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Monthly Archives: November 2012

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

 

Pub Burger

I’ve long had this assumption that if a place is passionate about their beer, that they should be passionate about their burgers. There is no reason why these two things should correlate, but in my head it should be true. Just like a place with good wine should have a fantastic cheese plate or a place with good sake should have amazing sushi. It’s hard to unravel why these two things should be true, but for some reason I feel that burgers and beer should be on par. Now obviously in reality there are glaring exceptions to this rule, case in point Golden Road Brewery has a terrible burger. For some reason their passion for beer does not extend to their hamburgers. I mean, and nor should it really. Just because a place is great at brewing beer does not mean that they should be good at cooking meat. The two skills have nothing to do with each other…and yet…I feel that they should. Maybe it’s just a weird hang up of mine.

Be that as it may, I’ve brought that hang up with me to City Tavern in Culver City. The place is devoted to beer, so much so that there are booths where you can pull your own pint (very dangerous territory) and their beer list is longer than my arm (not an exaggeration). So naturally, when I heard they had burgers on the menu, I had to go see for myself. The Tavern is on Culver Blvd wedged between the Kirk Douglas Theater and a truly mediocre sushi place. The insides are warm and inviting. The entire place is warm woods, brick walls, and cast iron stools with an impressive wall of wine and kegs lining the hallways. It is the perfect place to sit down and drink away the afternoon.

 

Their menu sports two burgers known as the Brew Burger (fancy pants) and the CT Burger (regular). The Brew Burger is the fancier item on the menu. It’s a beef patty with pub cheese, mustard aioli, and greens on a pretzel bun with a vodka-battered onion ring on top. The CT burger is much more relaxed with it’s thousand island dressing, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions, and pickle on a brioche bun.  (Be forewarned both of these items offer ways to end your life quicker. You can add pork belly to one and an extra patty to the other. I assure you it’s not necessary.) Both arrive with a knife through the middle pinning them to wooden slabs like butterflies in a specimen case. There is something ridiculously satisfying about having your food stabbed on a slab of wood. I might start doing that at dinner parties just to add a little drama.

So which one won? Like so many things in life, the one that tried too hard lost. Oh Brew Burger, you don’t need a pretzel bun to impress me, a regular bun would have done just fine. The combination of the pub cheese, mustard aioli and the pretzel bun made the Brew Burger too salty. There was no contrast of sweetness to the mix. Add a little fig jam or a brioche bun or a tomato and you might have had something, but as it is there were too many strong salty flavors fighting for dominance.  The CT Burger however, was like finding an old friend at a party where you thought you knew no one. It tasted exactly like a gourmet Big Mac. From the Thousand Island dressing, down to the tiny shards of onion and round slices of pickle the CT Burger tastes exactly like McDonald’s most famous creation minus that wave of regret you get from eating one. It is absolutely delicious.

PS. One word of warning, at City Tavern they offer you a variety of sides and you might be tempted to get a healthy one in the name of restraint. Whatever you do, do not get their curried carrots. They are absolutely disgusting slimy planks of vegetation. Stick to the fries or the Brussels sprouts with bacon.

Hype is a powerful thing. As citizens of earth in the present day, we are positively inundated with information, and tend to tune quite a bit of it out. The bits that break through are those that glisten of familiarity; when you hear about something for the sixth time, you google it. This built-in info-filter can be a double-edged sword, because the possibility of a familiar source delivering a mediocre product that people pay attention to while unfamiliar products of higher quality slip past is very real, and unfortunate. (Exhibit A: FM radio). This weeks burger I approached skeptically, due to having heard mixed reviews, and fearing that this very well may be a situation wherein the folks in charge were standing on their names rather than blowing minds with food. I was indeed pleasantly surprised.

Short Order is the joint collaboration of baker/author/restaurateur Nancy Silverton (who owns Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, which are both positively fantastic restaurants) and the late Amy Pressman, who founded The Old Town Bakery in Pasadena as well as played a vital role in the opening of several other Los Angeles eateries. If you’re up on the LA food scene, you have almost assuredly heard both of these names before. The opening of this restaurant, which is nestled in the corner of the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax, got about as much press coverage as the Kennedy assassination. I was tired of hearing about this place months before I ever ate there, and a look at the burger menu revealed a few choices that look fine but certainly do not push any culinary boundaries. So like I said, I figured these two successful chefs had simply picked a popular location, paired it with a popular food, and used their pre-existing local clout to drive traffic. Perhaps that IS what they did, but what is extremely important to note is that they make a damn fine burger.

With the exception of the upstairs bar, which is partially opened, all the dining areas are outside and furnished with rustic-comfort meets modern-design style seating (which appears to have also inspired the restaurant’s decorations, and entire menu). The beer and specialty cocktail lists are small but excellent in their offerings, and the bartender that I spoke with seemed incredibly knowledgeable about the drinks she was serving (you know I’m a total sucker for good service). My meal began by tasting a couple draft beers before settling on a blonde, and feasting on some short order “spuds,” which are chunky cut russet potatoes fried golden and served, in my case, with black truffle aioli (it’s an extra $2.25, but money well spent).

The venue’s namesake dish, the Short Order Burger, seemed an obvious choice for my first time. A course ground but somehow perfectly formed and PERFECTLY seasoned grass fed angus patty came on a brioche bun topped with Morbier cheese, grilled mushrooms, bibb lettuce and “mustardy mayo,” as the menu puts it. Looking at a photo of this burger had me terrified that all I would taste is mustard, because the burger comes absolutely slathered in it and it looks like a sharp tasting stone ground variety. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. The sauce was mild as can be, and helped the total package be delightfully sloppy- pushing the line of unmanageable without ever crossing it. Morbier (possibly my new favorite cheese) melts well, is sharp but mild, and was chewy in a way that really helped the burger’s texture. The mushrooms were seasoned heavily with fresh thyme, which really worked in context. Overall an excellent burger, even for its $12 price tag. I really do wish to know what they use to form the patties though because it looked like a machine had to have been responsible. It was too perfect, and also made me realize as I ate that I despise it when people do not salt a burger as it cooks. This will stand out in my mind as one of the better seasoned patties I’ve eaten since starting this site.

So apparently quality begets hype in this case, and all the talk about short order is warranted. The ladies responsible are certainly recognizable names in the LA food scene, but for once I’m going to hang my jadedness at the door and admit that the reason they get the attention is because they deserve it. The food at Short Order is terrific and I look forward to my next meal there.

-Geoff Sawyer

Photo by Robot Mikey

Sometimes it’s all in the name. Last week I heard of abrand new restaurant opening up in the nebulous land between Venice and Inglewood on Lincoln Blvd called Humble Potato – The Original Hambaga and I knew I had to check it out. How many restaurants can you think of with the name Humble in the title? How many? I’ll wait…think of any? Me neither. Usually places go for something big and flashy or unusual for a title, but never anything meek or mild. The second part was no less intriguing. What on earth was a hambaga? And what are these other incarnations that I was not aware of, if this claims to be the original? Turns out that hambaga is the Japanese term for burgers and I knew I had to go. How many Japanese hambagas had I ever had up until Tuesday? Zero.

The storefront is so tiny it’s easy to drive past it on Lincoln. Packed in between a number of other restaurants and bars on that strip by the airport the outside looks nothing special. Once you walk inside, however, you beginning to get the warm feelings of a favorite. When I saw the wall covered with ripped up old photos of sumo wrestlers, Speed Racer and geisha girls and a bike hanging from the ceiling I knew this place was going to be a good time. The menu was equally whimsical covered with items like Battle Royale Hambaga,  Tempeh-baga (veggie burger), Little Tokyo Doggu (hotdog),  Mama-san Salad,  and the Yardbird (chicken sandwich). There was really something for everybody.

Going through the giant list of bagas, it seemed impossible not to try the Battle Royale. Who could turn down a burger named after a movie where little children fight each other to death? (Okay that sounded really gross.) But the description read: Organized Chaos and I was sold. So what’s on a Battle Royale? In between a fresh bun was squeezed a Angus beef patty with avocado, romaine lettuce, thick cut tomato, onion, Applewood smoked bacon, a fried egg (or as they call it a “fried egg-splosive”) and spicy HP sauce (which is not to be confused with the totally disgusting British brown HP sauce. This was house made Humble Potato sauce.) I also went big on the fries. Sweet potato fries? Please! Not when there’s shichimi and garlic parmesan fries.

As most people will tell you, too many cooks in the kitchen will really screw up a burger.  When our hambagas arrived I was genuinely worried that there was too much going on. But one bite and I knew I was in love. I’m serious. I’ve been thinking about this burger since I ate it on Tuesday. I’ve been scheming of ways I could justify going there on my lunch break from work even though I know it’s too damn far. I love this burger. The proportions are perfect. The cool creaminess of the avocado matches the salty sharpness of the bacon, which counters the crisp crunch of the lettuce, and the golden drippy goodness of the egg, the shards of sweet tomato counter the meaty comfort of the burger, which is kept interesting by the spicy tomato sauce, and kept in line by the soft freshness of the bun.  The thing is an unholy mess.  Once you’ve picked it up, it cannot be put down.  Your fingers become rivers of spicy yolk, but the proportions are perfect. It at once reminds you of a BLT, breakfast, and a burger all in one sandwich. I’ve never been so happy.

Photo by Eli G.

I regret to tell you that the shichimi and garlic parmesan fries are not nearly as exciting. I mean, they’re fine. Thick cut garlic fries never went amiss in my book, but they were a bit too greasy. The real winner of the evening was my companion’s regular fries with the housemade HP spicy sauce. The simplicity was gorgeous.  Sometimes all you want is a humble potato. Also, I would really recommend going to this place before everyone and their mothers starts waiting outside for their hambagas. Because they’re so new, the entire staff makes rounds around your tables asking “Are you alright? How is it?” with the eagerness of a newly adopted puppy that is unsure whether his owners really love them yet. I felt like writing on the wall, “I love you, Humble Potato. I really really do.”

And now I must confess that I let you down. Yes, I did. I am sorry. I did not get any dessert. I’m so so sorry. I was so full that I didn’t try their Abocado Shake (Avocado and chocolate) or the Mocha Custard. Forgive me. I will not be so weak next time. I’m going to buy a muumuu for round two.