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GDShortly after seeing “Man of Steel” my own “super power” emerged. To define it as super may not be entirely accurate—not extraordinary or clearly defined—I hardly knew what it was or why it worked, until there was a moment to document it.

I had pulled off OC’s 55 Freeway at Chapman Avenue and headed east. Diverted from a meeting I was en route to, and unsure of my destination, the immediacy of the hunger pang and sureness of purpose accelerated me swiftly to the red mason adobe ahead.

I’d arrived at Game Day Burgers and Sausages—the place looked of a classic burger joint—resting center on the busy avenue, certain that I was in the right place for lunch.

GD BurgTo my surprise, the quaint establishment had been retrofitted, encompassing an ambitious offering of sandwiches, dogs, burgers and beverages that took original comfort settings to greater heights.

For a reasonable sum (seven dollars) and a short wait, I had a Poblano cheeseburger, with its brioche ajar, where I spied a patty engulfed in chipotle aioli, chopped poblano chili peppers, smoked bacon and spicy jack cheese nestled abed the garden-variety vegetables.

Preoccupied, at first, with a seeming lack of balance, fearful that the peppers would sinisterly tilt the sandwich into an extreme, I had little time to worry about the brioche. The first bite washed out any doubts. Like a finely tuned instrument the cheeseburger struck a balance between the spicy notes on the higher register while supporting them with smoky bites of bacon and a well-seasoned patty holding steady in the bass.  Texture wasn’t underplayed either; the fresh veggies lent crispness to each bite, countering the soft, mop-up effect of the brioche that came together like a Quincy Jones orchestration.

The trip hadn’t been pre-meditated and I had never heard of Game Day before landing there, finding myself drawn to it by a strong and unexplainable force. I was thankful how my sudden pit stop unfolded, even if it’s a far cry from stopping bad guys hell-bent on Earth’s destruction or flying through space to rescue Lois. Maybe super power is pushing it, but I would gladly harness my new skill set to find other killer spots like Game Day Burgers and Sausages on my next outing, for this kind of validation.

After the Burger Bonanza I was really fascinated with Orange County, a place that most look at as a suburb of Los Angeles (those from outside of California) and that I happen to overlook when I am thinking of food, knowing that I was guilty of overlooking some creative sectors harbored within the sprawling county lines. Often denigrated by movies and television shows that depict it in an unflattering light, there is not as much praise heaped on the OC as there should be. Some random Huell Howser-worthy spots and clean beaches but nothing too exciting in the eats department, save for the random chefs sprinkled sparingly around the area, until I heard about Bruxië. A restaurant dedicated to the waffle, in all its incarnations. On a busy Friday, packed with a Ducks game, wine shop visit, wine tasting and party in a remote part of LA, I added the waffle burger to my to do list.

On my trek down South I was accompanied by a friend from work, someone also very involved in the wine scene, making the drive a little more palatable. Before we headed out I allowed him to rummage through my cellar and find a suitable companion for the pairing. He chose one of the more expensive bottles in my apartment collection—a forty-dollar K Vintners Syrah from Morrison Lane (# 298).

I transferred a fair amount of the contents to my flask and we enjoyed a glass of the wine remaining. Packed with a surprising bit of fruit, the wine was not necessarily a Northern Rhone Syrah with the signature bacon fat and green olives but it did blend in some savory components too. With good structure, refined tannins and a long and favorable finish the wine was looking good on its own.

We crisscrossed the Southern California freeways, navigating through an unbelievable amount of traffic for the hour of day to arrive at Bruxië, near Chapman University. It took a while, enough for us both to build up a ravenous hunger and to exhaust my collection of Dr. Dog CDs.

Surveying the surroundings, the building was small; enough to house the kitchen and that was it. Patrons were seated all around the establishment and there were lots of them, basking in the warm rays of the sun. There was one thing I was really not a fan of which was the merchandise case that happened to crowd the counter. I like the idea of being marketable, but food comes first, especially if you are a restaurant; marketing items come unforced and many years down the line. Looking on, we took some time to order, trying to test the joint by coming up with a perfect collection of foods that would compliment our intended reason for the trip—the burger (hope you didn’t forget)—and prove the hypothesis that the waffle is the ideal bread item to be coupled with a wide array of fare, not just novel.

We ordered a couple of burgers, a hotdog, some waffle fries and the Ogura dessert filled with red bean paste. Not too long of a wait before we had our food and the presentation was classic red basket attire, the only difference was that the bulk of the food was waffle wrapped instead of the customary sartorial buns. Minor difference.

I pulled out my flask, and doled out our respective 2.5-ounce pours—this flask was tiny—and proceeded to chow down. Egads my first cheese burger! Due to an oversight on the menu, I had forgot to customize my order and was forced to consume a heaping helping of cheese. It happened to be a saving grace because the burger lacked sufficient seasoning and the cheese added the perfect amount of fat to compensate and make for a richer flavor, otherwise it was pretty bland. To make matters worse, they had overcooked my friend’s patty, making it tougher to finish. The ingredients were fresh and simple but did not really pop and the waffle was out of proportion, leaving behind a gluten trail too large to get through. And that was the theme for the meal; the hotdog was lost inside of the folded waffle not even the sauerkraut could save it. The waffle fries and dessert were finer items rounding out the order but not worth the excursion or the price.

The wine pairing also helped abate the problems with the patty and the over sized waffles but in the end we were disappointed, having been excited about the prospect of finding the perfect oddball burger, we’d instead encountered an expensive bust.

My Ducks also ended their night with a heartbreaking loss, bursting my Orange County bubble, not for good but definitely for a little while. The day was not really a disappointment though, I got to hangout with some friends, have a successful, albeit, one-sided wine pairing and reinforce the notion that there is no real substitute for the classic burger in its most basic outfit.

Last year I started the Burger Bonanza, in hopes of keeping pace with the flurry of gourmet and classic burger establishments opening in Southern California (a large enough drawing board). Devoid of critics, we are not quite the burger police, but reticent to fall for just any patty. I carefully studied the reviews and selected a few standouts to visit, covering more ground in one day than I sometimes would in a month, while being mindful to not overeat, splitting the burgers with the others who partnered on the journey. The original Burger Bonanza was three separate burgers to an excursion, all from within the confines of Los Angeles. This year, I was interested in upstaging my previous efforts, broadening the map to a beginning in Orange County and concluding the burgercurean tour in Los Angeles, visiting four restaurants along the way, with a larger collection of friends and as always trying to find a feasible wine pairing when applicable (unfortunately, only at Mom’s).

The menu du jour quatre fois included a quick pit stop to the Wine Exchange in the city of Orange—to stock up on some wines for this pairing and future events—then off to Peter’s Gourmade Grill, then a brief visit to Compton to try the legendary fare of Mom’s Burgers, a third spot was up to the people who were with me, and finally, ending at Stout. That was the plan and it took some serious resolve to make it work.

I waited for a buddy to carpool with and we headed south. Once at the Wine Exchange I loaded up on Rieslings of all different price ranges, and almost exclusively from Germany, to accompany my newfound preference for sushi and to tag along with the heavily spiced Indian foods that I hope to review. I lost focus among their jaw-dropping assortment of collector wines, priced much cheaper than in Los Angeles, but managed to regain focus and select a sampler of three bottles of Syrah from K Vintners—Morrison Lane, El Jefe and the Cougar Hills—and some more bottles of Vietti Nebbiolo for their already established pairing capacity with burgers, among other more traditional couplings.

After I stockpiled the wines, my friend and I headed out to Peter’s Gourmade Grill and met up with several more friends (new and old) to enjoy some high-end burgers at an unexpected location. Though it is not uncommon to hitch your eatery to a gas station, it just doesn’t conjure the best imaginable burgers and yet, they took top honors for the day. We queued up, placing our orders for the ABC burger loaded with avocado, bacon and cheddar ($5.75), and we shared a plate of Sweet Potato Gooey’s.

There was a major wait at the gas station for these burgers; we watched the cramped kitchen pumping out an endless procession of burgers on the terrifically warm day. Eventually, our meal was plated on soft pastel colors; mine was carrying a generous burger that was a hybrid, a blend of classic with gourmet tendencies. Sourcing the beef, including artisan items and attention to detail while maintaining the cornerstones of burger joints. With a nicely seasoned six-ounce patty, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, homemade pickles, avocado, thick cut bacon, a swath of condiments sitting between a potato bun, and its hidden pearl of a burger, save for the cheese.  The flavors were completely thought out—the bacon added fat and salt, the avocado was creamy and ripe, and the pickles added tartness. The texture of the grind was coarse, making it a signature burger. Everything was measured and worked in concert to create an enjoyably complex bite.

 The side of Sweet Potato Gooey’s was by far the most interesting side I have had at a burger joint, far surpassing fried pickles or chili cheese fries. They were a dessert, reminiscent of a Thanksgiving side, replete with a layer of baked marshmallow atop sweet potato fries and some maple syrup. Spectacular.

Recently I spent some time in Orange County, visiting my cellar and an old friend I had not seen for half a decade, and was set on cultivating newfound food appreciation for sushi. Fresh off of my burger high, I was resolved not to eat another one too soon after—respecting Adam Fleischman’s creation. Instead, I would be jonesing for some foreign fare, flirting with the possibility of nigiri, the authentic sushi experience (let’s not have that debate here). I was also eager to test some theories on harmoniously pairing wine and sushi, since I was late to the game. This is the story of wine number 326.

I can remember my first sushi experience, painfully, when I was younger (about ten years old) and not being able to stomach the cylindrically rice-laden edibles that were laid before me. I could not get past the idea of what I was eating, no matter in retrospect, how mild. My palate has developed immensely in the last fifteen years since my first encounter and I am much more receptive to food in general. A parallel could be drawn to the first time I heard a single from TV on the Radio back in 2003, I was not in the right place to properly receive the band, and instead, I preferred Doug Martsch and J Mascis… TV on the Radio vanished from my radar. It would be another five years before Dear Science made me a believer.

I met my friend in Irvine at the cellar where he helped me usher in the four cases of premium California Pinot Noir among other vinifera. We caught up as I repacked the cellar, shuffling newer vintages to the back while older vintages inched closer to being opened. I also pilfered the cellar, taking two separate bottles of indie Champagne out, one for the sushi dinner and the other for another blog. I do not make it down to Orange County too often so it was imperative I take advantage of my being there by grabbing any bottle I was remotely interested in drinking.

We were done in the cellar and enjoyed some of the amenities of being a member of the Irvine Wine Cellar Club, playing pool, sampling some wines, noshing on a baguette and charcuterie and watching a bit of the final four—though basketball ain’t my sport, especially when UCLA had been ousted in an earlier bracket of the tournament. We were complacent on killing time and reminiscing until my stomach flashed the bat symbol.

It was time to eat, no longer could the salami and other cured meats suppress my appetite. I began to comb my phone (Yelp app) for highly recommended places to eat Japanese in the nearby Irvine area. There was a paucity of acclaimed sushi bars. I made a few calls to check the wine lists, being polite, though I was met with resistance by a few of the restaurants when asking about the wine. I immediately pined for LA where an innocuous question would be happily answered.

The phone calls were awkward at best, I kept hearing the phrase “standard wines” that these restaurants provided, and I could feel the irritation on the phone about having to run through a wine list. What the F*&k does “standard” mean? How can that be a sufficient answer to a customer? After a little probing, I discovered that standard meant stripped down to the basic functioning wine list, and in terms of Champagne, it meant no creativity. Our restaurant (notice how there is no name written), winner by default, served Möet & Chandon White Star, Veuve Clicquot yellow label and Dom Perignon all the brainless but high margin wines to round out a sub-par wine list. I felt that my quest for premium fish would be held off until I was back in LA.

I was happy to bring a bottle of Ployez-Jaquesmart Extra Brut to the table for two reasons; I knew that it would provide an exciting flavor profile against the comparable Veuve Clicquot and that it would be a good introduction to life outside major house Champagne. The idea behind the pairing was that the high acidity found in Champagne would be able to cleanse the palate, leaving the taste buds perked and ready for another roll. Acidity is one of the main attributes that can help make a pairing successful. Sushi rolls are packed with chunks of fatty tuna, or salmon, which add a lot of richness in flavors that need to be reeled in. The acidity cuts the fat and melds the flavors, the ideal situation in any pairing scenario. Sushi rolls some times come tempura-ized and as I can attest—Champagne’s natural affinity for fried foods makes it the perfect match on paper.

After our four rolls were ordered we waited and discussed more life. Ducks hockey dominated the conversation; we were up in the air if the Ducks could dismantle the Sharks—a Pacific Division nemesis—as the hockey season dwindled down to a crucial stage for Anaheim making the playoffs.

The food arrived and the presentation was busy but pleasant. The rolls were inviting, packed with fish and fresh vegetables, waiting to be plucked by our chopsticks. The first few bites were enjoyable and exactly what I had wanted, until my hand navigated to the tempura roll—that was rough. Erring on the fried side, it was the least agreeable roll on the table and it definitely called for some Champagne to erase the heavy coating of oil that came with it. The Ployez-Jaquesmart was up to the task of assuaging the grease but not as bright as I would have liked. The vibrancy was downplayed, offering toastier and autolysis notes of baked brioche and toasted nuts. I was hoping to see more citrus and Pippin apple on the palate to counteract the fresh squeezed lemon juice atop the Cohiba rolls—which were the darlings of the four rolls. The Champagne did not mesh perfectly but it was still able to restart the palate and play the setup man to the sushi.

After dinner, my Japanese craving was slaked, I had successfully spent the day in Orange County, visited my cellar and was looking forward to capping the night with the Ducks game; it had been an active day and I was happy with the results of the Champagne and food pairing, even though this particular bottle was not the best match, the components behaved expectedly. In the future I hope to incorporate more sushi bars (with the help of my readers’ suggestions) from Los Angeles with wine, maybe even pop a few bottles of Riesling—another high acid wine—and eventually graduate to nigiri. I said goodbye to my old friend and invited him up to LA to enjoy another round of catch up and sushi, hopefully years wont pass before that transpires. I will keep you posted.

It was a rough day.  I was completely bored at work, I hadn’t slept at all well, and my chronic back pain was ablaze with a fury not unlike one could imagine a rhinoceros experiences when he wakes to find the stock market has tanked and his entire 401(k) has just vanished into a puff of putrid fart fumes.  Yes, readers, that morning I was hurting, and there were two things that it was entirely necessary for me to get on my lunch break, each of which, ideally, would make me feel better in its own way: a professional deep-tissue massage, and a juicy delicious bacon and avocado hamburger with crisp golden french fries and a ice cold root beer.

Luckily, in Costa Mesa near my work, just behind the Denny’s at Red Hill and Bristol, there happens to be a small (and as it turned out, particularly mediocre) massage parlor.  And even more fortunately, just across the street there was a quaint little spot called Bill’s Burgers which appeared to be just what this hungry guy was seeking.

A message, a message from the lord! God be praised!

I walked in to find a large movie-theater-billboard-style menu populated with classic American fast-food cuisine and a solid set of options for Mexican dining, if one were inclined to order such rubbish fare (I was in burger mode).  I found it very interesting that there was no Greek — or Mediterranean cuisine of any kind — on the menu, and yet, the cups were handsomely adorned with coliseums and statues of discvs [sic] throwers.  Interesting…

The woman at the register was a little short with me at first, but when I showed that i was friendly and smiley and asked questions about whether I could get bacon AND avocado on my burger, and how much would it cost please, she actually turned out to be quite friendly and rang my burger up in such a manner that it came out to cost some 80 cents cheaper than had she rung it up the other way.  I tipped her well (total out-of-pocket being $10) and took my unique order number placard to a table in the restaurant dining area — which was about as close to Coco’s decor as I could imagine any other restaurant being, lawsuit-free — and began sipping at my boiled sassafras beverage.

McDaphne's Famous Lamburgers?

I took a beat to scan the room and observe my fellow diners.  I was pleased to find that Bill’s had a very eclectic clientele, ranging from skateboard-wielding high-school hipsters (no doubt grabbing lunch at a less pricey alternative to the dining options at the nearby “trendsetter” breeding ground, The Lab) to kind-eyed senior citizens enjoying an old local Costa Mesa favorite.  Despite their stark differences, these people all seemed pleased to be where they were, and as such, my expectations simmered.  I felt at peace with my new by-proximity friendships, and my nerves calmed as the hour of be-burger-ment drew near.

Then it came. Visual first impression: ‘OK, this could be good!’  Oral first impression: ‘OK… this could be better…’ This burger was not great.  Everything about it seemed to fall just a little short of good-enough, much like every Adam Sandler movie since The Wedding Singer (Punch Drunk Love exempt).  The patty was too small and thin for the bun and lacked flavor or spice of any kind.  There was not nearly enough tomato, though the tomato was fresh, and the iceberg lettuce was standard and boring.  The bacon was too crispy and flavorless, and the spread was Thousand Island dressing.  This burger’s not winning any originality awards, not that I was expecting it to.

The one ingredient that Bill* seemed to actually care about was the avocado, and apparently, in Bill’s twisted burger brain, it’s totally cool to compensate for all shitty other ingredients by stuffing in way way way too much avocado, thus bringing “balance” to the burger.  I’m pretty sure there was an entire avocado on my burger.  The poor sandwich was swamped, and even it if wasn’t, it just wouldn’t hold up to any of the burger sensations I’ve experienced up in Los Angeles.  Fortunately for your blogging friend here, there was something else on the plate.  The fries were actually were actually not bad, though they were not anything particularly exciting.  They were just done right.  The root beer was good too.

'Avocado volume is inversely proportional to overall burger crappiness!' - Bill
'Nope.' - Eric

All in all, it was a pretty disappointing lunch hour, but I’m glad to say that we all learned a valuable lesson here: Don’t put pantheons and olympians on your cups if you want people to think you sell a good hamburger, because you don’t.  Especially if you’re Bill’s Burgers.

*There wasn’t any person Bill that I actually saw, I’m anthropomorphizing the establishment.

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