410 Boyd Street, Los Angeles CA 90013 (map); 213-626-1800; theescondite.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A "secret" bar needs some serious work on its burger construction
Want Fries with That? Yes; these fresh cut spuds were the only enjoyable part of the meal
Prices: Capt Kangaroo (w/fries or salad), $11; Ricardo Montalban (w/fries or salad), $9
The Escondite takes its name from the Spanish word meaning "hideout," and the owners, Brian Traynam (co-owner of Bar 107) and Erin Carnes (a former bartender at Pete's Cafe) seem to have taken the idea seriously. They set up shop in the space that used to be home to 410 Boyd and haven't changed the signage. Theirs is a bar meant to a secret. The owners have said that they hope it's a place just for locals. So that's why they do interviews about it and have a website that urges those special few with an internet connection to "get down here fast!"
Ok, so I'm not so much enamored of the whole "secret" restaurant thing. It's such a transparent coolness-grab that it seems vaguely untoward. That said, I've forgiven more than one "secret" burger for the simple reason that they were absolutely delicious. I headed downtown to The Escondite with the hopes that the outcome would be the same. Oh, how sad it is to have one's burger hopes dashed.
The Escondite is trying to have fun with the burger by creating a series of over-the-top topping combinations and giving them cheeky names. The first one I tried was the Capt Kangaroo, a six-once patty underneath an over easy egg, Canadian bacon, hash browns, gravy, and Cholula. For most this would be an adventure into the burger unknown, but when you dive into the burger abyss professionally you're likely to have already come upon something like this. I did a couple of years ago at the superlative Rustic Canyon, where chef Evan Funke cooked up a "Breakfast Burger" that pretty much created a tear in the space-time continuum it was so good. The Escondite version? As the kids say, not so much.
First off and perhaps most importantly, the meat was downright bad. This slab of commercial chuck had that unappealing acidic tang and my medium rare burger came out well done in only the bad sense. I thought the six ounces wouldn't be enough to taste against the heaps of toppings and bulbous bun, but perhaps that it wasn't larger was its only virtue. The toppings themselves weren't well-constructed and the Canadian bacon was ridiculously salty (and this comes from a burger reviewer who loves salt!). The huge bun wasn't nearly as overdone in ratio as one would imagine because of all of the toppings, but it's a brioche-style that isn't so appealing in flavor or texture.
I begrudgingly tried a second burger, the Ricardo Montalban. It's slathered in sour cream, refried beans, cheddar cheese, red onion, and arugula. First off, it was clear that despite the only two other tables in the place the cook rushed through the preparation of this burger. That is, unless it's served with the cheese intentionally un-melted. Once again, the meat wasn't tasty and the patty was overcooked, though it was much closer to the correct doneness than the other. The toppings on this one were surprisingly flat; the beans and sour cream became a glob of smooth texture rather than complementary flavor and the cheese just sank into the background. Overall, this was a thoroughly unappealing burger.
The Escodite made a minor comeback with its fresh-cut fries. They were heavily seasoned and cooked just past the raw point, giving them a nice firm texture and strong potato flavor underneath that seasoning. It's a solid technique for this kind of fry since the heavy seasoning can overpower the potato if the fries get overcooked.
It may surprise you to hear that I went to The Escondite with proper expectations. Yes, I gave them a bit a hard time about the faux-secret thing, but I'd heard a series of positive responses to their burgers. Perhaps my visit was an anomaly, or perhaps there is more appreciation of this burger style in the world than in my burger heart. Either way, The Escondite is one burger secret that, for me, isn't worth keeping.