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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.

Burgundies were the theme of Tuesday’s tasting; we sampled through a geographic swath of producers from Beaune and beyond, dotting the hillsides of the eastern part of France. An area well known (an understatement) for producing Pinot Noir and some instances of steely Chardonnay—as is the case with Chablis—and we were afforded a tremendous opportunity to taste a set of seven from multiple vintages and appellations from Côtes de Nuits.

We broke the tasting into two groups, giving the wines a fighting chance to distinguish themselves on our palates. We would analyze all that we tasted and they were, and in this order:

04 Goisot Irancy Les Mazelots

05 Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Vosne-Romanée

06 Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Bourgonge Rouge

07 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Pommard

06 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Nuit-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos de Grande Vignes

96 Domaine Chandon de Brailles Savigny-Les-Beaune

95 Hubert de Montille Bourgogne Rouge

I hate to be that guy but among the second grouping sipped, we tried a couple of older vintages and my palate was won over by the most expensive of the lot—96 Chandon de Brailles. When I taste I do not like to know the price, I never want to be swayed or influenced by any factors other than the pure expression of the juice. It was an elegant wine, aged for fifteen years. Refined and focused, with tart, dried cherries on the palate, and a long and lingering finish that gripped me like hearing Jon Brion’s “Little Person” for the first time (only a little less melancholy).

I left that course on a high note and was in good spirits when I attended my Bordeaux-centric class the following day (mustering a bit of courage to start a conversation with that girl from my class too), and hoping for a wine in the works to woo me like that Burgundy a day before.

Unfortunately I did not find one to outshine the Pinot Noir though it was still a great session.

We tasted first instead of taking notes; an assorted collection of three wines (two of which were from the California) to emphasize the differences between new and old world wines—I could only imagine.

We tasted three sets in total in this sequence:

00 Ch. Sociando-Mallet

07 Ch. Chasse Spleen

05 Ch. D’Issan

06 Domaine De Chevalier

06 Ch. Calon-Segur

05 Ch. Lagrange

06 Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal

07 Ch. Julien Malbec

01 Ch Magdelaine

02 Domaine Georg Rafael Cabernet Sauvignon

There were some fine examples of smoothed out silky tannins like the 01 Château Magdelaine. The other aged bottle of the set Château Sociando-Mallet and the younger wines of Lagrange and Haut-Bages-Liberal stood out for their unique and well crafted styles, combining fruit and structure, making some thunder when it was time to do a group review of the wines.

Out of all the wines tasted in the Bordeaux class, the most favorable for my palate was the Ch. Lagrange with it’s ripe blackberry flavors and the weight on the tongue—it was not the most layered or too nerdy but it was delicious.

The vin of the Golden State did not exhibit the elegance of it’s ancestors, with the Malbec being a quite aggressive tribute in terms of alcohol and then there were the aggressive drying tannins found in the Domaine Georg Rafael. A poor showing for California.

A sweep of France’s vast terrain in my glass over two days time, trying some great wine at breakneck speed, while I continue to pass another mile marker, 450 wines to go before I hit 500. I have already tasted fifty wines (head shakes quickly… cannot believe it) in under a month and while some people do not drink that many wines in a year I know that I have a lot of work to do before I can achieve my goal.

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