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Rosado CanRaising the ante on Lunch, I went upscale in Culver City, giving a rare day-off to the red basket fries and behemoth burgers fare in favor of Asian verve. In a complex that boasts an embarrassment of riches—with regards to food and interior design—a posse of wine rep friends and I decided to reserve a table at Lukshon.

The restaurant is a brainchild of Sang Yoon—the same Chef that architected the Father’s Office burger (with no substitutions), one burger that perhaps has no equal in Los Angeles. Further down Helms Avenue from his satellite Father’s Office location was another first-rate eatery that tied together a mélange of Far East flavors in dishes that were pleasing to all senses. A curator’s care went into the beverage list that cleverly supported the breadth of the menu like Atlas and encouraged a wine-drinking excursion.

SeafoA Rosado of Listán Negra from Bodegas Los Bemejo out of the Canary Islands we hoped would enhance the robust quantity and variety of food: Brussels Sprouts, Duck Confit Spring Roll, Flank Steak Bao, Kurobuta Pork Ribs, Cantonese Chicken Soup, Grilled Squid Salad and finishing with the mouth-numbing Dandan Noodles. We were a hungry lot.

The dishes were staggered nicely at first, allowing time to dissect each course while we sipped on a cloudy (unfiltered) salmon colored Rosé that smacked of cantaloupe and ripe cherry freshness with dashes of cupboard spice and red flower petals for added complexity.

Carrot We opened with Cantonese chicken soup that showed how weak our chopstick-skills were, making a mess over our shared bowl. We made up for the clumsiness by devouring the second plate of duck confit spring rolls swiftly. The next two dishes, the Brussels sprouts and grilled squid salad arrived in tandem. I tend to not get terribly excited over salad, but the grilled squid course showed off its deep dimension, with tender pieces of seafood bathing in a chili sambal vinaigrette that were pitted against the crunch of celery, cucumber and a clean mint finish. It was refreshing and not to be missed… like the Brussels sprouts! The ribs slipped off the bone and were a perfect set up for the Bao that arrived next. Steamed buns pocketing strips of flank steak with kohlrabi and green bean like slaw smothering the meat, dressed in kimchi vinaigrette. We finished with the circus trick… Dandan noodles were recommended to go last in our rotation. The Sichuan dish incorporated Kurobuta pork with mustard greens, Sichuan peppercorns and peanuts, mixing in the components with a serious toss before we divvied it up. An unusual sensation transpired as I shoveled the oily peddler’s noodles down the hatch, a mouth-tingling reverberation occurred—a MILD blackout of the taste buds. I reached for the glassware to revive the palate. Hell of a trick!

A complimentary dessert—a petite wedge of carrot cake— punctuated our decadent lunch and superb Rosado pairing. My first sampling of Canary Islands wines was piquant, mellowing the spiciest elements of the lunch while not diminishing any of the explosiveness of the foods. It also emphasized how big the wine world actually is, as I sometimes get lost in just a small corner of it. The smattering of outstanding Asian fusion transcends any three, maybe four fancy-pants burgers I would’ve eaten in LA for its forty-dollar price tag. Lukshon is a clear-cut favorite to capture E.O.M. for April.

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.

Friday night burgers have been a sporadic tradition this year, a more commonly practiced ritual in 2010, but never the one to give up on good times, I was set on visiting a burger spot that was affordable and was recently reviewed with good marks. I invited two friends to accompany me to West Hollywood to try a spot that fit the criteria—Rounds Premium Burgers—on Santa Monica Boulevard. I would be pairing a bottle of 2009 St. Cosme Côtes du Rhône (# 317 on the year) with their hamburger and hopefully catching the Ducks must win game against the LA Kings.

We met sharply at 7:30, still trying to catch the fleeting daylight—to aid in all aspects of photography and because I don’t have an adequate flash—and be early enough to continue the remainder of the night in downtown. A pregnant agenda.

Across from the Sherriff station of West Los Angeles sits Rounds, a newcomer to the gourmet burger craze that happens to capitalize on the enormous amount of foot traffic that the area receives. When our group arrived, we narrowly averted the rush and were able to order three burgers without waiting.

We took our seats and discussed music, food, wine and civil engineering. Literature and film were on the horizon but were interrupted by the burgers, a seemingly short wait for my original burger and chili fries to be brought to the table, along with the other styles of burger to be caddied over to our group.

We took some ceremonial photos, again trying to catching the waning daylight (apologies), divvied up the contents of the flask—eyeing the Sherriff’s station as we poured—and dug in. The presentation was casual; I could see these creations being served at a bar, packed with a fluffy and obtuse bun encasing the usual suspects: a hefty patty atop lettuce, tomato, pickles, a daub (as opposed to swimming in a thousand island spread) and rings of red onion.

One of my buddies ordered the homage to Father’s office—at a fraction of the price—aptly dubbed The Office burger and found it to be exemplary. As was mine; I thought the meat—which when that charitable, could break the burger—was cooked to a perfect medium. It was not skimpy and showcased a classic California style. The only thing I missed was the pickles and yellow peppers (chiles picantes) that are a staple of my favorite burger joints. The latter can burn the palate in high doses, so best to be indulged in smaller quantities.

The St. Cosme’s peppery profile complimented the burgers well; the alcohol was in proportion, lending the solid body to carry the burger and a good jolt of acidity to ready our mouths for the next bite. The structure of the wine really highlighted the food; it was kismet that they were served together.

As for sides… I am not really a fan; I often feel that they serve as a distraction from the show, not really a true sidekick. However, each new place I explore I feel obligated to try something else on the menu—to test the people making the food. The chili fries were surprisingly good, with copious amounts of burger meat and raw white onion to pack each bite with flavor—they were reminiscent of Ruby’s chili fries, only difference being, Round’s fries were cut thicker.

I am not one to discount value but I am certainly not drawn to a place because it is cheap either but I would highly recommend a visit to Round’s Premium Burgers for excellent quality tailored to reasonable prices and if you are craving some wine look no further than the 09 St. Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône. I think the thing that made this night truly incredible, was catching the last period of the Ducks game, a victory against the Kings (the first of two consecutive wins against the cross-town rivals) and watching them lock up a spot in the playoffs. Friends, burgers ‘n wine and a Ducks win, no better way to spend a Friday night.

A burgeoning culinary scene, chock full of great choices among its many establishments, Culver City is an epicurean’s destination where it is easy to lose sight of all the good ones. Enter Beacon—an eatery with serious acclaim, as the head chef—Kazuto Matsusaka—worked with Wolfgang Puck (for years), after first coming to America to hone his culinary prowess.

I finally made it to Beacon on Sunday evening to try their burger, definitely not the first thing people think about when they go to an Asian fusion restaurant but I have had it on my to-do list since reading about it on AHT.

Very few people were in the sleek and modern confines of Beacon. Our group was one of three groups rounding out the night. We had the ultimate attention of the Master chef.

The Beacon Burger is available on request, no price is given. Is it a gamble? Not really, if you read reviews or ask the waiter they might say as our waiter did “…it rivals Father’s Office burger” as well as tell you the ingredients. For the drink we split a bottle of Tempranillo (an 02 reserve from Rioja).

For me the decision was made easy, Father’s Office was still fresh in my mind and this burger would be a welcomed competitor for the best burger on the block. Beacon’s featured a patty (half-pound) with a miso glaze that is grilled, served with caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese, hearty slabs of bacon, butter lettuce, tomatoes (variety: on the vine) and resting atop slipper bread (ciabatta roll).

The burger came with French fries and a little ramekin filled with ketchup. It was an understated presentation, signifying the burger’s legitimacy. After the first bite my fingers were covered in jus. I examined the charred patty that had a pinkish shimmer. The grind had a good crispness to the outside while yielding the tender inside—perfectly cooked. The bacon became a tad tiresome and could have been left off in favor of showcasing the patty. The roll was firm n’ chewy; it was able to make it through the entire meal without falling apart like the trendy brioche bun.

The Tempranillo presented great aromatics of fresh red berries and spice. The flavor profile was more refined—the berries were predominant but there was a light vanilla flavor that eked through and the taste was rounded out with a sophisticated pepper finish. The Spanish wine married the flavors of the burger and fries well, preserving the sweetness of the onions and miso glaze while cutting through the char on the patty.

Beacon – defined as a source of inspiration (one of four definitions), could be just that; after weeks of failed burger outings and other burger debacles, it was nice to relax and enjoy an outstanding burger. Was it better than Father’s Office? Not sure if I am ready to answer that, but I am positive I will find myself back here enjoying another great hamburger.

Last Friday I spent the evening with close friends and some newer acquaintances at an LA favorite: Father’s Office. For those readers outside the area, Father’s Office is a gastro pub (probably responsible for the term as far as Los Angeles is concerned) that features an excellent beer list, with a fair selection of wines and drinks to accompany delectable treats from a seasonal menu. While the beer & wine menus may be upgraded and the food might be altered to accommodate new vegetables and meats that become available, a constant fixture will always be the burger.

There are many things that interest me about the newer Father’s Office, not the original in Santa Monica; the communal hand washing outside of the bathrooms (in short, the layout), the clientele is always different (not your average bar goers) and the strict adherence to the menu—no substitutions! They offer a lot of nice choices like grilled Sonoma lamb, braised oxtail, duck confit salad yet most people come for the acclaimed cheeseburger.

Well, the cheeseburger is no secret to Angelenos—it is frequently said to be one of the best served in the city. It is packed with a great grind of meat stacked in a patty nearly an inch thick served with arugula, caramelized onions, gruyere, Maytag blue cheese, bacon compote wedged inside a soft brioche bun that resembles a submarine sandwich (demisubmarine). The patty is juicy and the salty sweet combination between the bacon compote and the onions is played up to the nth degree. The burger is a little busy and the flavors crowd your palate—masking what is otherwise a perfect grind. The finish is a mixture of cheese and a tiny spice from the rocket (arugula) as the generous patty disappears into the ether. It becomes messy too as the bun breaks down like a clunky submarine, leaving the jus on your fingers and in the basket.

I chose a central California syrah to pair with my main selection the duck leg confit salad but saved some room for a couple of shared bites of the many burgers that were on the group’s table. Surprisingly the Melville syrah went well with both but was definitely better suited for the gaminess of the duck.

The aforementioned salad was executed well, the dressing, tart vinaigrette that flowed over some fresh greens, figs, duck leg confit and nuts arrived shortly after an order lapping the burgers at my table. The salad, no matter how fancy, was just a salad but it’s nice to try if you feel like something light and substantial. The chef is capable of creating a lot of fantastic foods that make this bar a real treat to go to—especially if you are not thrifty. The consistency is also worthy of a cheer for the few times I have gone the same dish arrives each and every time.

So our lively group enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and when our pockets were lighter we packed up and shared four of my bottles of wine (responsibly!!!) at a friend’s house—more on that in a future blog. Father’s Office deserves the title of truly stellar gastro pub (not because of the burger, which falls short in my opinion) because of the diversity of the menu, beverage list and the ambiance.

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