My love affair with Carl’s Jr. was kismet and lasting. That bright star first wooed me when I was a little guy, unexpectedly sweeping me off my LA Gear sneakers with a hamburger and toy combo that sent me to the moon. I was so smitten with the fast food purveyor that I even staged a birthday there (the Polaroid still exists). Not much has changed since I’ve grown older. I still hold Carl’s higher than most other burger chains. Unflagging support. The significant difference being that Carl’s, or fast food rather, makes up a very small part of my diet, partaking in that forbidden indulgence of the Famous Star perhaps once a year or maybe even less. I’ve decided to shake things up though, fed up with ridiculous and disappointing gourmet burgers, I will be surveying the quality of fast food hamburgers (in a mini-blog series) since last I left the scene in search of better ingredients. I have plans to hit all the major chains in California including Jack In The Box, Wendy’s, Burger King, Rally’s, Sonics, In-N-Out (again), Del Taco, McDonald’s (that one will be tough), Five Guys, etc… and hopefully taking something positive away from each burger experience. I kicked it off with a visit to a nearby Carl’s Jr. to rekindle my charbroiled affections with the Famous Star.

It had been over a year since I last ate Carl’s Jr. and I had planned to make it a special reunion, pulling a bottle of 2008 Tikal “Amorio” Malbec to have with the Famous Star after a hockey game. What I like most about that signature burger is the sweet and savory combo—in its most simple form—executed pleasingly well. The special sauce, often applied copiously, is fairly sweet and mellows the charred and smoky flavors of the patty. I find the burger to have a lot of balance and character for fast food but the problem is consistency. It is hard to have it the same way every time and I was hoping that that factor wouldn’t mar my return.

I opted for drive-thru, to eat at home and pour the Malbec from its heavy glass vessel instead of my flask. It was the right decision; I transferred the densely purple juice into my stemware, sniffing quickly after it settled. I could pick up an endless perfume of fruit from blackberries to ripe black cherries, upon layers of spices and meatiness. Its nose shared the power that was displayed on the palate, a seemingly perfect match for the sandwich and nothing short of what I expected from such an acclaimed wine.

I disrobed the burger, unwrapping it until I was left with a messy presentation. The sauce could hardly contain itself, the lettuce, tomato, and patty all fell victim to the mayo-heavy spread. It wasn’t really picturesque but I knew well that there was lot more to the famous star than looks. My first bite was excellent; the flavors were all exactly as I remembered. I took my first few sips, trying to heighten the burger and wine pairing. Inconsistency was put on the backburner; the raw onions, fresh tomato and lettuce were all in proportion and played an important supporting role. The meat and wine linked up favorably while the phenolic ripeness found in the Mendoza grapes along with a substantial amount of acidity helped tame the burger’s sweetness. It was a delightful pairing, making both wine and burger a little better for having been put together.

Neither item disappointed, the Famous Star equipped with instant recall, like I had had one just yesterday, and the Tikal Malbec exceeding expectations with its polished delivery, made the calculated encounter pleasurable. I picked two items with seriously high deliciousness factors. Malbec never really disappoints, it can sometimes be too big for the occasion but otherwise it’s a pleasure seeker’s wine. Carl’s Jr. on the other hand might not win any awards or source the best ingredients (something fresh in my mind), but it too cannot be denied a genuine tastiness. Fast food is an unfortunate reality, especially being a slave to a car here in LA, but I am just happy that there are some viable burger candidates out there with shorter drive-thru queues than In-N-Out. Carl’s Jr. I am forever yours.