3280 Helms Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034 (map); 310-838-7500; beacon-la.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A minor tweaking makes this a major burger.
Want Fries with That? Yes. Professionally executed fries that remind you the man behind the potato plan is an accomplished chef.
Prices: Grilled Half-Pound Burger with fries, $10.95
Notes: Happy hour (Tues. to Fri. from 5:30 p.m - 7 p.m.) is full of good deals including a mini version of the burger for $3.95.
It could reasonably be argued that all contemporary cuisine is fusion cuisine. Cooking traditions have been so thoroughly seasoned by cultural exchange that attempts to argue for the purity of one is akin to trying to uncook a soup. Rather than usher in an era of big tent cooking theory, the inherent difficulty in parsing difference in cuisine has meant international rows over the origin of a chicken dish.
Of course, when we say fusion there is very little about the notion that is tied to facts; rather, we are summoning abstract ideas of what makes cultures different. We can't necessarily define it, but we know it when we taste it. In California, the sine qua non of the fusion cooking conversation is Asian fusion. Popularized by Wolfgang Puck, the idea of mixing a little miso into the meal became as American as apple pie (or is it strudel?). It was looked upon as a revolution in cooking, but in its architecture, it was simply another version of the American formula: a mix of national and ethnic traditions coming together as one.
Beacon in Culver City describes itself as an "Asian café" which, in Los Angeles, means that the menu is a Pan-Asian admixture of dishes that rub up against American and European standbys. I, as you might imagine, stand by burgers in all forms, so I ordered the Beacon version and found myself in the midst of one of the better fusions I've come across.
Chef Kazuto Matsusaka is a Japanese native who emigrated to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. At least, that's how his bio reads, but whether finding his way into a kitchen in Los Angeles was all by design or a matter of happenstance, when you hear that he found his way into a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, their seems a bit of grand design to it. Matsusaka made his way through both Japanese and French kitchens until finding a long time home at Puck's legendary Chinois On Main. After a few years of international cheffing, Matsusaka came back to Los Angeles and opened Beacon with his wife Vicki Fan. The pair are hands-on owners which always charms me, but meeting their preternaturally cute daughter, Olivia, was almost too much to handle. Luckily I tried the burger before cuteness dulled my critical faculties.
Beacon's Grilled Half-Pound Burger is a lunch-only option so I made my way there early in the day to sample it. The burger is served with caramelized onions, Nueske bacon, and Gruyère. The patty gets a sweet soy glaze and comes on a ciabatta-style bun.
My first impression of the burger was that it was too much. That is to say, there were too many ingredients added to a sandwich that, for me, is balanced by its very nature. The smokiness of the bacon and the nuttiness of the Gruyère felt out of sync with the sweetness of the soy glaze. Then it hit me: I generally don't like bacon on burgers, and certainly it wasn't needed on this one. I opted to remove it and the Gruyère.
My slightly redesigned version of this burger was delicious. The high-quality, perfectly cooked beef had a heavy char that gave way to a beautiful pink center. The soy glaze added a hint of sweetness that made ketchup (yes, I like ketchup!) unnecessary. The ciabatta roll worried me a bit when I first saw it, but rather than the traditional airy, crusty texture, Beacon's version has a soft, doughy quality that stands up nicely to a burger. There was a healthy amount of juice as well that made each mouthful a nice play of textures.
While I needed to make some minor adjustments to Beacon's burger to find its (salty and) sweet spot, the recommendation is unalloyed. Theirs is a beautiful and balanced burger that expertly expresses the chef's California-Asian fusion background. It could be argued that a burger is, even in its traditional form, an expression of fusion cuisine. That would make Beacon's burger one fusion on top of another. Perhaps Beacon isn't so much an Asian café as it is, quite simply, an American one.