700 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (map); 323-666-1166; desertroserestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An attempt at a high-end burger that falls flat
Want Fries with That? Yes; these very crispy, fast food style spuds are the better half of this burger meal
Prices: The D. R. Burger, $8
Notes: The Burger is only on the lunch and happy hour menus
Which burger is closest? That is to say, what is the shortest distance between your front door and a burger? That's the question I asked myself this week. I live in a neighborhood full of eateries, but I was interested in the one that is geographically closest to me. For a New Yorker, this would be a ridiculous enterprise—the restaurant closest might be bland, but an inspired meal would be just twenty paces further down the pavement.
In a city like Los Angeles, a sprawl of American proportions, proximity defines our lifestyle. Choices get made based on the traffic we'll avoid. Neighborhoods take on borders akin to the national divisions between European nations. For a devoted beachgoer on the Westside, my bohemian Eastside seems like another country; the 405 freeway striping a longitudinal divide like some cultural Maginot Line.
I've always resisted the impulse to see the city in these terms. Traveling never seemed hard to me, in my city or elsewhere. For years I had a standing Sunday night date with a burger in Pasadena that meant a trip about as long as a Chunnel trip from England to France. A forty-five minute jaunt to meet a friend, or better yet, a friend and a good meal, never seemed such a big deal to me. But as age has announced itself on my body with unsourceable aches and a distaste for plane travel, I'm slowly recognizing the ease of easy.
This week I headed down the block for a sun-drenched walk to that proverbial, proximal burger. According to the route determined by Googlemaps, Desert Rose would be my endpoint, but it was really just the beginning (of lunch).
Opened by a pair of brothers from Lebanon, Desert Rose is a restaurant and menu that seems built from varied dreams born in the Mediterranean. The space is was built sparing few expenses and the menu is admixture of Middle Eastern and New American dishes.
The gargantuan, glass sculpture of a rose that hangs from the edge of the façade seems wholly out of sync with the identity of Los Feliz neighborhood. It's all rather garish. It's not so much that it lacks the relaxed feel of the neighborhood, but it gives off that put-together feeling of a high-end mall restaurant. Perhaps this is what happens when the realities of aging make even the most committed Bohemians think about 401k plans. At least everything seems to be running smoothly as a collection of black clad servers purposefully criss-cross what must be the largest outdoor-to-indoor seating ratio of any Los Angeles restaurant as fancy as this.
The D. R. Burger looks promising with an advertised choice chuck grind along with caramelized onions, cheese, and brioche bun. The last item is a dangerous one. The brioche bun seems to have become the sine qua non of fancy-pants burger construction and I can't say I'm happy about it. While there have been exceptions, the rule seems to be that brioche buns detract from a delicious burger. Let's hope The D. R. is exceptional.
It arrives without surprise; it's pretty. I suspect it is the aesthetic of the brioche bun that has led to its preeminence. I imagine it would be futile to argue that we don't eat with our eyes to some extent, but I am just so much more interested in the eating I do with my mouth. Speaking of which, let's do some.
The first bite is a surprise. The cheese looks beautifully melted, and there is a noticeable char on the sizable eight ounces of patty, but all I get is a bland, dry mouthful. Clearly, the bun is main culprit. It has the papery, staleness that I've come to associate with even fresh brioche buns, but in this case it's outdone itself. It's hard to imagine how so much moisture from the meat and toppings can be rendered dry, but that seems to be what's happened. The bun seems to be taking a cue from the floral namesake of the restaurant in its ability to suck moisture from its surroundings.
As I continue through the burger it becomes clearer that the bun is not alone its failings. The patty has a mealy, fine grind that makes it feel as though it coming apart in the center in two distinct halves; like two preformed, four-ounce patties were smashed together to make this whole. The caramelized onions have been slow-cooked to such a deep brown that the sweetness and proper texture have been sacrificed for color. The patty itself shows a char, but there is little flavor from it. Half way through, I give up on the burger and turn to the fries and salad that are served with it.
The fries are nicely cooked with just a hint of blistering. The full-bodied flavor and healthy (and large grained) salting is a welcome contrast to the bland and dry burger. They lack that little extra to qualify as truly exceptional, but certainly they are a very good iteration. Along with a house salad that has a few hints of inspiration (Persian cucumbers and a tangy dressing), I am able to salvage a sustaining lunch from my burger order.
While I was able to locate my closest burger, I can't imagine I'll find a reason to come back to it. Desert Rose shows flashes of possibility such that I know I'll be back to try some other options (probably the more Mediterranean-inspired options), but my burgering will still demand a car ride. Maybe I'm not quite ready to settle for easy. Maybe that's a good thing.