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Nov 29, 2007 05:03 PM

Buffalo Burger at Surfas Cafe a solid contender

A visiting friend wanted to hit Surfas before going back to the Bay Area, partly because he'd been asked for a report on the food at their cafe, so he said he'd buy my lunch if we could go there. That's about twice as much incentive as I needed to make the trek from Pasadena, so we hit the road. After about 45 minutes of shopping in the store, we put our loot in my car's cooler and went in to see what was on the menu. I'd already decided I wanted to try their buffalo burger, as part of my ongoing quest for the best Bistro Burger I can find. Well, it doesn't come with fries, and in the time it took between order and pickup I could probably have hunted down and butchered the buffalo myself, but one bite and all was forgiven. I'm beginning to think that ciabatta and panini are the best possible breads to wrap a burger in, and this had the latter, plus tomato, onion and arugula. My friend and I had both chosen cheddar cheese and harissa mayonnaise over blue cheese and horseradish mayo, though I'd like to try that sometime, and the meat was done to a perfect medium-rare even though we hadn't thought to ask. Very juicy and beefy, lovely balance of flavors, the bread tender to the bite but holding together as it should. I just wish they'd given me a pile of those odd but enchanting pickles instead of a meagre two.

Anyway, $8.95 without fries is roughly equivalent to $12 with, so this very good and flavorful burger is, in its class, both an excellent example and a bargain. Go try it yourself!

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  1. I wish I could agree. But every prepared food item at Surfas Cafe is overwrought with too many trendy ingredients -- tempting, I'm sure, with the unlimited supply of fantastic ingredients next door. But I don't get the idea of a burger loaded with that many aggressive flavors. Or a salad with apples AND leeks AND blue cheese AND rosemary-candied walnuts dressed with fig and vanilla basalmic vinaigrette, for that matter.

    Where great ingredients are available, less is definitely more.

    3 Replies
    1. re: tritip

      What aggressive flavors? I found the flavors to be considerably more subtle and less obtrusive than the dill pickles and mustard I usually get on my burgers, not to mention the great slabs of onion that most other restaurants lay in there. The harissa was simply a nice smoky undertone, echoed by the small sprinkling of very young arugula. The onion was very thinly sliced and laid on with a light hand, as was the tomato. The dominating flavor was that of the meat, as it should be. "Aggressive" is when there are multiple slabs of onion and tomato the size of manhole covers, plus half a head of romaine and a handful of dill chips. Most of my favorite burgers are presented like that - I suppose to justify the $14+ tab - and I have to extract some of the garnishes just so I can taste the damned thing, not to mention get it into my mouth.

      1. re: tritip

        Wow, that salad sounds REALLY GOOD. If they could just rplace the Diana Killing walnits with candied pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.

        1. re: Diana

          I agree, goto Surfas for the store and not the Cafe.

      2. Thanks for the report. Planning on going to Surfas next week to stock up again and that sounds good and convenient.

        So I gather you didn't try the fries?

        4 Replies
        1. re: notmartha

          I didn't see any on the menu, which would help to explain the bags of chips next to the register!

          Unlike tritip, I've enjoyed everything I've tried there, though that has been limited to sandwiches - I've had the smoked beef and the ham, both very good I thought. Service does tend to be kinda slow, but it oddly enough it doesn't seem to matter whether there's a crowd there or not. However, if you put in your order and then go shop in the store, you can ask them to page you.

          1. re: Will Owen

            the mac & cheese is pretty amazing there looks smallish, but has filled me up a few times, now.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Thanks for the paging tip! Although as we took about an hour last time to go through the store I doubt they are _that_ slow. ;)

              1. re: Will Owen

                I've enjoyed every soup I've tried there too. Also love the breakfast sandwiches and the grilled cheese sandwich.

            2. All I can say is... WOW... Really that is it because you said it all Will... The best burger I've had in recent memory, even after experimenting with our own!!

              I don't think Surfas has a deep fryer (Probably a good thing) so no fries... but I did have their Potato Bacon soup. WOW... not too creamy, not at all stingy with the bacon... A bit a burger, a slurp of soup... you did not miss fries at all...

              Along with their amazing Cranberry Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake... it was the perfect 'splurge' lunch for a crisp fall day! :)


              24 Replies
              1. re: Dommy

                If Dommy! likes it, then I rest my case...though I have to say that if I'd had the burger AND potato bacon soup AND cheesecake, my visiting buddy would've had to drive us home, because I wouldn't have fit behind the wheel!

                1. re: Will Owen

                  i'm so there, is the buffalo burger a special item and not on the usual chalkboard menu or what?

                  for the folks that have tried both cafe surfas and the point (which is sort of nearby) which do you prefer and what do you prefer at thiese joints.?

                    1. re: kevin

                      It is a regular menu item. The day we were there the blue cheese/horseradish version was on the chalkboard as a "special," though there was no price break or anything. We'd had a discussion earlier about the brand of harissa that the store sells, which friend David said was tasty but not particularly spicy, and that's why we went with that choice. It was a very good one, I must say.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        are you referring to 'le cabanon' harissa? i bought a tube there a while ago and couldn't believe how bland it was - not even a hint of heat.

                        anyway, now i have to try the buffalo burger. i was planning to head there in a few minutes to pick up some stuff, but i think now i'll wait until lunchtime tomorrow!

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          My friend said that he'd gone out and bought a tube of that after reading of harissa, and thought, "Heck, that ain't so hot." Then he was served the real thing in a restaurant and it just about blew his ears off. In the context of this burger, though, the fact that this kind gives more flavor than heat works very nicely.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            yeah, that tube has been sitting in my fridge for quite some time. every once in a while i use it in something, but merely as a base for building flavor - in all honesty it's not very useful, but i just hate wasting food so i can't bring myself to toss it.

                            i raced over to surfas earlier before they closed @ 6:30 because i needed stuff for tonight. i mentioned to one of the guys at the customer service counter in the back that i heard the buffalo burger @ the cafe was excellent.

                            his response: "yeah, it's not bad. sort of oily, but good i guess."


                            another guy chimed in to say that the turkey sandwich is his favorite. [which does me no good because i'm gluten intolerant - i was planning to eat the burger without a bun.]

                            but i digress. did you find the burger to be at all oily or greasy? it would NOT make me happy. one of the reasons i love buffalo/bison is because it's so lean.

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              Sounds like the kind of guy who'd object to any visible fat in his pastrami, or who doesn't like any food that's "too rich" (as though that were a valid category!). Neither of us found the burger to be notably fatty in any way, just properly moist and meaty.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                will and the rest of the crowd,

                                i got a question:

                                usually the sandwiches at surfas cafe are all pre-made.

                                i presume the buffalo burger is not, correct?

                                so that substitutions are allowed.

                                my biggest qualm with cafe surfas is that most everything is made beforehand and then heated up in an oven or panini press.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  No, the buffalo burger is cooked to order. Also, although the sandwiches are pre-made, it really doesn't taste it when it comes hot off the press.


                              2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                The buffalo burger is juicy but, other than the melted cheese, not really oily or greasy. The harissa is of the sort you described coming from the tube--a somewhat bland base that would not pass muster in a Moroccan or Tunisian kitchen. All in all, a tasty buffalo burger albeit not in the same league as Josie's, though 1/3 the price (of course, at Surfas, you lose the mushrooms, foie gras and wonderful truffle fries).

                                1. re: New Trial

                                  ok, so i finally tried it for lunch today.

                                  i've been looking forward to it since the original post, and i gotta say...

                                  HUGE disappointment.

                                  swimming in grease [so much that it seeped through the bottom of the box]. asked for no came with cheese, which i scraped off. the harissa mayo was tasteless. and worst of all, i ordered it medium rare, and it was well done, yet somehow not even hot. in fact, it was barely warm...and so overcooked that i could barely saw through it with the plastic knife they gave me.

                                  i just couldn't bring myself to complain and ask them to make me a new one. they were beyond disorganized today, screwing up orders, and everything took forever.

                                  i so wanted to love that burger, and honestly, it was so bad i ate maybe half of it & gave up.

                                  what a bummer.

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    I am sorry to hear it; particularly since you were so looking forward to the buffalo burger. It always amazes me when a place can be so inconsistent despite having a limited menu and relatively basic ingredients. Josie's has hit the buffalo burger out of the park every time I've had it there, even with a more elaborate preparation.

                                    1. re: New Trial

                                      the irony is that i had dinner at josie friday night, and purposely didn't try the burger there because i knew i was going to surfas on monday...and the friend who dined with me at josie tried the surfas burger on saturday thanks to my CH recommendation, and had one of the GOOD experiences there - she loved it!

                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        Proving, once again, that timing is everything. And yet I still feel guilty for steering (buffaloing?) you to try the Surfas version.

                                        1. re: New Trial

                                          clever pun :)

                                          and don't give it another thought. the only one who should feel guilty is the person in the kitchen at surfas who ruined my perfectly innocent burger.

                                          besides, josie is one of my all-time favorite restaurants, and now i have additional motivation to somehow justify eating there yet again, even though there are a gazillion places in this town i still need to try for the first time.

                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                            I've always been disappointed with the burger at Josie, but I guess buffalo just isn't my thing. In my mind, lean meat does not a good burger make.

                                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      I tried it. I had a much better experience with the product itself. Hot, juicy, flavorful, and medium rare, though I hadn't even specified.

                                      But service was a complete train wreck.

                                      My advice would be to only hit the cafe on the fringes, before or after the lunch rush.

                                    3. re: New Trial

                                      I tried the buffalo burger over the weekend. Agreed, juicy but not oily or greasy. The meat itself isn't too flavorful. I might try it with blue cheese next time.

                            2. re: kevin

                              The Buffalo Burger is on the Chalkboard now. Good Buffalo can be sourced really easy now, so I guess they feel confident is having it regularly.

                              I've tried both, they are different... but I perfer Cafe Surfas. I'm not a huge fan of the points 'do your own salad' thing... SO many ways to get it wrong and they seem to just throw stuff together so it's an uneven portion of things. I also was not wowed by his Chipotle Chicken Sandwich. :/ I much perfer Surfas Salads and Sandwiches, they are so much better composed and it shows in their flavors. I also perfer Tender Greens (Salads and Sandwiches) to the Point as well...


                              1. re: Dommy

                                then maybe the only thing at the point that was exceptional was

                                the butterscotch pudding with whipped cream, the only dish i've tried there.

                                a few blocks away is bluebird cafe, anyone tried the actual savory food there besides the coffee and pretty good cupcakes.????


                                  1. re: kevin

                                    Yes!! I love their sandwiches too! My favorite Grilled Veggie sammich ANYWHERE!! I always forget about it because it's closed on weekends! :PPPPPPP


                              2. re: Will Owen

                                LOL!! It helped that I hadn't had breakfast and that I biked there. :)


                            3. i just got back from surfas after all the prompting from this thread.
                              i got the version with cheddar, harissa mayo on a panini. square patty wendy's style.

                              i would call the burger greasy, which to me isnt really a major problem. i thought the patty could have been hotter and the bread crunchier. i got no heat from the harissa so i kind of wish i had gotten the blue cheese version for some flavor punch

                              i thought it was decent, but i wouldnt have it again..
                              im definitely off to josie to try their burger!