to discover it, and many visits have I paid it.

Soup du Poisson

From the first visit, Yves Bistro has won my heart and appreciation for good French cuisine.  The kitchen’s expertise is evident in their first offering of appetizers.  The French Onion Soup is onion-filled, slightly woodsy from the obligatory use of thyme, and topped with a slice of baguette and gratinéed cheese.  The Fish Soup (Soup de Poisson) is a light fish tomato broth scented with rosemary and dotted with small chunks of moist fish, topped with a slice of baguette drizzled with a rich Rouille sauce.  A menu special of Carrot Soup once proofed to be not too successful as it was rather bland and lacking the root sweetness.  But the kitchen seems to have the menu standards down pat.

Paté de Foie de Canard

The Smoked Salmon, Clams Casino, Mussel stew, and Escargot dishes are fairly good and worth an order.  But the true appetizer stars are the Duck Liver Mousse Paté  and the Duck Leg Confit.  The Paté is rich and fresh, quite heady from generous bits of black truffle studded through it, and complemented by a couple of cornichons and nicoise olives that provide the palate the necessary briny relief from the richness.  The lovely presentation on beautiful Lenox chinaware augments the sense of its lusciousness.

Duck Leg Confit

Although it is listed as an appetizer, I prefer to order the Duck Leg Confit as my main course after not having refrained from the above soups and appetizers.  The slightly salty, crispy yet moist duck leg comes perched on some sautéed spinach sitting on a bed of perfectly cooked Puys lentils.  This is truly a hearty and satisfying dish with tender pieces of succulent duck well complemented by the vibrant greens and the tender legumes.

Yves Salad
Sometimes the simplest dish is a good indicator of a light hand and knowledgeable kitchen, as in the case of the Yves Salad.  It comprises of baby spinach, arugula, friezé, and red leaf lettuce, that are lightly coated with a good french vinagrette, topped with tasty garlic croutons and roasted walnuts.  Simple, tasty, and satisfying – need I say more.

Broiled Lobster

There are some shining stars among the main courses, that is if you haven’t stuffed yourself with appetizers yet.  The classic Trout Almondine is well handled here with a slight butteriness present on the moist fish and flakey almond slivers.  Accompanying it are a veritable Ratatouille and some Alsacian-like sweet sour red cabbage.  Another seafood fare that is quiet popular and a favorite of mine is the broiled whole Maine lobster that is cooked succulent, topped with a simple slaw, and served with a pile of to-die-for Frites (sans le ketchup to make it fit for any adult).  Where can you find large sweet lobsters for around $16?  Definitely not in France! The Italian Seafood Stew aka Cioppino is offered regularly and it is over-filling with fresh chunks of mussels, fish, and scallops, swimming in an herbal tomato broth that is worth dunking the accompanying toast in.  A lighter fare of different Quiches (Spinach, Mushroom, or Lorraine) is offered with a side of salad.  The Sirloin Steak seems popular here (for $18!) and it is high on the next visit list.  The combination of Beef Bourguignon on pasta was an awkward pairing for me but it was quite tasty.

Apple Raisin Strudel

On most visits, guilt starts to creep in at this point for having sated ourselves with such wonderful, inexpensive, and obviously rather rich food.  So, most times, desserts have been totally out of the question.  However, on my last visit, we were celebrating a friend’s 35th birthday (his internet age!), and he had a craving for something decadent.  We were advised by our charming manager to get the Apple Raisin Strudel.  The flakey Phylo top was slightly buttery, and the bottom of the ramekin replete with soft apples, bits of walnut, and slightly tart raisins – a dollop of vanilla ice cream helped to seal the deal.  The usual French dessert fare of Poached Pears and Creme Brulée are not amiss here.

The atmosphere of the place can be described as charming, relaxed, and warm.  Near the kitchen are photos of Yves, the former owner of the now defunct Au Pied Du Cochon, who still makes his rounds from table to table without the gallop of yesteryear but still with his witty charm.  Our Mongolian-born manager regales us with her smile, her attentiveness, and an occasional sip of Calvados.  And the Syrian-born chef spoils us with his knowledgeable, passionate and skillful cooking that keeps us coming back to revel in what French food is truly about.   My dining companions and I wish that this place could remain a hidden secret, but a delightful place like Yves Bistro will soon be a favorite of many French food lovers.

Yves' Bistro on Urbanspoon