107 E. 9th St, Los Angeles CA 90014 (map); 213-629-1765; woodspoonla.blogspot.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: I say, beef is best for burgers. This pork version is another piece of evidence in my case.
Want Fries with That? Yes. I found myself filling up on the salty sweet yam fries rather than finishing my burger.
Prices: Pork Burger, $11 (lunch), $13 (dinner)
Notes: The authentic Coxinha is one of the better versions of the traditional Brazilian street food I've tried.
Figuring out what, exactly, qualifies as a burger has become harder and harder. The sandwich has become a victim of its own success. What if your burger spent its days clucking instead of mooing? Does grilling a piece of salmon and putting it on a bun make it a burger? Can one really make a dry, mealy mass of vegetables into a round and then give a name of something designed by the carnivore's impulse?
Apparently you can. The word is so iconic—so immediately soothing and familiar—that restaurants have decided to throw the word behind all sorts of ingredients that stretch semiotic boundaries.
Of course, all of this fast and loose burger wordplay doesn't mean I have to consider it a burger. This was the dilemma posed by Wood Spoon in downtown Los Angeles. I was told that this small, authentic Brazilian eatery has a delicious burger—a delicious pork burger, that is. What am I to do with a "pork" burger? Does anything a restaurant calls a "burger" warrant a review? I gathered myself and decided on dealing with this problem the same way I deal with most problems in my life; I ate and tried not to think about it.
The name Wood Spoon refers to the favored cooking tool in traditional Brazilian kitchen. The chef and owner, Natalia Pereira, is from the Minas Gerais region in Southeastern Brazil that is known for a reserved demeanor in its people and unreserved use of chicken and pork in its cuisine. Natalia and her burger play to type. She drifts in and out of the dining room checking on her pork burgers and chicken pot pies with an ethereal calm.
The burger is served on a potato bun that has the molded look of a Kaiser roll and dressed with a braised cabbage topping. I opted for some yam fries on the side (no regular fries on offer). The burger had an unfussy straight-forward look that matched the feel of the restaurant. In the subdued lighting everything on the plate took on a similar orange hue that belied their diversity of flavors.
The bun was nicely toasted, but suffered from a crumbly texture. It felt as though my hands had to do extra duty to keep it from breaking into pieces. The cabbage had a surprising sweetness from its braising that made me think that it should be a technique and topping more often applied to traditional burgers. The restaurant offered traditional ketchup and mustard, but both seemed out on sync with the flavors of this burger. That was largely due to its patty
The crust of the pork patty was a crunchy and satisfying texture that gave was to a nicely cooked pink center. The contrast would have been perfect for beef, but the pork's lack of fat made the interior a juice-less affair that left me wanting. I don't know if it's a Brazilian tradition or a simply the imperative of a less fatty meat, but the seasoning of the pork was severe. Natalia applies a hefty helping of seasoning to her patty that she describes simply as "my seasoning." I tried to get more information out of her, but she just smiled wryly and repeated her description. I tasted a range of spices that made the patty one of the few I've had that I'd describe as over-seasoned.
Because I usually don't favor sweet potato fries, I found Wood Spoon's yam fries surprisingly appealing. They were nicely fried without tasting saturated with oil. The crispy exterior gave way to a silky inside that was irresistible. I found myself giving up the second half of my burger in favor of finishing my fries.
Of course, one burger experience can't settle the debate on what qualifies as a proper burger, but, in this case, the pork burger conundrum is beside the point. Wood Spoon is a simple and appealing little restaurant that makes a pork burger that simply lacks appeal. In the final analysis, this is the measure that matters most. Burger or not, an over-seasoned and dry patty just doesn't find a balance of flavor and texture that is appealing on its own merits.