I always go into a restaurant feeling excited, positive and ready to have a great experience. But I'll admit that when the first thing I notice about a place is style and attitude (from the website alone), I start to worry that more attention was paid to flash than food. This has been my frustration with local "celebrity" chefs—obvious talent being overshadowed by trends and gimmicks—and it's my frustration with Notorious Burgers in Carlsbad.
The Prohibition-themed burger joint (6955 El Camino Real) has quirky, mafia-adjacent names, servers in old-timey suspenders and overloaded menu items that are intended to be "notorious," I suppose, but end up muddling up what could have been some simple, exceptional ideas.
How could I resist ordering waffle-cut fries smothered in cheese and crab? I couldn't, but you should. What a disappointing start to our meal. The cheese tasted like lukewarm Velveeta at best, and there were just a few anemic little shreds of sad crab plopped here and there among the potatoes. The whole mess came served in a fake cast-iron pan (plastic) that just added to the reheated lameness of it all.
If you're in the mood for fries, skip the overloaded seafood combos and go for simplicity. Demand the salt and vinegar fries, with its petite dipping cup of créme fraiche. The thick sticks of potato are brined in sea salt and malt vinegar, giving each bite an addictive, puckery tang. These are excellent and way better than the other pile of cheesy nonsense.
Then we moved on to sandwiches. Objectively, nothing was bad; I just felt underwhelmed by the whole experience. "Beef is Boss" is the slogan, and you can either build your own burger or order one of Notorious' crazy concoctions. I checked out the Capone, a towering, overloaded creation featuring habanero jack cheese, Sriracha sauce, crispy onions, avocado and the oh-so-trendy (and somewhat polarizing) fried egg. I continue to fall into the trap of trying dishes with a complicated list of ingredients, hoping to find that surprising new taste combination, but it rarely works. I almost always find myself tasting a big bite of who-cares. The Capone could have been a shining example of quality beef and unique flavors. Instead, the meat was dry, the Sriracha overwhelmed, the avocado was under-ripe and nothing shined.
If you're looking for a non-beef option, there are plenty of unique sandwiches to try. "The Snitch" is not so much a sandwich as it is chicken and waffles on a skewer. The chicken is thickly battered and fried, well-seasoned and juicy. The waffles, however, had no crispness at all and quickly became soggy from sitting in the sweet maple "mayo" drizzled on the bottom of the plate. As far as I could tell, it was just maple syrup making everything sticky and soggy, nothing as nuanced as a maple mayo.
I'll continue to be optimistic about new restaurants in town, and I hope Notorious smoothes out its rough edges. It's clearly got the spunk to please most crowds, but I hope it starts paying a little more attention to the finished product than first impressions.
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