9162 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills CA 90212 (map); 310-265-2836; miru8691.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This quirky sushi bar has a dedicated chef that is committed to his version of burger artistry, but he needs to work on some of the basics
Want Fries with That? I'd opt for the onion tempura (i.e., onion rings) instead
Prices: C.L.T. or O.G. Burger, $9, The Combo (burger, side and a beer), $16
When you here the word "artist" to describe a chef there is, invariably, the assumption that the he or she makes delicious food. In this case, that's not exactly what I mean. Young Korean chef Miru Jung makes undeniably artistic burger creations at his quirky little restaurant on a sleepy strip of Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills, but not necessarily the kind of burgers that delight my taste buds.
His restaurant Miru 8691 is a bit of an exercise in the unexpected. Its primary identity is a sushi bar, but Miru is of Korean descent and is obsessed with burgers. His dedication was in full demonstration after my first visit (with burger faithful, Pete Neumann, who loves Miru's creations). I received a long email asking for advice and insight into great burger making. I encouraged Miru to continue to embrace his imagination with a few tweaks to the basics.
Since then he managed to garner the attention of the Food Network series Crave. When I went back a second time (with Serious Eater Farley Elliott) the burger creativity was still off the charts, but the burger flavor still lacked the basics that I crave.
I started with the C.L.T. Burger, which is Miru's "straightforward" cheese, lettuce, and tomato offering. Of course, little is straightforward about this burger. The beef, a thick eight-ounce patty (listed as Kobe, which means wagyu), gets loads of spices in addition to salt and pepper. This is certainly a way to make a burger your own, but it can also turn a patty into a version of meatloaf. While I've certainly had much worse offenders when it comes to the meatloaf-ification of a burger, Miru's leans that direction. The inherent added fat content of Wagyu helps conserve some juice, but the effect of the premixed seasoning tightens the meat in a way that lessens the impact of the grind.
The patty is topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, roasted tomato (which I liked), a cheese blend that seems designed for maximum melt (my burger came out in a viscous cheese puddle), "drunken" onions that are cooked in red wine and butter, and lastly, a Parmesan tuile. The bun, which I know Miru's been experimenting with, was a brioche-style, higher-end version.
The overall effect is, as it reads, complicated. There are flavors that absolutely work, like the Parmesan and roasted tomato, but they're undermined by what I find to be a common shortcoming at Miru: the patty. Take my patty's tightened texture that comes with pre-seasoning the beef (read Kenji's excellent breakdown on why that happens in this Burger Lab post), add to that some serious over-cooking, and you get a patty that needs some basic craft added to its artfulness.
The O.G. Burger is Miru's take on the classic chili cheeseburger. His heavily seasoned beef blend gets topped with lettuce, fried onions, jalapeño, cheese, and seven spiced aioli in addition to his chili. This "chili" barely qualifies under most definitions (no beef, no beans), but Miru manages to turn a 24-hour tomato-based stew into something redolent of an Eastern take on chili. It's actually a fun take on the classic, but again the beef left me dry.
Don't think the crazy creations stop at burgers. Miru will make you a plate of fries that's topped with tuna. Yes, you read that right: raw fish over fries. It's actually a much stronger dish than I would have imagined, but I'm not sure I'd order it again. (Regular fries with a spiced ketchup are also available, and is a better option for burger purists.)
I also tried go with the much more traditional and much tastier tempura onion (Miru's take on the onion ring). They were crispy and salty and really nicely rendered. In fact, it was an example of Miru's creativity being properly balanced with his craft and speaks to his potential.
I like Miru—the person Miru, and I'd even say I like his restaurant. His commitment to making his dream of a great restaurant a reality is palpable when talking to him. (This is a guy who began as a dishwasher as a teenager.) There are moments of real inspiration in his creations that are worthy of recognition. In fact, I feel like it's fair to say that his is a burger that, for those dedicated to trying all of the relevant burgers in town, makes the list. When he finds a balance with his burger craft I think his burgers will be exactly the kind of culinary artpiece I'd happily call dinner.