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Fuj 73After a routine visit to the credit union, I spotted a strange marquee in a nearby strip mall. Something kitsch and novel—in terms of lunch—, brought me closer and while I wasn’t exactly sold, I wasn’t forgetting about it either. Showing a bespectacled man, Fuji, and his famous burgers, the placard’s image stuck between my ears like a Jon Brion score. A visit to the burger joint would have to wait, though, until another midday trip to the bank.

Who was Fuji? What inspired his burgers? Those questions played in my mind that day, while the answers would arrive sooner than anticipated; scheduling a trip to the far-away bank in between strategically placed sales meetings (accommodating curiosity), so as not to feel too guilty for an extended lunch break, I made for the burger joint.

Fuj BurgFuji’s had started in Long Beach in the early 70’s, and now, I was dining at its second location in Orange County—Fountain Valley—forty-one years later. The original location had shuttered and they had moved south to Huntington Beach in the 80’s. Fuji had been one of the originators of fusion cuisine in Southern California (before it was fad!), tweaking the comfort foods modestly and tastefully. The restaurant was now in the hands of his children.

Stepping foot inside, Fuji’s was clean and unassuming (the way I liked things). There were fast colors of key lime green and bright red—the hallmarks of college marketing—with an open kitchen and the menu chalked wall-side. It boasted a Japanese flair with teriyaki burgers and the like, however I kept it simple to judge the base. Five dollars later (and a few minutes) and I was hovering over a hamburger and fries.

No tells on the first take as the burger came completely wrapped. After peeling back the parchment it showed no frills just the classic griddled patty, shredded iceberg, tomato, pickles and a sloppy application of mayo. Despite its shabby appearance the burger actually replicated some of my favorite burger joint experiences. I was only short my beloved banana peppers. The patty was well seasoned, the vegetables were crisp and cold, playing on temperature contrasts, and the food was honest.

Fuj BacWith the foundation solid I thought I would brave a more adventurous path upon my return. On my second trip, the teriyaki bacon burger warranted a go—reasonably priced below five dollars—with another basket of fries. Arriving in similar fashion, the sandwich boasted a few strips of bacon and a heap of teriyaki sauce in addition to the core ingredients. The salty-sweet combination was almost perfectly executed on the meat, save for the excess sauce surrounding it, the greater proportion of which disrupted the balance for me.

Fuji’s was something I wanted to be great, and with my expectations tethered to the clouds, the burgers actually didn’t disappoint (regarding quality and price), which in itself, was a nice experience. This might not be the destination spot for gourmands in California but definitely a strong recommendation for those who live in the surrounding areas. Not bad for a lunch break.

GDShortly after seeing “Man of Steel” my own “super power” emerged. To define it as super may not be entirely accurate—not extraordinary or clearly defined—I hardly knew what it was or why it worked, until there was a moment to document it.

I had pulled off OC’s 55 Freeway at Chapman Avenue and headed east. Diverted from a meeting I was en route to, and unsure of my destination, the immediacy of the hunger pang and sureness of purpose accelerated me swiftly to the red mason adobe ahead.

I’d arrived at Game Day Burgers and Sausages—the place looked of a classic burger joint—resting center on the busy avenue, certain that I was in the right place for lunch.

GD BurgTo my surprise, the quaint establishment had been retrofitted, encompassing an ambitious offering of sandwiches, dogs, burgers and beverages that took original comfort settings to greater heights.

For a reasonable sum (seven dollars) and a short wait, I had a Poblano cheeseburger, with its brioche ajar, where I spied a patty engulfed in chipotle aioli, chopped poblano chili peppers, smoked bacon and spicy jack cheese nestled abed the garden-variety vegetables.

Preoccupied, at first, with a seeming lack of balance, fearful that the peppers would sinisterly tilt the sandwich into an extreme, I had little time to worry about the brioche. The first bite washed out any doubts. Like a finely tuned instrument the cheeseburger struck a balance between the spicy notes on the higher register while supporting them with smoky bites of bacon and a well-seasoned patty holding steady in the bass.  Texture wasn’t underplayed either; the fresh veggies lent crispness to each bite, countering the soft, mop-up effect of the brioche that came together like a Quincy Jones orchestration.

The trip hadn’t been pre-meditated and I had never heard of Game Day before landing there, finding myself drawn to it by a strong and unexplainable force. I was thankful how my sudden pit stop unfolded, even if it’s a far cry from stopping bad guys hell-bent on Earth’s destruction or flying through space to rescue Lois. Maybe super power is pushing it, but I would gladly harness my new skill set to find other killer spots like Game Day Burgers and Sausages on my next outing, for this kind of validation.

Juliette MThe competition in Los Angeles is fierce for the gourmet; streets, strip malls and hotels overrun with deep menu choices for the discerning. Unfortunately, the healthy competition doesn’t drive prices down. I went south, to Orange County, snooping for value.

I found myself in Newport, exiting the 73 Freeway at Birch and looping around until I had arrived at Juliette Kitchen + Bar for a late lunch (3:00 PM!!!). I was starved and when I saw they offered a burger there was only one thing left to decide… which side?

For fear of being weighted down on my long trek back to Los Angeles, I opted for a green salad (bigger and better than bargained for) to accompany the Juliette burger. Attention was paid to the au courant burger, plated on charcuterie board with a dill pickle spear accent.

Leafy greens and a robust tomato were first to meet the eye. The airy brioche dominated the rest of my landscape view, framing a decent patty that was coated in a fine layer of aged cheddar. After a few snaps of the iPhone I took my first bite, finding a perfect medium-rare on a well-seasoned and crusted patty. Beyond the foundation though, I quibbled with the choice of bun. I’ve eaten a few superb burgers, including Little Bear that successfully played up the strengths of the French pastry roll—using it as a toasted sponge to absorb the combination of jus and kriek spread that spilled freely from their signature sandwich.

At Juliette however, the puffy brioche was painted as an outsized bandit, robbing an otherwise quality sandwich of its balance and left me with many-a-bite that were all bread and veggies.

From a great beginning, a surprising starter to the attractive presentation of the Juliette Burger my late lunch wrapped up with a what-might-have-been-finish. A better distribution of ingredients and perhaps, a compact Kaiser Roll or potato bun, in lieu of the ubiquitous brioche, and I am positive it would’ve been a fairytale ending.

Bar burgers cater to a different crowd. I am dubious of exuberant praise for bar burgers—save for Hinano Café and a couple others—because spirits might besot the people evaluating the food. Earlier in my burger-hunting career, I learned this lesson the hard way, seeking out one too many bars, only to be routinely disappointed by eating an over-priced and often overcooked sloppy burger in a sober state. Now, I take bar food for what it is—relief from the throes of inebriation or to stave off drunkenness. There are exceptions. I was surprised then, by my brother’s insistence on taking me to Heroes Bar and Grill in Fullerton, California since he knew my stance. I chose to accept his invitation because Heroes is a restaurant first that has a bar and because he was strictly vouching for the food, as he was not an avid drinker. I thought I might get off my temperance high-horse (as it related to burger reviews) and join him at the bar for lunch.

Sawdust covered the floors; with dim lighting and nostalgic relics adorning the walls, we took our seats in the main dining room at a mock picnic table. A pack of salty peanuts was doled out, along with the menus and two large pitchers of water to get us started. Next to the Nixon Lodge placard, the TV’s were piping baseball and monster truck racing, bringing to mind my time in Tennessee. Unpresuming, and yet, comforting, we kept our orders as simple as the décor, ordering two Hero burgers with cheddar cheese.

We didn’t wait long before the enormous sandwiches arrived. Stacked high on an onion roll with thick patty of beef, lettuce, raw red onion, tomato and bread and butter pickles. It was impressive, even the copious amounts of fries were dwarfed by the Hero burger. The combo was ample for its ten-dollar price tag.

I took my first bite finding it cumbersome to corral the burger. The patty was nicely seasoned which made up for the fact that they served it medium well. Sweet and sharp flavors immerged with each ensuing bite; the raw onion, pickles and cheddar cheese were a perfectly honed trifecta bringing the burger to life. The burger was poised to be a highlight until its soggy mountain breakdown. The roll completely gave way (it broke apart and wilted) and I was resigned to eat the rest with fork and knife. My lunch quickly shifted to a messy gear and was suddenly unappetizing. My brother was laughing at me until the roll on his burger broke apart in similar fashion.

Up until the roll fell apart both burgers were showing quite well. There was a lot to like for my palate—the ringlets of raw onion against the sweet pickles had a nice yin yang effect and the cheddar was melted perfectly. That is not to say there are not things that I would like to see changed like the roll and the cooking times of the patty. But, all in all it was surprising, even with the disintegration of the bun, that Heroes Bar and Grill was re-instilling my confidence in bar food once again.

I never dreamed of building a house. Yet, when I visited my brother, earlier this week that is exactly what I did. Well, not exactly a home, but I did assist, hammer, drill and all, in building an elaborate two-story kid house in the backyard on my day off. It was an industrious Monday, packed with errands (unexpected and planned), a much-needed burger break, and a Ducks game.

I arrived early in the morning, punching the clock as soon as I stepped into the backyard. The sun was beating mercilessly as I found my brother and sister-in-law working diligently on the playhouse. I had no idea that this is what was on the agenda but as soon as I spied the hundreds of pieces strewn about the grass there was no other choice but to lend a hand. We worked for a couple hours, completing the first story of the house before breaking for lunch.

My brother had plans to take me to Douglas Burgers, in nearby Whittier. We walked into the burger joint and ordered accordingly: burger, cheeseburger, fries, onion rings and some waters. We took our cue from the simple furnishings that our order should follow suit. The mustard-colored-vinyl seats and dark mosaic tiles provided a dated aesthetic. With unrelenting heat, the wicker curtains were being drawn to keep the restaurant’s interior a little cooler and consequently a little darker. Everything was focused on flipping patties and hospitality, taking attention away from the drab surroundings. We talked about my latest trip up north and other recent happenings before our food was called.

The sandwiches were nestled tightly in paper and shared black trays with mountains of sides. I grabbed some condiments and peppers as I fetched the trays before returning to the booth. I spied a thin patty on my hamburger, abed shredded iceberg lettuce and nearly swallowed up by the bun. The portions were ample considering the price (almost five dollars for the combo). That distinctive charbroiled flavor electrified my palate after the first bite but there was a significant tail-off. I could have used some more onion (if any?) and seasoning on the meat. The hot banana peppers would help me wade through the mild flavors. We left full (and content considering the quality-to-price ratio).

After our lunch, it was back to the house and after nearly six more hours we had successfully assembled the roof and were beginning to put on finishing touches before the remaining sunlight waned. Close to complete, after spending the better part of a day building, it was time to depart. My nephews were ecstatic over the development, playing in and around the home as we did our best to keep them away from the construction site until it was safe.

On the drive back home it was fun to reflect over the building process. I became considerably more comfortable with a power drill and other tools, and it was just fun to bond over a hands-on project with my family. The burger paled in comparison to the day’s events but was fun to try. Once back home, I watched the Ducks rebound against the Oilers. Teemu Selanne tied his idol (Jari Kurri) for career points with a masterful assist to Bobby Ryan and then inched a little closer to suspending disbelief as the team pushed closer to the playoff picture. Monday was eventful, surprising, and rewarding. It was not what I bargained for in the least, but it definitely upped the ante on what I believed possible for the beginning of the week.

On the road to Orange County, with the purpose of shopping for a Shiraz at Hi-Time Wine Cellars—my absolute favorite wine destination in Southern California—for a tasting I was attending the next day… at least that was my excuse, I wanted to maximize my day away from LA. I made plans to visit a friend who had moved back to Newport Beach for a job, catching up over burgers at a restaurant of his choosing.

Driving down the 55 South until it blended into Costa Mesa, I was within minutes from my wine Mecca and fresh from limiting my time in the grind of gridlock. I had just finished a rotation of The Kingsbury Manx completing my relaxed demeanor.

Little changes in Hi-Time, except the selection, constantly growing to include a greater variety of hard to find wines while keenly accommodating all budgets. The ambiance is amazing in there, an actual cellar to house many of the nicer bottles that you would want properly stored before you purchase them and a Champagne/Sparkling wine room worth the drive alone. Needless to say, I was content purchasing a multiplicity of wines, including the Shiraz and I even swooped up some interesting craft beer (future blogs?), an attempt to appease my daring palate.

It was on to Memphis Café, a nearby haven for those seeking an alternative to the impersonal chain and franchised restaurants that make up a large portion of Orange County, to meet up with my friend Eric. It was a late lunch and both of us were feeling ravenous so we ordered to put the staff on extra duty, trying out the kitchen in the process.

While I am not inclined to order specials, hardly frequenting the same restaurants enough to avoid the menu, we were steered to two of them: Ahi seared tacos and a bison burger with sweet potato fries. We added another request for a pulled pork sandwich (the only thing on the menu) with an extra helping of Swiss. We were asked to relocate to a table that could comfortably hold the plates we had ordered. We obliged, moving and then discussing our recent successes in our very different jobs and before we knew it, three hefty plates landed on the table. Portions were taken seriously at Memphis, and that was a good thing because they were charging an exorbitant amount for pub fare.

The bison burger had one substitution, instead of blue cheese; it was recommended that I try it avec Swiss, and again… I agreed. I am trying to embrace the kaas, recapturing my Dutch upbringing when I would eat Gouda without a second thought.

The bison patty was generous, proudly wearing the seared sweater and sitting a half-inch thick, with a few extras on the side and a thick grilled bun so as not to fall apart from the jus that might gush from the patty. After assembling it, I took a few bites and was disappointed that they had overcooked the meat—the expected pink was swapped for a grayish hue—and I was robbed of the richness but luckily there were condiments. The Swiss cheese, red onion and fillet of pickle lent a helping hand in making the burger better. However, I probably am not going to be eating there again. The burger was not terrible by any means but did not warrant sixteen dollars.

I feel I must discuss the fine flirtation with sweet potato fries, which have taken over at any place that serves a “gourmet” burger. Memphis decided to coat theirs with an added dusting of sugar and cinnamon that would be great as dessert but just clashed with the bison burger. I like the “go-in the go-for-it,” especially when I had the Sweet Potato Gooey’s from Peter’s Gourmade Grill but that was because they were upfront with the flavors and ingredients in the side dish. The sweet potato fries from Memphis were almost like churros but without that satisfying crunch or, a melt-in-your-mouth-consistency like the churros I was lucky enough to experience at Lucques for dessert. Needless to say they remained intact on the plate.

The tacos were fairly large, the tuna was generous, however so was their chipotle aioli, with an unremitting attack of mayonnaise lathering the innards of the taco. Aside from too much mayo in the sauce the tacos were decent, seared fish wrapped inside of a flour tortilla and some green cabbage providing the added crunch…maybe not worth twelve dollars either but not bad.

The food was hit or miss and with our three-entrée lunch totaling fifty dollars sans tip, I am not sure I would consider going back to Memphis Café. Too expensive for the kind of food they are serving; an Orange County equivalent to Father’s Office—however at Father’s Office they control the cooking times much better. The day was not a bust by any means, I was able to continue exploring the added benefits of cheese (getting in touch with my inner kindje), load up on some premium wines and hang out with a fellow Bruin. When I am only quibbling with cooking times and poor side choices… life is pretty good.

After the Burger Bonanza I was really fascinated with Orange County, a place that most look at as a suburb of Los Angeles (those from outside of California) and that I happen to overlook when I am thinking of food, knowing that I was guilty of overlooking some creative sectors harbored within the sprawling county lines. Often denigrated by movies and television shows that depict it in an unflattering light, there is not as much praise heaped on the OC as there should be. Some random Huell Howser-worthy spots and clean beaches but nothing too exciting in the eats department, save for the random chefs sprinkled sparingly around the area, until I heard about Bruxië. A restaurant dedicated to the waffle, in all its incarnations. On a busy Friday, packed with a Ducks game, wine shop visit, wine tasting and party in a remote part of LA, I added the waffle burger to my to do list.

On my trek down South I was accompanied by a friend from work, someone also very involved in the wine scene, making the drive a little more palatable. Before we headed out I allowed him to rummage through my cellar and find a suitable companion for the pairing. He chose one of the more expensive bottles in my apartment collection—a forty-dollar K Vintners Syrah from Morrison Lane (# 298).

I transferred a fair amount of the contents to my flask and we enjoyed a glass of the wine remaining. Packed with a surprising bit of fruit, the wine was not necessarily a Northern Rhone Syrah with the signature bacon fat and green olives but it did blend in some savory components too. With good structure, refined tannins and a long and favorable finish the wine was looking good on its own.

We crisscrossed the Southern California freeways, navigating through an unbelievable amount of traffic for the hour of day to arrive at Bruxië, near Chapman University. It took a while, enough for us both to build up a ravenous hunger and to exhaust my collection of Dr. Dog CDs.

Surveying the surroundings, the building was small; enough to house the kitchen and that was it. Patrons were seated all around the establishment and there were lots of them, basking in the warm rays of the sun. There was one thing I was really not a fan of which was the merchandise case that happened to crowd the counter. I like the idea of being marketable, but food comes first, especially if you are a restaurant; marketing items come unforced and many years down the line. Looking on, we took some time to order, trying to test the joint by coming up with a perfect collection of foods that would compliment our intended reason for the trip—the burger (hope you didn’t forget)—and prove the hypothesis that the waffle is the ideal bread item to be coupled with a wide array of fare, not just novel.

We ordered a couple of burgers, a hotdog, some waffle fries and the Ogura dessert filled with red bean paste. Not too long of a wait before we had our food and the presentation was classic red basket attire, the only difference was that the bulk of the food was waffle wrapped instead of the customary sartorial buns. Minor difference.

I pulled out my flask, and doled out our respective 2.5-ounce pours—this flask was tiny—and proceeded to chow down. Egads my first cheese burger! Due to an oversight on the menu, I had forgot to customize my order and was forced to consume a heaping helping of cheese. It happened to be a saving grace because the burger lacked sufficient seasoning and the cheese added the perfect amount of fat to compensate and make for a richer flavor, otherwise it was pretty bland. To make matters worse, they had overcooked my friend’s patty, making it tougher to finish. The ingredients were fresh and simple but did not really pop and the waffle was out of proportion, leaving behind a gluten trail too large to get through. And that was the theme for the meal; the hotdog was lost inside of the folded waffle not even the sauerkraut could save it. The waffle fries and dessert were finer items rounding out the order but not worth the excursion or the price.

The wine pairing also helped abate the problems with the patty and the over sized waffles but in the end we were disappointed, having been excited about the prospect of finding the perfect oddball burger, we’d instead encountered an expensive bust.

My Ducks also ended their night with a heartbreaking loss, bursting my Orange County bubble, not for good but definitely for a little while. The day was not really a disappointment though, I got to hangout with some friends, have a successful, albeit, one-sided wine pairing and reinforce the notion that there is no real substitute for the classic burger in its most basic outfit.

Last year I started the Burger Bonanza, in hopes of keeping pace with the flurry of gourmet and classic burger establishments opening in Southern California (a large enough drawing board). Devoid of critics, we are not quite the burger police, but reticent to fall for just any patty. I carefully studied the reviews and selected a few standouts to visit, covering more ground in one day than I sometimes would in a month, while being mindful to not overeat, splitting the burgers with the others who partnered on the journey. The original Burger Bonanza was three separate burgers to an excursion, all from within the confines of Los Angeles. This year, I was interested in upstaging my previous efforts, broadening the map to a beginning in Orange County and concluding the burgercurean tour in Los Angeles, visiting four restaurants along the way, with a larger collection of friends and as always trying to find a feasible wine pairing when applicable (unfortunately, only at Mom’s).

The menu du jour quatre fois included a quick pit stop to the Wine Exchange in the city of Orange—to stock up on some wines for this pairing and future events—then off to Peter’s Gourmade Grill, then a brief visit to Compton to try the legendary fare of Mom’s Burgers, a third spot was up to the people who were with me, and finally, ending at Stout. That was the plan and it took some serious resolve to make it work.

I waited for a buddy to carpool with and we headed south. Once at the Wine Exchange I loaded up on Rieslings of all different price ranges, and almost exclusively from Germany, to accompany my newfound preference for sushi and to tag along with the heavily spiced Indian foods that I hope to review. I lost focus among their jaw-dropping assortment of collector wines, priced much cheaper than in Los Angeles, but managed to regain focus and select a sampler of three bottles of Syrah from K Vintners—Morrison Lane, El Jefe and the Cougar Hills—and some more bottles of Vietti Nebbiolo for their already established pairing capacity with burgers, among other more traditional couplings.

After I stockpiled the wines, my friend and I headed out to Peter’s Gourmade Grill and met up with several more friends (new and old) to enjoy some high-end burgers at an unexpected location. Though it is not uncommon to hitch your eatery to a gas station, it just doesn’t conjure the best imaginable burgers and yet, they took top honors for the day. We queued up, placing our orders for the ABC burger loaded with avocado, bacon and cheddar ($5.75), and we shared a plate of Sweet Potato Gooey’s.

There was a major wait at the gas station for these burgers; we watched the cramped kitchen pumping out an endless procession of burgers on the terrifically warm day. Eventually, our meal was plated on soft pastel colors; mine was carrying a generous burger that was a hybrid, a blend of classic with gourmet tendencies. Sourcing the beef, including artisan items and attention to detail while maintaining the cornerstones of burger joints. With a nicely seasoned six-ounce patty, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, homemade pickles, avocado, thick cut bacon, a swath of condiments sitting between a potato bun, and its hidden pearl of a burger, save for the cheese.  The flavors were completely thought out—the bacon added fat and salt, the avocado was creamy and ripe, and the pickles added tartness. The texture of the grind was coarse, making it a signature burger. Everything was measured and worked in concert to create an enjoyably complex bite.

 The side of Sweet Potato Gooey’s was by far the most interesting side I have had at a burger joint, far surpassing fried pickles or chili cheese fries. They were a dessert, reminiscent of a Thanksgiving side, replete with a layer of baked marshmallow atop sweet potato fries and some maple syrup. Spectacular.

Recently I spent some time in Orange County, visiting my cellar and an old friend I had not seen for half a decade, and was set on cultivating newfound food appreciation for sushi. Fresh off of my burger high, I was resolved not to eat another one too soon after—respecting Adam Fleischman’s creation. Instead, I would be jonesing for some foreign fare, flirting with the possibility of nigiri, the authentic sushi experience (let’s not have that debate here). I was also eager to test some theories on harmoniously pairing wine and sushi, since I was late to the game. This is the story of wine number 326.

I can remember my first sushi experience, painfully, when I was younger (about ten years old) and not being able to stomach the cylindrically rice-laden edibles that were laid before me. I could not get past the idea of what I was eating, no matter in retrospect, how mild. My palate has developed immensely in the last fifteen years since my first encounter and I am much more receptive to food in general. A parallel could be drawn to the first time I heard a single from TV on the Radio back in 2003, I was not in the right place to properly receive the band, and instead, I preferred Doug Martsch and J Mascis… TV on the Radio vanished from my radar. It would be another five years before Dear Science made me a believer.

I met my friend in Irvine at the cellar where he helped me usher in the four cases of premium California Pinot Noir among other vinifera. We caught up as I repacked the cellar, shuffling newer vintages to the back while older vintages inched closer to being opened. I also pilfered the cellar, taking two separate bottles of indie Champagne out, one for the sushi dinner and the other for another blog. I do not make it down to Orange County too often so it was imperative I take advantage of my being there by grabbing any bottle I was remotely interested in drinking.

We were done in the cellar and enjoyed some of the amenities of being a member of the Irvine Wine Cellar Club, playing pool, sampling some wines, noshing on a baguette and charcuterie and watching a bit of the final four—though basketball ain’t my sport, especially when UCLA had been ousted in an earlier bracket of the tournament. We were complacent on killing time and reminiscing until my stomach flashed the bat symbol.

It was time to eat, no longer could the salami and other cured meats suppress my appetite. I began to comb my phone (Yelp app) for highly recommended places to eat Japanese in the nearby Irvine area. There was a paucity of acclaimed sushi bars. I made a few calls to check the wine lists, being polite, though I was met with resistance by a few of the restaurants when asking about the wine. I immediately pined for LA where an innocuous question would be happily answered.

The phone calls were awkward at best, I kept hearing the phrase “standard wines” that these restaurants provided, and I could feel the irritation on the phone about having to run through a wine list. What the F*&k does “standard” mean? How can that be a sufficient answer to a customer? After a little probing, I discovered that standard meant stripped down to the basic functioning wine list, and in terms of Champagne, it meant no creativity. Our restaurant (notice how there is no name written), winner by default, served Möet & Chandon White Star, Veuve Clicquot yellow label and Dom Perignon all the brainless but high margin wines to round out a sub-par wine list. I felt that my quest for premium fish would be held off until I was back in LA.

I was happy to bring a bottle of Ployez-Jaquesmart Extra Brut to the table for two reasons; I knew that it would provide an exciting flavor profile against the comparable Veuve Clicquot and that it would be a good introduction to life outside major house Champagne. The idea behind the pairing was that the high acidity found in Champagne would be able to cleanse the palate, leaving the taste buds perked and ready for another roll. Acidity is one of the main attributes that can help make a pairing successful. Sushi rolls are packed with chunks of fatty tuna, or salmon, which add a lot of richness in flavors that need to be reeled in. The acidity cuts the fat and melds the flavors, the ideal situation in any pairing scenario. Sushi rolls some times come tempura-ized and as I can attest—Champagne’s natural affinity for fried foods makes it the perfect match on paper.

After our four rolls were ordered we waited and discussed more life. Ducks hockey dominated the conversation; we were up in the air if the Ducks could dismantle the Sharks—a Pacific Division nemesis—as the hockey season dwindled down to a crucial stage for Anaheim making the playoffs.

The food arrived and the presentation was busy but pleasant. The rolls were inviting, packed with fish and fresh vegetables, waiting to be plucked by our chopsticks. The first few bites were enjoyable and exactly what I had wanted, until my hand navigated to the tempura roll—that was rough. Erring on the fried side, it was the least agreeable roll on the table and it definitely called for some Champagne to erase the heavy coating of oil that came with it. The Ployez-Jaquesmart was up to the task of assuaging the grease but not as bright as I would have liked. The vibrancy was downplayed, offering toastier and autolysis notes of baked brioche and toasted nuts. I was hoping to see more citrus and Pippin apple on the palate to counteract the fresh squeezed lemon juice atop the Cohiba rolls—which were the darlings of the four rolls. The Champagne did not mesh perfectly but it was still able to restart the palate and play the setup man to the sushi.

After dinner, my Japanese craving was slaked, I had successfully spent the day in Orange County, visited my cellar and was looking forward to capping the night with the Ducks game; it had been an active day and I was happy with the results of the Champagne and food pairing, even though this particular bottle was not the best match, the components behaved expectedly. In the future I hope to incorporate more sushi bars (with the help of my readers’ suggestions) from Los Angeles with wine, maybe even pop a few bottles of Riesling—another high acid wine—and eventually graduate to nigiri. I said goodbye to my old friend and invited him up to LA to enjoy another round of catch up and sushi, hopefully years wont pass before that transpires. I will keep you posted.

It was a rough day.  I was completely bored at work, I hadn’t slept at all well, and my chronic back pain was ablaze with a fury not unlike one could imagine a rhinoceros experiences when he wakes to find the stock market has tanked and his entire 401(k) has just vanished into a puff of putrid fart fumes.  Yes, readers, that morning I was hurting, and there were two things that it was entirely necessary for me to get on my lunch break, each of which, ideally, would make me feel better in its own way: a professional deep-tissue massage, and a juicy delicious bacon and avocado hamburger with crisp golden french fries and a ice cold root beer.

Luckily, in Costa Mesa near my work, just behind the Denny’s at Red Hill and Bristol, there happens to be a small (and as it turned out, particularly mediocre) massage parlor.  And even more fortunately, just across the street there was a quaint little spot called Bill’s Burgers which appeared to be just what this hungry guy was seeking.

A message, a message from the lord! God be praised!

I walked in to find a large movie-theater-billboard-style menu populated with classic American fast-food cuisine and a solid set of options for Mexican dining, if one were inclined to order such rubbish fare (I was in burger mode).  I found it very interesting that there was no Greek — or Mediterranean cuisine of any kind — on the menu, and yet, the cups were handsomely adorned with coliseums and statues of discvs [sic] throwers.  Interesting…

The woman at the register was a little short with me at first, but when I showed that i was friendly and smiley and asked questions about whether I could get bacon AND avocado on my burger, and how much would it cost please, she actually turned out to be quite friendly and rang my burger up in such a manner that it came out to cost some 80 cents cheaper than had she rung it up the other way.  I tipped her well (total out-of-pocket being $10) and took my unique order number placard to a table in the restaurant dining area — which was about as close to Coco’s decor as I could imagine any other restaurant being, lawsuit-free — and began sipping at my boiled sassafras beverage.

McDaphne's Famous Lamburgers?

I took a beat to scan the room and observe my fellow diners.  I was pleased to find that Bill’s had a very eclectic clientele, ranging from skateboard-wielding high-school hipsters (no doubt grabbing lunch at a less pricey alternative to the dining options at the nearby “trendsetter” breeding ground, The Lab) to kind-eyed senior citizens enjoying an old local Costa Mesa favorite.  Despite their stark differences, these people all seemed pleased to be where they were, and as such, my expectations simmered.  I felt at peace with my new by-proximity friendships, and my nerves calmed as the hour of be-burger-ment drew near.

Then it came. Visual first impression: ‘OK, this could be good!’  Oral first impression: ‘OK… this could be better…’ This burger was not great.  Everything about it seemed to fall just a little short of good-enough, much like every Adam Sandler movie since The Wedding Singer (Punch Drunk Love exempt).  The patty was too small and thin for the bun and lacked flavor or spice of any kind.  There was not nearly enough tomato, though the tomato was fresh, and the iceberg lettuce was standard and boring.  The bacon was too crispy and flavorless, and the spread was Thousand Island dressing.  This burger’s not winning any originality awards, not that I was expecting it to.

The one ingredient that Bill* seemed to actually care about was the avocado, and apparently, in Bill’s twisted burger brain, it’s totally cool to compensate for all shitty other ingredients by stuffing in way way way too much avocado, thus bringing “balance” to the burger.  I’m pretty sure there was an entire avocado on my burger.  The poor sandwich was swamped, and even it if wasn’t, it just wouldn’t hold up to any of the burger sensations I’ve experienced up in Los Angeles.  Fortunately for your blogging friend here, there was something else on the plate.  The fries were actually were actually not bad, though they were not anything particularly exciting.  They were just done right.  The root beer was good too.

'Avocado volume is inversely proportional to overall burger crappiness!' - Bill
'Nope.' - Eric

All in all, it was a pretty disappointing lunch hour, but I’m glad to say that we all learned a valuable lesson here: Don’t put pantheons and olympians on your cups if you want people to think you sell a good hamburger, because you don’t.  Especially if you’re Bill’s Burgers.

*There wasn’t any person Bill that I actually saw, I’m anthropomorphizing the establishment.

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Roumier Morey St. Denis 'Clos de la Bussiere' 2008

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