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Rain favors Indian food the way battle favors the swift, but an end of the year fast-food pledge approached with a chance for giving out a good grade.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the establishment, has been flowering like backyard morning glories, taking Southern California root, coming to the doorstep of my alma mater, planting itself minutes from my apartment. The red-checkered burger purveyor was hard to ignore and would be my stop for a to-go order on a wet Saturday evening.

I found parking closest to Broxton Avenue (it remains a constant challenge in the Village), and noticed a dynamic culinary landscape—hardly recognizable from three years ago. A surplus of great choices now existed for students, staff and denizens to dine after school or work, from The Lime Truck and 800 Degrees to Umami. Westwood was mid-food-Renaissance. Trying to stay dry as I advanced upon it, Five Guys appeared like a beacon gleaming brightly through drops on my watery lenses.

Inside my eyes followed a disciplined checkered motif that ran to the counter. Buns next to a chalkboard, scrawled with potato origins (Washington State) and ample peanuts on the countertop, to be shelled by those who wait for all good things. To my custom order, I added a regular side of Cajun fries with some sliced jalapeño ($9).

AmancayaFood in hand I ran to the car—the rain had intensified over the ten-minute wait. With my warm goods and a rally car pace I uncorked an Argentine red and plated the burger and fries as I walked briskly in the door. The tinfoil sphere yielded my customized burger with lettuce, tomato, raw diced white onion, pickles and a little mayo—standard setting—holding the bacon and American cheese for another occasion. The patties (about a quarter inch per) were bigger than expected and lightly seasoned upon first bite. The burger came together well and was exactly as I wanted, the accompaniment (bread ‘n butter pickles and raw onion) adding texture and depth. The extra bites of the pepper weren’t forgotten, jolting the palate intermittently, as I devoured the sandwich. The bun took the worst of the drive home, where the rest of the ingredients were still crisp, the sesame seed bread was quite squishy.

With the burger I was drinking Amancaya Gran Reserva—a blend of Malbec (65%), emitting those luscious black cherry, new leather and sweet spice aromas, and Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), lending structure and medium fine tannins that coated the palate softly. Every minute the Amancaya opened it better served the food.

Skipping curry and bharta could not have been a better idea. The pairing of food and wine was textbook, and my brief journey to Westwood was pleasantly surprising. A good showing for fast-food too, though I’m not sure where the purists will weigh in since Five Guys doesn’t make use of a drive-thru. Regardless, the burger was solid and one of the highlights in my fast-food hunt.

The Finnish Flash had done it again. Teemu Selanne, at age 40 came up huge for the Anaheim Ducks in the last couple games. His goal with seconds left in regulation against the Dallas Stars Wednesday evening propelled them to an eventual win in overtime and pushed my already stellar day into the boundaries of excellence. The day continued to get better exponentially, meeting a dynamic wine and business figure, catching a thrilling game and even reviewing a burger I never dreamed would be covered by the Maverick Palate.

My day broke in Claremont McKenna College, in the Pomona area, where I attended a lecture given by the charismatic and exciting figure, Gary “Vay.Ner.Chuk” (Vaynerchuk), to discuss his new book The Thank You Economy.” I was very excited about seeing the man behind the webisodes of WLTV and the Daily Grape because he has been an influential part of developing my interests in Sparkling wine and Rieslings.

The talk was fast-paced and exciting. Although I will not recount the finer points of the presentation, I hope that you check out an episode below to familiarize yourself with such an enthusiastic character.

Once I was back at my place I got ready for a burger outing that I had orchestrated a week before. Choosing to dine local, I selected Westwood Village as the canvas because the students of UCLA were on Spring Break and parking would be less of a hassle. I originally had planned to pair Jose Bernsteins—Jose B’s for short— with a bottle of 2009 Les Halos de Jupiter. However I would leave the burger up to the group after it was met with grumbles and moans in my planning process. I waited for the hour and vote to draw near, until then, occupying my time with the Ducks battling a Pacific Division foe for a chance to pull ahead in the playoff standings.

The game was low scoring until the third period, where the Ducks surrendered the lead twice, giving Dallas momentum at two critical points in the game, only to tie it in more dramatic fashion another couple of times. The game looked over at certain point, but Teemu Selanne had not given up—and neither did the Ducks. He potted the game-tying goal with seconds to spare that sent me to the moon with excitement and left me shouting in glee for all my neighbors to hear.

The Ducks capitalized early in the extra session, on a two on one with Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler splitting the D and putting the circle in the square to seal the fate of the Dallas Stars and silence the hometown fans. It was really fantastic to be on the winning side of that tussle.

On to Burgers, after we congregated near the originally scheduled burger joint, the people in attendance chose Fatburger. I was as surprised as you are. I favor the independent burger joints and did not see that coming… but welcomed the change, corrected our location, and got our ticket for our new destination (apologies to Paul Simon).

We ordered immediately from the menu, most people customizing their orders, except for me, and, unfortunately that may have lead to my demise. What stood out from my last experience with Fatburger years ago was their use of mustard and relish, two condiments I appreciate but feel they have no place on a burger.

When the group of hungry friends made it back to my apartment, I quickly popped the corked of the red Rhone wine from Costières de Nîmes to allow for some breathing time and to check that it was not corked.

We gathered around the table, I gave my talk about the wine, the region and played the what-do-you-guys-smell-and-taste-game with the guests. We decided that there was meatiness, some black pepper and a little fruit on the nose. On the palate, the committee met this wine with dissatisfaction, the fruit had been covered in fresh cracked pepper and the finish of the wine was rather aggressive and hot.

I assured my friends that the wine was typical of the area; the high alcohol was a symptom of the heat the area encounters and can cause a surge in ABV (alcohol by volume). When we paired it with the burger, the edge of the wine was dulled but it still did not catch the fancy of my friends. I decided to pull a bottle of the 2007 The Rebel Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Washington.

That Cabernet perked up the tasters, it had more muddled blackberries, blueberries and oak nuances that people appreciated without the cloying alcohol that the Rhône wine had. It was agreeable. The burger bothered me a bit for reasons I have already listed, but felt that the patty was considerably heftier than I’d expected (1/2 lb.) and as I surveyed my friends they all told me that they did not have mustard or relish on their burgers and they were all content.

In the end I may have to redo my Fatburger experience and alter my menu driven hamburger by limiting the condiments. Aside from that I was okay with riding the tides of an exciting day all the way to shore and subtracting another pair of bottles from my Countdown-to-500 (335 remain). It was so nice to see Finnish wines were aging so well this time of year.

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