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Juliette MThe competition in Los Angeles is fierce for the gourmet; streets, strip malls and hotels overrun with deep menu choices for the discerning. Unfortunately, the healthy competition doesn’t drive prices down. I went south, to Orange County, snooping for value.

I found myself in Newport, exiting the 73 Freeway at Birch and looping around until I had arrived at Juliette Kitchen + Bar for a late lunch (3:00 PM!!!). I was starved and when I saw they offered a burger there was only one thing left to decide… which side?

For fear of being weighted down on my long trek back to Los Angeles, I opted for a green salad (bigger and better than bargained for) to accompany the Juliette burger. Attention was paid to the au courant burger, plated on charcuterie board with a dill pickle spear accent.

Leafy greens and a robust tomato were first to meet the eye. The airy brioche dominated the rest of my landscape view, framing a decent patty that was coated in a fine layer of aged cheddar. After a few snaps of the iPhone I took my first bite, finding a perfect medium-rare on a well-seasoned and crusted patty. Beyond the foundation though, I quibbled with the choice of bun. I’ve eaten a few superb burgers, including Little Bear that successfully played up the strengths of the French pastry roll—using it as a toasted sponge to absorb the combination of jus and kriek spread that spilled freely from their signature sandwich.

At Juliette however, the puffy brioche was painted as an outsized bandit, robbing an otherwise quality sandwich of its balance and left me with many-a-bite that were all bread and veggies.

From a great beginning, a surprising starter to the attractive presentation of the Juliette Burger my late lunch wrapped up with a what-might-have-been-finish. A better distribution of ingredients and perhaps, a compact Kaiser Roll or potato bun, in lieu of the ubiquitous brioche, and I am positive it would’ve been a fairytale ending.

Little BearRecently, on a beer kick that I couldn’t shake, I stumbled upon Little Bear—a Belgian Beer Café—stooped on its corner of Industrial Street (in Downtown LA), across from Church and State, serving epic fare (ambitious burgers) and belly filling brews behind a big red door.

Lunch at Little Bear fostered a casual vibe, workers relaxing behind their hazy witbier and lively discussions whose acoustic bounce off the vaulted ceilings ramped up the buzz; we planted ourselves central to our surroundings, carefully selecting liquid accompaniment to the ordination of midday burgers.

More than the De Ranke Saison that filled my chalice, I was curious to see how well the Little Bear burger worked because, at fifteen dollars, the stakes were high.

Fire CrackTo get our fill, we began with crispy firecracker shrimp that were plated tail up, with a Thai dipping sauce and cilantro garnish. As easy on the eyes as they were on the tongue, possessing a lovely fried snap, the rich crustacean filling was given a lift by the sweet peanut sauce on a starter that boasted it all from texture to taste.

Two Little Bear burgers landed next, sharing their ceramic plates with a spread of Flanders frites. Photo-worthy. The Little Bear burgers were decked out with a large patty covered in bubbling Stilton cheese, fried onion crisps, mushrooms, truffle oil and kissed with cherry gastrique all between a toasted sesame studded brioche bun.  Simplifying burger arithmetic: they were working the sweet ‘n savory angle.

The first bite lacked balance; the Stilton came in hot and heavy, as did the truffle oil dominating the beef. As I inched closer to the core however the sandwich had found its groove, blending umami characteristics with the sweet kriek spread and cubing it all with the textural crunch of the fried onions. Sublime bites. The bun also showed better than most brioches, the toasting was perfect, complimenting the gamut of flavors and keeping its integrity as the burger discharged its jus to burst its bounds.

With a crescendo that would make Ravel envious the Little Bear burger’s flavor trajectory was exponentially up, gathering steam with each ensuing bite. It was complex and quite filling, leaving me to meditate over the farmhouse ale. Impressive, when you consider the price (which included the spuds), that Little Bear could over-deliver! For beer geeks and burger enthusiasts alike, Little Bear struts easily into E.O.M. territory for March!

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