At some point in your life, you have likely encountered an over-achiever. The type that, for better or worse, really throws him or herself into whatever task is at hand far beyond the ideal degree. Known as “Do-Gooders” on the endearing side, and “Try-Hards” when their motivations are less pure, call them what you like but they are among us and my reaction to them is very consistently along the line of “take it down a notch.” Well, this week’s burger (and please let the record show that I was truly rooting for these guys) is an over-achiever.
Attwater Village is near not only to my heart but also to my hood, and is a positively delightful little strip of Glendale Boulevard if you have never been there. Almost everything there rules: they have my favorite bakery/coffee shop in all of Los Angeles (It’s called Proof and GO THERE. Everything they make is delicious, and make sure to get coffee, the guys really know their shit), Tacos Villa Corona has the most delicious and affordable breakfast burrito you will ever encounter (Just ask Anthony Bourdain), and Canele is lauded as one of L.A.’s top-pick semi-secret brunch spots again and again (order the baked pancake. You’re welcome). There’s an amazing brownie shop, book store, clothing boutique, fancy pet store, and on Sundays, my second favorite farmers market in the whole wide world. All of that is on 3 blocks. So naturally when a huge storefront right in the middle of all of my favorites got renovated recently to look like an Olive Garden annex with sidewalk seating, I was curious and hopeful (that it would in fact be absolutely nothing like the Olive Garden). I patiently watched this place come to be from across the street at Proof over perfectly pressed coffee and the best quiche that I will likely ever know. I wondered what it would be like when they opened, and of course, if they would have a burger. Turns out they do.
The interior of Bon Vivant is impressive at a glance, the space is enormous compared to the neighboring locations, and the entire place has been laid out with aesthetic design carefully considered. High ceilings reveal rustic looking duct work and rafters, though the eye is more immediately drawn to the lower hanging strings of lights and the warm woods and leathers that are everywhere. If it’s not made of wood it’s either wrought iron or made to look like wood (speaking of the concrete floor that has been painted brown and covered with hay. Yes hay). A bar snakes from the entrance nearly all the way around the establishment shifting responsibilities as it goes. It begins as a bar, but as one walks inside it becomes a coffee bar, then a bakery case and maybe charcuterie case (my memory fails me), then a place where one orders food, then a deli/prepared foods case, then a cheese cooler, and I think there was something else after that but again my memory fails. The offerings of this place where a little overwhelming, which is a philosophy that also applies to the menu item that drew me in: the burger.
Where to begin. When the waiter set the plate down in front of me I took a good thirty seconds to simply marvel at this thing. Here is how it was described on the menu: “Duck Egg Cheeseburger with Jamon Serrano & Manchego cheese, Pickles & Onion.” For some reason I read “pickled onion” but that misunderstanding ended up making little difference. It’s huge. The duck egg on top is REALLY huge, and was gorgeously fried. Now here is a list of things that are not mentioned on the menu, but are also on this burger: Chocolate balsamic prepared arugula, tomato, lemon siracha yogurt, and it’s on a previously undiscussed pretzel roll. Take a minute to soak all that up. Got it? So now imagine that the patty was seasoned not like any burger you’ve ever had, but like lamb koftka (onion, garlic, parsley, paprika, cinnamon, etc.). I was at a loss for how to even approach this thing. The firm pretzel roll made it impossible to contain all of the slippery burger toppings within, so I had to eat it with a fork (not to mention it was 6 inches tall). This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because individually, most of the ingredients on this burger were absolutely delectable. The vinaigrette on the arugula was impeccable, and complimented the egg perfectly. Manchego is among my favorite cheeses, and makes a great bite when accompanied by Serrano ham (which is cured exactly like young prosciutto is- Jamon Serrano is just from Spain). The patty and the yogurt were good too, though I would rather have them meet in a pita than a pretzel roll. One couldn’t possibly pretend this sandwich was a cheeseburger, but when picked through like a rich salad, some of it was pretty good. By the time I acknowledged the tomato, onions and pickles however, I was over it. Adding those toppings to this burger is indefensible. All that trouble to assemble too many fancy parts, and then some regular-ass dill hamburger chips. The crinkle cut kind, like fast food places use. WHY would you do that? Whose idea was it to put those busted little pickles on this burger with a fucking duck egg and Spanish sheep’s milk cheese? Were you worried about it’s burger cred? Did someone feel that raw onions, tomato and these shitty Wal-Mart pickles really tied all those other competing flavors together? Well they were the nail in the coffin for me. I must say though I would really love to see the order in which all the ingredients were added to this burger’s recipe until someone decided that it was perfect.
Like I said, this particular hood is one of my favorites and no one would have been happier than I to report that it had a new awesome burger spot. To Bon Vivant I genuinely say: Good luck. I wish you well. A lot of the rest of your menu looks great, but seriously, regarding the burger at least, make some decisions. You have the resources to make 3 excellent burgers but instead have one that is completely off-putting in every sense other than shock value. Nobody likes an over-achiever.
– Geoff Sawyer