The Distinguished Gourmand: Comme Ça
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My quest to find the best hamburger in Los Angeles continued tonight following a healthy break from the food scene. Exploring the city’s sundry burger options led to a surprising (but not really) weight increase. I’ve gained 7 pounds since October. Conversely, my wallet has lost weight since October. Oh well, I’ve heard some wonderful things about the burger at Comme Ça, and I looked forward to shoving it down my food hole. Or, as less-erudite food critics say, I looked forward to tasting it.
The restaurant’s website touts their “famous burger,” by stating, “You haven’t been able to resist it for lunch. You’ve craved it late at night and had it with a nightcap. Now, for a limited time, have the famous Comme Ça Burger for dinner any night of the week. Or every night. We know you’re tempted.” And tempted I was! And travel I did! And car she rode! And traffic there wasn’t! And parking was found! Way down on Melrose, on that stretch of pavement and brick which fills me with fear and resentment whenever I venture there. Ah, the West Side. Bastion of the rich and pampered. Purveyors of fast fashion. Snorters of cocaine. Area not meant for Evan. Call it what you will, it’s where some of the finest burgers in this city are served. For such a great reward, I can find the time and the courage to sit there for an hour while someone cooks me food and places it in front of me.
The thing about Comme Ça is that I can’t decide if it is formal or casual. The hostesses and wait staff are all young and friendly. People show up wearing jeans and a t-shirt (at least I did). But the air inside this restaurant is a bit stiff. It feels much more haughty than it is. Maybe I’m just used to slamming my drinks on the table and spilling things everywhere, but I felt like that behavior simply would not have been acceptable in this hallowed bistro.
I kind of wanted to try their soupe a l’oignon gratinée but I didn’t want to be “that guy,” who shows up early in the evening and just orders soup and a sandwich. So, I let Nicci talk me into the endive salad, which was surprisingly good. The walnut vinaigrette was light, and the Roquefort was not as bleu-y as I expected. Pear and walnuts. Nice touch. Put ’em all together and what do you get? …It’s a salad. What, you were expecting a revolutionary new food item?
They make their own cocktails at Comme Ça. Pretty good ones, too. Not on the same level as Firenze Osteria, but not bad either. Nicci had the whiskey sour (with egg whites!?) and I had something called the Pepper Smash, which was rye, honey, muddled lemons, basil and red pepper. It was nice. I kind of felt like a homo drinking it. That’s no one’s fault but my own.
Nicci chose the duck confit for her main course, and it both looked and tasted great. It was plated with pommes Lyonnaise (potatoes with onions) and braised red cabbage. I don’t normally like cabbage, but that was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. The duck was cooked to perfection. It was a delicious dish. Wait a minute — delicious dish — look at that alliteration. I’m like Walt Whitman! Give me my Pulitzer!
Alright, let’s cut the shit. You’re hear to read about the burger. I was there to eat the burger. So, how was it? It was…really good. It looks stunning on its plate alongside a flute of french fries and a small serving of spicy lemon-mayo dipping sauce. The bun is a work of art, and I say that as someone who could survive on just bread and be perfectly happy for the rest of my life. Plus I took one art class in college. So I know a thing or two about the expression of human creative skill and imagination. It was thick, flawlessly toasted, and it complimented the patty like… (oh God, here’s where I have to use some kind of academic analogy if I’m ever going to prove myself as a food blogger) …like I compliment girls with huge tits (dammit! I totally screwed that up. Here, take back my Pulitzer). Then there’s the meat. Hefty, bulbous (like the head of my penis, even!), and dripping with fatty juices (like the head of my…oh, nevermind), it demands your attention. I’ve read that the cooking process involves a quick sear before finishing in a 375-degree oven. Whatever it is, it works. Lastly, there’s the bubbling layer of cheddar cheese and an abnormally large serving of iceberg lettuce and onions doused in some kind of rich, creamy dressing. Some might call it a slaw. I’ll be damned if I’m going to subscribe to whatever culinary tradition THOSE people endorse. Ok, fine. It’s a slaw.
Well, there’s a problem. Taken as individual elements, everything is fantastic. Even the slaw is really tasty. The problem is, you need to take the lettuce/onion/dressing off the burger to really enjoy it. The burger’s salty notes disappear when consumed with that mess of slaw. It takes grooming the Comme Ça burger down to a size that is both edible and flavorful to taste its splendor. Once I was down to meat, cheese, and bread I felt like I understood the essence of the thing — and it was damned good — but if I’m going to be comparing this burger to others served in Los Angeles, I have to decide whether or not to rate it “as is.” Without the toppings it might be one of the better burgers in the city. But with it? I don’t know…
Comme Ça is the kind of place I wish I could regularly frequent. Their menu is filled with items I would love to try, from hors d’oeuvres such as the aforementioned onion soup to entrées like braised pork short ribs with apple-cherry root purée and collard greens, three cheese agnolotti, rack of lamb, or Wednesday’s special Cassoulet. The problem is, I don’t have the money to do so, and it’s going to take at least five more trips there until I can feel comfortable in that room. I should mention that Nicci had no problems with the atmosphere or ambiance. She thought it was really cool. Perhaps I’m just being neurotic. No, wait. I’m always neurotic. Perhaps I’m just being me.
Comme Ça! Good burger! We’ll see where you stand at the end of 2010 when I officially formulate my first Top Ten Burgers In Los Angeles list!
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