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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.

Marché Moderne is a chic bistro tucked in the third floor nook of the South Coast plaza by Nordstrom. I was there for lunch and thought that it would be a good way to tally another wine (#497). Selecting the menu prix fixe, or “Spontané” for an economical twenty dollars, I would be served a salad, entrée and dessert. I chose a wine that I thought would compliment the braised short ribs (the entrée) and was in my price range because the glasses were heavy on the billfold. Fifteen dollars for an 8oz pour of a 2006 Shiraz, Mouvedré and Grenache blend!

The wine, Torbreck Vineyards “Old Vines” was poured before me, transferred from a dinky beaker to crystal stemware that I thought was an interesting approach to wines-by-the-glass. After a sniff, I detected some raspberry and a touch of leather. On the palate the wine possessed a silky texture and was full-bodied, it worked with well with the tender short ribs.

The food was very good, its presentation was immaculate and the courses from salad to dessert were well executed. The wine served its purpose as a supporting character of an enjoyable outing but I might forgo the glass in favor of a bottle if I am with drinking enthusiasts because it is hard to swallow a fifteen-dollar pour.

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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