What happens when a super fancy chef decides he wants to open a little diner? Super fancy burgers, of course. Would he stock just any beef burgers? No, they would be wagyu burgers, of course. Chef Bruce Marder of Capo fame opened up a tiny café on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica right across the street from some enormous hotels. I wandered inside one rainy day and was immediately charmed by its black and white tiled floors, wooden furniture, and the speakers which pumped out hits from Buddy Holly and Otis Redding. It’s exactly the kind of vibe you would want from a diner. Crowded, warm, and unpretentious.
Usually it’s incredibly crowded, but I lucked out and grabbed a table right away. The menu was speckled with fancy ingredients in an otherwise traditional diner menu. Their bagels come with a side of burrata cream cheese. Their vegetable omelet has artichokes and tarragon. Instead of a tuna melt they have a fresh albacore tuna panino. And of course, their burger is a wagyu “kobe” burger.
Now honestly I couldn’t give a damn whether my beef was wagyu or kobe or whatever. I don’t care if the cow was massaged during its life or not. I don’t care if it was born in Japan or Omaha. What I do care about is how it was raised, how it was fed, and whether it was killed humanely, but they never put those details on a menu, now do they? Occasionally they’ll put grass-fed (which is good in my book. It means the cow may have seen the sun.) And organic is always a plus although if you put a gun to my head and asked me what passes as organic meat these days, I would not be able to tell you. I can only give you a list that I found on the Whole Foods website. 1. Must be raised organically on certified organic pastures. 2. Must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives. 3. No drugs, antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed. 4. Must have year-round outdoor access. Those all seem like good things.
But you’re not interested in my feelings about organic meat. You want to know how this fancy burger actually was. On top of a fresh bun with butter lettuce, slices of red tomato, red onion, and melted gooey cheddar cheese, it was very good. Well-seasoned and full of herbs the meaty patty stood out on its own against the traditional array of flavors. Here’s the thing, though. It was fourteen bucks. Fifteen dollars with the cheese, which wouldn’t have bothered me too much if they sides had not been so very dreadful. It came with a lump of the worst potato salad I’ve ever had. It tasted vaguely like sardines with just a hint of gasoline. And the complimentary pickle was a cucumber with pretensions of grandeur. I don’t believe it had even touched brine. I think they just chopped up a cucumber, dunked it in water, and called it a day.
At that price point, I expect better. I expect my sides to be made with love and at least tried before they’re sent out. A decent side of fries, is that too much to ask? Otherwise, I’d just as soon go to the Hole in The Wall and spend ten bucks on a gorgeous gourmet burger in a paper bag.