Anyone who dines frequently at the Playground is bound to come across dishes that wow on that particular visit but have vanished upon your return. I can think of many meals instantly: white Zinfandel vinegar-glazed quail with lentils; pork belly nachos; the meatloaf sandwich; Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken Thomas Keller style … you get the point.
One favorite we encountered last year was the Hatch chili burger, the Playground's already-awesome Waygu beef burger with a mound of piquant Hatch chilies and a slice of melted cheese. Unlike many of Jason Quinn's long-lost plates, the Hatch burger has returned along with Hatch chili season, and it's taken on a new and menacing form.
The burger is on the menu as “FOR SIX WEEKS ONLY (your mouth is warned)” and runs $15, the same price as the original House burger. Hatch burger 2.0 is best described as an upscale cross between two of Carl's Jr.s best burgers–the bacon guacamole cheeseburger and the Western bacon cheeseburger–only, without the bacon.
A housemade brioche bun cradles a hockey-puck thick, super-seared Waygu patty, along with watercress, Cabot sharp cheddar and crispy onion straws. The barbecue sauce is fruity with a kick, but it's the creamy guacamole–packed with chopped Hatch chilies–that packs the real heat. With so many ingredients, it's easy to believe the Hatch chilies would get lost, but that's not close to the truth. Your mouth will burn with an addictive, nearly abusive, totally tantalizing heat.
It's a five-napkin burger. It gets all over the place. And definitely belongs in your face. We're not sure if the burger recipe will change daily, but we are sure it'll be gone in six weeks. Get it while you can, or see you next year.
You'll need a beer to wash it down with. The bar suggested a glass of Ballast Point Dorado or Green Flash West Coast IPA.
Other things we learned on this visit to the Playground:
-If the restaurant is fully booked, as it was on this Tuesday(!), you can opt for walk-up seating at the bar or the patio. We had no wait at 7:30 p.m.
-If you don't know what to order, go with the Waygu. It's the star of the burger, plus we've had it chopped in a chili cheese omelette, as a greasy ribeye with sunchokes, and now as fat cubes of 48-hour short rib with coconut rice cakes. It's never a bad choice.
-There are definitely better drinks on the menu than the Japanese Baby Peach Cocktail, but the unripe, green peach at the bottom of the martini glass is a sublime garnish worth ordering the drink for.
-The sorbets are kinda small. But hey, you win some, you lose some.