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I have been maintaining a burger & wine blog for few months more than a year now and in no way has my love lessened for my favorite comfort food nor the more venerated beverage that sometimes quaffing keeps them company–instead, my appreciation for both has grown exponentially. As my burger count grows like a tomato under the summer sun, friends, family and other people who learn of my quest keep me apprised on newer establishments and other burgers that they hold dear. My roommate last month had shared with me a burger that he thought was incredible and I worked on my little burger planner, inserting Upper West into the count somewhere between G Burger and The Standing Room. It’s a packed schedule but burgers and wine are no joke.

I assembled a large group—ten strong—reserving a spot to dine at Upper West on a Saturday night. Not quite sure what to expect aside from a “great burger.” Would this place be a let down? What kind of scene was it? There were a lot of questions brewing before I got there.

Arriving just west of the 10 freeway on Pico Boulevard, I had met up with my friends, already seated in the back. Making my way to the table, Upper West was projecting Some Like it Hot behind us. The films were an interesting touch that made me think of San Francisco where similar open-air and enclosed cinema-on-the-wall-during-dining occurs. There were clear glass partitions separating dining rooms while still affording us a wonderful vantage point on the other parties in the restaurant. The space was comfortably upscale and suddenly my visions of a perfect burger were coming into focus.

You would think ordering would be difficult and rather drawn out with ten different diners but you would be wrong and what’s more is that less than half of my friends ate the burger—the menu was rife with delicious alternatives that lessened the burger’s appeal. I was resolved but threw in a request for a vegetable Carpaccio. The only hitch in the giddyup was ordering wine; we wanted to enjoy ourselves, ordering two bottles of wine that would compliment most of the fare and we needed to be economical because a dive into the wine list can be a costly decision.

My buddy from my wine class and I put our heads together to come up with something that we thought would be fruit forward and a bang for the buck—basically we stayed new world and went with a Carménère and Garnacha.

The Kunza Carmenere (#219) and Santo Cristo Garnacha (#218) were brought to our table quickly and parceled out, evenly, splitting the wines amongst us all. We performed group sniffs and tasted the wines. Both were adequate decisions and I was intrigued by the chalkiness of the tannins in the Kunza Carménère—a reason I am particularly drawn to that grape. It finished with a healthy dose of ripe plum and was enjoyable on its own.

All eyes were on the only starter—the vegetable Carpaccio; a picturesque dish with filleted golden beets under goat cheese scoops, bean sprouts, Meyer Lemon and an earthy midsection. It was good and nice (no deprecation intended) to see the formal showcase but I was ready for the burger after a few bites.

When the burgers hit the table, I was dubious; the presentation seemed a little too flashy, arriving on a cutting board with a dagger (steak knife) piercing the core of the brioche bun and atop the bun were a pair of bread and butter pickles. Odd. To the right stood a metal cup stuffed delicately with fries, providing balance to the canvas—it made me feel like I was about to eat a MOCA exhibit.

The dressed-up burger came with an onion marmalade that was sweet and tangy, the pasilla pepper goat cheese spread added sharpness and the dry aged grind was particularly tasty in rounding out the flavors with savory notes; it was clear that the gimmicky* plating was carrying a carefully crafted burger.

The meat was tender and cooked perfectly medium, the bun was soft and did not wince under the jus that escaped the patty… almost all the components were executed textbook. The only imperfection I found—and for fifteen dollars I am going to be critical—was that the burger was a touch over-seasoned (a little too much salt). With that one exception it was clearly worth the price of admission and probably one of my favorite gourmet burger experiences.

The ambiance was relaxed and chic, the food fit the bill, the wine list was reasonable and the only real headache was splitting a bill by ten, other than that, my roommate was right, they do have a great burger, enough to make me readjust my top five in LA. Kudos, Ryland.

* I feel the presentation was bit overstated but from reading this blog you know I have a fondness for the traditional and understated.

Between La Habra, Fullerton, City of Industry and Brea there are no paucity of stellar burger joints, some of my favorites. These are mostly unassuming-but-great-tasting-burgers that can be found in this sector of North Orange County. There are, however a shortage of Gourmet burger spots, places that step up the classic ingredients—sourcing beef, making their own condiments and using organic vegetables— in that same easterly area. So, it was to my surprise when my brother sent me an article last week in the OC Weekly about the newest gourmet burger on the block. I planned the trip to visit my brother, see his newest ride, spend time with my nephews and hopefully eat an amazing burger.

I made the drive, thundering due east on the ten and transferring to the 60 east, at a time when driving fast was feasible. I was there in a little over an hour, motoring my way to my brother’s work to switch vehicles and head down to G Burger in La Habra.

I was familiar with the signature sandwich from this burger bar after reading that article but I was in the mood to keep it original and my burger free of pastrami and the endless array of toppings that are heaped on the behemoth G burger. And I did. Ordering a hamburger, I decided it would be best to try something unique to G Burger so I ordered the G Fries.

We were told it would be a fifteen-minute wait before the food arrived and I was okay with that, getting to discuss my brother’s newest car, the upgraded suspension and other small talk—you know, brother stuff.

When the food arrived on and in red dishes, I was surprised by the size—accustomed to the petit burgers of Umami—and the seasoning that blanketed the patty. The bun was pristine and the toppings fresh and with the first bite I was on to something good. The pepper-forward coating really made the difference, taking the meat up a notch from so many casual burger joints that inhabit the area.

The G fries were on par with In-n-Out’s animal style fries, but in G Burger fashion, they were a richer version. I tapped out fairly quickly, fries have never been my thing, and I was content to eat my burger because these fries distracted me from a nice sandwich. My brother helped me finish the fries that were replete with cheese, thousand island sauce, grilled onions and thick ‘n chewy pieces of smoked bacon after polishing off his chicken sandwich.

I was impressed with the caliber of burgers that were coming off the grill at G Burger, not the biggest or the most complex but executed perfectly. There is some room for improvement despite the obvious dedication to improving upon the classic burger: Making house sauces, unique to G Burger, would be a first step, and then upgrading the drink selection to incorporate more than a stock soda fountain’s worth of choices. It seems that the menu was a deliberate attempt at upstaging the stiff competition in the area but after that they were content to call it quits. There are a lot of choices in this locale—and North Orange County may be where I source my next Burger Bonanza—but G Burger warrants the extra dollar or two that separates it from its competitors—at least where food is concerned.

My brother and I exited happily, getting into the Mustang (that is a serious understatement) and cruising off until we reached his home, meeting up with my nephews where I spent the remainder of the day playing games before their bedtime approached. As always, it was great to catch up with family and eat my favorite food. Before I departed we made plans to do it again soon but who knows when our schedules will align. I am hoping soon.

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