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I have been maintaining a burger & wine blog for few months more than a year now and in no way has my love lessened for my favorite comfort food nor the more venerated beverage that sometimes quaffing keeps them company–instead, my appreciation for both has grown exponentially. As my burger count grows like a tomato under the summer sun, friends, family and other people who learn of my quest keep me apprised on newer establishments and other burgers that they hold dear. My roommate last month had shared with me a burger that he thought was incredible and I worked on my little burger planner, inserting Upper West into the count somewhere between G Burger and The Standing Room. It’s a packed schedule but burgers and wine are no joke.

I assembled a large group—ten strong—reserving a spot to dine at Upper West on a Saturday night. Not quite sure what to expect aside from a “great burger.” Would this place be a let down? What kind of scene was it? There were a lot of questions brewing before I got there.

Arriving just west of the 10 freeway on Pico Boulevard, I had met up with my friends, already seated in the back. Making my way to the table, Upper West was projecting Some Like it Hot behind us. The films were an interesting touch that made me think of San Francisco where similar open-air and enclosed cinema-on-the-wall-during-dining occurs. There were clear glass partitions separating dining rooms while still affording us a wonderful vantage point on the other parties in the restaurant. The space was comfortably upscale and suddenly my visions of a perfect burger were coming into focus.

You would think ordering would be difficult and rather drawn out with ten different diners but you would be wrong and what’s more is that less than half of my friends ate the burger—the menu was rife with delicious alternatives that lessened the burger’s appeal. I was resolved but threw in a request for a vegetable Carpaccio. The only hitch in the giddyup was ordering wine; we wanted to enjoy ourselves, ordering two bottles of wine that would compliment most of the fare and we needed to be economical because a dive into the wine list can be a costly decision.

My buddy from my wine class and I put our heads together to come up with something that we thought would be fruit forward and a bang for the buck—basically we stayed new world and went with a Carménère and Garnacha.

The Kunza Carmenere (#219) and Santo Cristo Garnacha (#218) were brought to our table quickly and parceled out, evenly, splitting the wines amongst us all. We performed group sniffs and tasted the wines. Both were adequate decisions and I was intrigued by the chalkiness of the tannins in the Kunza Carménère—a reason I am particularly drawn to that grape. It finished with a healthy dose of ripe plum and was enjoyable on its own.

All eyes were on the only starter—the vegetable Carpaccio; a picturesque dish with filleted golden beets under goat cheese scoops, bean sprouts, Meyer Lemon and an earthy midsection. It was good and nice (no deprecation intended) to see the formal showcase but I was ready for the burger after a few bites.

When the burgers hit the table, I was dubious; the presentation seemed a little too flashy, arriving on a cutting board with a dagger (steak knife) piercing the core of the brioche bun and atop the bun were a pair of bread and butter pickles. Odd. To the right stood a metal cup stuffed delicately with fries, providing balance to the canvas—it made me feel like I was about to eat a MOCA exhibit.

The dressed-up burger came with an onion marmalade that was sweet and tangy, the pasilla pepper goat cheese spread added sharpness and the dry aged grind was particularly tasty in rounding out the flavors with savory notes; it was clear that the gimmicky* plating was carrying a carefully crafted burger.

The meat was tender and cooked perfectly medium, the bun was soft and did not wince under the jus that escaped the patty… almost all the components were executed textbook. The only imperfection I found—and for fifteen dollars I am going to be critical—was that the burger was a touch over-seasoned (a little too much salt). With that one exception it was clearly worth the price of admission and probably one of my favorite gourmet burger experiences.

The ambiance was relaxed and chic, the food fit the bill, the wine list was reasonable and the only real headache was splitting a bill by ten, other than that, my roommate was right, they do have a great burger, enough to make me readjust my top five in LA. Kudos, Ryland.

* I feel the presentation was bit overstated but from reading this blog you know I have a fondness for the traditional and understated.

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