Anticipation is an immeasurably powerful tool. The drawn delay of an inevitably terrifying movie moment, the build up to a first kiss, or a day spent mentally revving up for a post-dinner date with one’s favorite dessert, all lead to an eventual experience largely defined by the moments that preceded it. The wanting of the thing in some cases can even be as important as the getting it (if not more so), and when those expectations deliver, the results are spectacular. When they do not, you may have just eaten a burger at Gonpachi.
Well before this blog was launched, a co-worker brought me an unsolicited gift one afternoon, wrapped not so neatly in a small white paper box. “You’re gonna love this” he gleamed. Without the slightest clue what might be inside, I thanked him and promptly tore it open (which is not a very good example of allowing anticipation to work its magic). What I found was a formerly glorious and delightfully unique looking cheeseburger, that appeared to have spent at least the last day in that little box and though obviously well past it’s prime was no less intriguing. A black (the first I had seen) carbon brioche sandwiched a thick beef patty, aged white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, peppercress, and the sweetest/tartest tomato compote of them all. I still remember it clearly, because I ate the whole luke-warm spent-the-last-4-hours-in-the-front-seat-of-a-truck thing right then and there and was absolutely consumed by the thought of how good this burger would have been had it been constructed recently. Humbled by the surprise present, I asked where it was from so that I may treat us both to a future round of burgers there. “Miyako. It’s a hotel!” was cataloged for future reference.
Gonpachi is actually the name of the restaurant in the Miyako Hotel in Torrance, and for whatever reason I took my sweet time making it back. Absence, for me, does in fact make the heart grow fonder though, so the time passed was not lost but rather spent getting me geared up for my next dance with this burger, one fond memory at a time. The menu described it exactly as I remembered, and my excitement magnified as the moment of reunion quickly approached. Upon ordering, the waiter directed me to a salad bar that is apparently free with any meal, the mediocrity of which came as quite a shock once I actually dug in. Its freeness garnered prompt forgiveness however, because my long awaited burger was soon to be mine.
Then it came. And it was completely not at all what it was supposed to be. Not even close. I just looked at it. Moved it around. What’s the orange stuff? Wait is that mustard? What is this? The server assured me that this was the only burger they had. The menu still describes the old one, but what they serve now is this thing, which turned out to be a straight up, regular-ass, eighteen-dollar(!!) chili cheeseburger. I will say, the grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef were impeccable, but the toppings were so confusing. Said delicious patty was dressed with white cheddar, tomato, diced white onion, yellow mustard, and chili that I am fairly certain was just canned Hormel ballpark-style hot dog chili that had been smoothed in a food processor. The (depressingly not black) bun felt like a potato roll but was so thick with the flavor of movie-theater popcorn feaux-butter that onions and chili actually had to compete with it. I moved my shoestring fries and mystery aioli around the large plate and wondered how my life might have been different had I come here a few months earlier.
The worst part is, this was probably one of the best chili cheeseburgers that I have ever had. Had I gone into Gonpachi with an expectation of what I might actually get, or with no expectations at all, ‘lackluster’ would surely not be my first choice of adjective for the experience. Anticipation got the best of me though, and Gonpachi ultimately did not compare to my imagination.