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If you don’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all, and I suppose that goes doubly for writing. I have been thinking about this golden rule while trying to carefully tow the line on this review. Close to my Westside digs a popular sports bar is renowned for its sandwiches and burgers, and in Los Angeles that’s no small feat. It was a bar burger—my stance on bar fare to this point has been clearly defined but I’m never one to turn down a burger. I carved out a little time with a friend since our schedules were similar, between work and drop-in hockey, and we had headed over to the San Francisco Saloon for a quick dinner.

Happy hour had just expired, the first of a few bad omens. We sat ourselves at a table, trading in the true bar experience for a later date. We looked over the menus that were caddied on the tables while the waitress swung by quickly to take our drink orders. We had a rough idea of what we wanted, respectively, but we were open to suggestions, so we polled our waitress. By the time she returned with the Newcastle and Boddingtons, we had our orders placed with her blessing: a hickory burger for my friend while I ordered the 49er burger.

We watched the multiple sports feeds piped through the bar, darting between basketball and baseball while we waited for the burgers. I pulled out my camera and readied everything for the arrival of the food. We wanted to get the ceremony out of the way early, to give us more time to digest before hockey.

A short wait yielded two burgers, both hefty, cut in half and pierced by toothpicks, sharing their oval plates with mounds of fries. Nearly identical. As I brought the camera to my eye, trying best to capture the sheer weight of the food, the waitress took an unexpected interest in my handiwork. I mentioned to her that I was a blogger and quickly put the subject to rest. She seemed leery.

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8009/7408518692_439ca4bfe2_z.jpgWe dug in; pungent blue cheese crumbles dominated my burger, the sautéed onions and standard fixings were unable to muster enough to keep the flavors in harmony. Things were starting off amiss. The biggest sin (omen, if you are keeping score) however was overcooking—medium rare morphed into well done—the patty that made the rest of the issues easy to overlook. The fries quickly became my favorite item on the plate. I surveyed my buddy and he had similar issues, the hickory sauce was in complete control of his sandwich and the patty wore the same overcooked sweater.

It became an exercise in diplomacy as the waitress returned anxiously to see what the blogger had to say about the burger. I was almost in the clear before I let slip that the meat was horrifically overcooked—she apologized immediately and told me about their new cook (the trifecta of bad omens). I let the other issues slide and was not really in the mood to expound on cooking time because I knew that we had some hockey to play so we politely asked for the check and promised a repeat visit when the cook found his groove.

This was not the first time I had been let down by the chowhounds’ endorsements. To be fair though, the bar was getting a new cook up to speed but it appeared to be a choppy transition. I’m generally not in the mood to return to an eatery that has failed to hit some easy marks, fearing the ‘shame-on-me-moment’ for letting my guard down, especially with so many burger joints about that I have yet to try. But something made me believe that is was a fluke. A mulligan is in order and I will keep you all posted.

It was Friday, the season opener for the Anaheim Ducks—it should have been a joyous occasion—and I was interested in watching the game immediately after work. To mark the occasion I was going to have a bottle of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon with a hamburger. I would need to choose a dining spot not five minutes (barring seemingly inexhaustible Los Angeles traffic) from where I currently reside on Santa Monica Blvd to catch the broadcast. Things were getting hurried and jammed.

In my sights, the Corner Deli and Grill, an inconspicuous pick, turning out decent fare at low prices, hidden in plain sight to the hundreds of thousands that drive by it in a day, it also fit my search criteria: a short drive from my residence. Operating within a mini-mart, armed with just the necessities to cook: a grill, griddle, counter, a case and few other tools to run the miniature kitchen.

I ordered the regular burger ($4.49), an economic deal for a 1/3-pound of “Angus” beef, tomato, lettuce and a considerable spread of mayo, including seasoned fries. No more than five minutes after my order and I was out the door with the Styrofoam carrier in hand, negotiating traffic on Santa Monica Blvd to better my chances of catching the Ducks game.

Once home, I got the hockey game primed—already behind two-zero in the first period, the Ducks were making a poor case for a fast start to the beginning of the season—and quickly unscrewed the top to my bottle of Chateau Smith, pouring the garnet liquid into my Riedel stemware, with the hopes of abbreviating the aeration. I gave the Cabernet Sauvignon a few minutes to open up, expecting the brash tannins of its California counterpart, before taking my first swig. In the meantime, I devoured the aromas of the Washington red wine, picking up some cedar, a little black fruit.

For some time I had wanted to acquaint my palate with the Washington winemakers, those many who have made significant success with Cabernet Sauvignon, vaunted for their finesse. I was hoping that their acumen would lead to a better encounter with Cabernet Sauvignon (the typical exchange left my wallet hurting and my mouth roughed up).

The maker of my bottle, Charles Smith—chief winemaker of K Vintners and Charles Smith wines—is a magnanimous character in the wine world, an important winemaker and practitioner of the grape in Washington. He has drawn lots of attention to the area with his critically acclaimed Syrah (fetching perfect scores from RP).

Wines hailing from Washington dwell in a long and cool growing season, unlike the scorching sun that shines mercilessly in some of the more famous AVA’s of California. The cooler climate is similar to the Rhone Valley but Chateau Smith is an elegant and fitting tribute to Bordeaux, blending 96.5% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3.5% Malbec.

The burger was huge, the sesame seed bun was soft and warm, the patty was painted with char marks and the first bite showed promise. The texture of the patty was not as tender as the “angus” would generally imply, but it was a good expression of a fast food burger. Then I brought the thin-rimmed glassware to my lips, pairing the bold char flavor with the Cabernet. It was a hit; my taste buds were delighted because the weight of the wine (medium-full body) supported the hamburger effortlessly.

The Cabernet on its own was very good, soft tannins, low alcohol (relative to the Cabernets to which I am accustomed) and nice persistence of fruit flavors on the finish.

The immediacy of the wine was unexpected but its result was instantly gratifying where I might have had to wait the better half of a decade before I could think of enjoying a bottle of Napa Cab. The burger was good (7/10) with respect to the style but the beverage overshadowed it. I enjoyed my first introduction to Washington Red wines via Charles Smith and if only the Ducks had managed to wrest their first victory of the season and had not fallen disgracefully to the Detroit Red Wings (4-0), the night would have been over-the-top outstanding.

The downtown of most major metropolises breathe excitement, energy and beauty, unless of course you are talking about Los Angeles, which despite constant renovation and the gentrification have instead left Los Angeles bereft of humans in most sectors. Maybe not so surprisingly, people are always passing through, cramming the 10 and the 110 freeways, which are the congested aortic valves of our downtown. Yet there are some spots that are worth visiting—there are actually more than a few but not enough relative to other big cities—like Mike’s Sandwich Shop that humbly service the people who happen to truck through Soto and Washington Blvd.

Mike’s is not flashy but rather a homey location—and an obligatory stop for any hockey fan—that is like a routine glove save. The inside is nostalgic, cluttered with memorabilia, banners of all the NHL teams and some warmer colors from the shades on the windows to the tables. The owner is always on hand, overseeing that there is a consistent product being delivered as well as being responsible for the success of this friendly and inviting joint.

Before ordering we looked over the menu, but even before that, the message was clear and abundant, three separate places proclaiming the renown for their signature burger. We—party of three—ordered the “Hockey Burger.” It is equipped with patty, onion, pickle, a couple of hot dog links and some condiments. I could comfortably say that I would not order the hockey burger if it were not so legendary. The thought of mixing both links and patty is not appealing to me.

We took our seats and watched some baseball while we waited… roughly ten minutes later three separate plates were delivered to our table.  We took some ceremonial photos before we ate—even the non-photographer in our group participated in the miniature photo shoot.

After the delay, we dug in. We recognized that the patty was not too thick, which could have helped balance the flavors present in the hot dogs—instead they ran away with it. I wanted to give this burger a ten star just for having a name but unfortunately the flavors did not chime with my palate. However, the vegetables were to my liking; big in volume and lots of raw white onion and crisp iceberg lettuce.

Though the burger was not even close to my favorite, I would not hesitate to try another burger here. The hotdog which was the flagship addition did not jibe but the other components were tried n’ true and especially fresh. Mike is a bona fide fan of hockey and with that attitude he has created an enjoyable and relaxed setting to eat some breakfast (any tine) or a hamburger. Despite the distance and the chronic congestion on the freeways I can see my self happily coming back and I cannot wait for the beginning of the NHL season, and the chance to try a burger there sans hot dogs.

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