On first appearance, R&D Kitchen was everything I didn’t want. Placed on the affluent Montana St in Santa Monica the place was jammed with people on a Thursday night. Blow dried ladies in skyscraper heels were clutching onto the arms of their deeply suntanned dates wearing striped button down shirts that revealed too much chest hair. I was hoping for a nice quite place to eat a burger while desperately trying to finish the Brothers Karamazov before my book club meets tomorrow (I am epically screwed on that front.) No such luck. After squeezing past the bar area, the harried looking hostess told me it would be awhile. So I perched on a brick wall next to some empty martini glasses, with spiky shrubbery poking me in the back, and eavesdropping on TV execs trying to impress one another. I swear there is nothing worse than a dick measuring contest. “I’m working on this project with Sam Jackson. Do you know, Sam?” or “Anna Faris is in my new pilot. She’s such a gem, so TALENTED.” Or my personal favorite, “There’s so much raw talent these days. It’s so actor rich. Anyone can get a job in this business who’s funny.” Really, dude? That’s weird. I have a lot of comedian friends who are currently waiting tables. A lot.
After half an hour of trying to shut out the cacophony of bullshit and focusing on Alyosha Karamazov’s familial problems, my name was finally called and I was ushered to a very nice booth. All of the staff were dressed in white chef jackets, I’m not really sure why, but it had a very military effect, like they had just graduated from the academy of service. They may well have. The service was unbelievably punctual and friendly. Perhaps they’re too used to be screamed at by the monsters at the bar, but it was really nice.
The menu was chocked full of comfort food: deviled eggs, mushroom meatloaf, and crispy chicken sandwiches, but at the very top was the cheeseburger. On paper it’s listed as lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheddar on a house-made egg bun, but in person it’s so much more than that. It arrived chopped in half with not one, but two wooden sticks trying to keep each half in place. Why was it chopped in half? To show off, just how clever they’ve been. Like the Grand Canyon walls, each layer of the burger told a story. At the bottom a rich layer of BBQ sauce which cradles the burger and gives it a rich sweetness that is complimented by the cheddar melted on top of it. Above the cheese are shards of raw onion and dill pickle duking each other out for supremacy in a war between sweet and sour. On top of that was a thinly sliced ripe tomato (I cannot emphasize enough how beautifully ripe those were. They were not half frozen, mealy things you usually get) covered by freshly shredded lettuce covered in just a hint of creamy mayonnaise and a dab of mustard. It was beautifully built. You would think the mayonnaise and the BBQ sauce and the mustard would be a disaster together, but they were placed next to ingredients that made them thrive.
That is the genius of this burger. The decadently rich parts were kept separate from the fresh in such a way to make them both sing in your mouth. They didn’t become soggy or pollute each other’s flavors until they were supposed to. Also, what a difference a freshly baked bun can make! The sesame egg bun was no slouch. Slightly sweet, it was strong enough that the whole sandwich didn’t collapse under the weight of so many ingredients. On recommendation from my waitress, I got the coleslaw as a side. I was not disappointed. Although not as complicated as the burger, the cabbage was fresh and doused in sweet poppy dressing with green onions sprinkled over it that was not heavy at all. So if you’re on Montana St and you don’t feel like elbowing people for a table at Father’s Office, walk down to R&D Kitchen and grab a gourmet burger for the same price.