With the exception of a few consistenly great restaurants, my office here in Tokyo,(near Aoyamaokicho station) is pretty much located in a Death Valley of eating.
Last week, looking for something different, my boss, (Marcus), and I headed out for the Kau'Aina burger joint in Gotanda. Now, I'll be the first to adimit that I've become a bit of a snob against chain restaurants, but dammit, Tokyo just keeps getting in the way of this attitude. And it's places like Kau'Aina that keep changing this perception.
A burger/sandwich chain that has it's flagship shop on the north shore of Oahu, Kau'Aina now has 3 or 4 branches here in Tokyo. (Robb, Bryan, Michael, and other Tokyo hounds, please feel free to correct my factual errors).
We strolled in about 1 pm, and, while the place was packed, Marcus stood in line as I scouted for a table. 2 minutes, we had table, and a place at the front of the line.
Marcus and I both ordered the "B" set menu meal, (available all day long), which is a 1/3 lb. hamburger from their menu, fries, and a soft drink. For a very nominal fee, you can add extras to your burger. Marcus got the bacon burger, w/American cheese, while I opted for the bacon burger w/cheddar cheese. "B" set menu is 930 yen.
Before this, my last trip, (2 years ago) to Kau'Aina was to the Minami-Aoyama branch, where the wait for food was so long that I had died, been resurrected as a dung beetle, skwashed by a bushman of the Kalahari,
and re-incarnted as my present self. (musta been a damn fine dung beetle!). At the Gotanda branch, we were waiting for no more than 10 minutes for our meal.
Our reward for waiting was a basket (ala the old drive-ins), with a burger, and fries.
The fries, while crispy, and VERY hot, were pretty forgettable. The fries have this funky coating on them that remind me of my days as a fry cook, when we would take french fries, coat them in whatever we could find, and see how they fried up.
But the burger, oh man, the burger! On a toasted poppy-seed kaiser roll, cooked just past medium-well, so that it was thorougly cooked, but still juicy, set atop a rasher of bacon that was easily as thick as the hamburger itself! Cheese melting into the patty, so much so that the only way that Marcus and I could differentiate our orders was by the color of the cheese. They must be using local produce, because the lettuce that came on the burger was a great red-leaf lettuce. Not a leaf of iceburg in sight. If you don't say "no", it also automatically comes with grilled onions.
The top of the bun has a shmear of mayo on it, but that is the extent of the dressing. Each table has Heintz ketchup, and French's yellow mustard bottles, for your condimential pleasure. BTW, the French's comes out in the finest Jackson Pollack stream of mustard I've ever seen. Where can I get these bottles?
We had to do some serious hand-squashing on these babies just to be able to fit them in our maws.
The thing that got me about the way they are doing their burgers, and has me such a fan, is that with every bite, you can taste the cheese, beef, bacon, and the extra condiments and rabbit food. These tastes aren't fighting againt each other, they are co-mingling with wonderful synchronicity, like a '60s Oregon commune.
The other thing that got me about Kau'Aina, was that sitting in there, hearing the counter girls, (who are about 20 ways cute) saying "Aloha" to every customer who enters and exits, the decor, which is walls plastered with surfboards, and pictures of Duke, and the live streaming audio from one of the stations in Honolulu, for 60 minutes, it felt like being home, and surrounded by Japanese tourists.
I know that there are better burgers to be found in Tokyo, but with 60-90 minutes for lunch, this is a wonderfully great addition to the chowing experience.
Next will be Franklin Street, in Gotanda, where Marcus and I will start the Great Shinagawa Ward Burger Challange.
I'll keep you posted, and you keep posting!