A Gourmet Burger in Need of Simplification at Stout in Hollywood
1544 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028 (map); 323-469-3801; stoutburgersandbeers.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A Hollywood burger envisioned by a pair of lawyers. What could go wrong?
Want Fries with That? Nope. Strangely ill-conceived and uninteresting.
Prices: Stout Burger, $12
Notes: This place is as much a bar as it as a burger joint and thus stays open very late (especially for LA).
The folks behind Stout, one of the newest entrants to the Los Angeles burger scene, are a pair of lawyers who were looking for a restaurant concept that was, first and foremost, a business opportunity. Their firm boasts that "Stout... is bringing together two of the fastest growing commodities in the restaurant industry: gourmet burgers and craft beer." Sounds delicious.
I'm all for folks having a proper business plan before opening a restaurant. With the economy turning and competition tightening, I have a personal relationship to the perils of the restaurant industry—my pop's restaurant, Caffe Cielo, has taken a hit like many others. Of course, when I see a new burger resto pop up, I want it to be a labor of (burger) love that motivates them to drop their hats (and patties) in the ring.
On my first visit to Stout, I happened to find myself seated next to one of the two lawyer/proprietors. He got to talking while I got to eating and I learned that they took this whole burger venture very seriously, from both an eating and an earning perspective. Charles Lew told me that he and his partner, Alex Kagianris (who doubles as executive chef), sampled burgers all over the Southland to figure out what would make a Stout burger. They wanted to come up with a gourmet burger that wasn't the usual offering. One of their first decisions was settling on a griddled version. That's certainly a good start, but I was determined to find out how it finished.
The first burger I sampled was the signature Stout Burger. The beef patty (you can also choose chicken, or veggie if you must) is an economical six ounces that is a proprietary grind. From what I tasted, I suspect you'd find a little flank along with the expected chuck. It's nicely (and freshly) ground to a medium coarseness. They add some blue cheese, "emi" (sic) Gruyère, rosemary bacon, caramelized onion, and horseradish cream. The bun is the "gourmet" staple brioche-style, but this one is actually a bit smaller than I normally come across and matches the smaller patty nicely.
The counterintuitive suite of ingredients was a challenge. I couldn't quite enjoy the competing nuttiness of the Gruyère (which I think is properly referred to as "Emmi") and the funk of the blue. Further, the horseradish cream didn't really step forward with a layer of heat to balance out the fat. It was a complicated affair that never turned the corner into complex. All those competing flavors wound up canceling each other out like out of phase waves. I think scientists call this destructive interference. On a burger it's just a disappointment.
I tried the Stout burger on three separate occasions and each time it came out overcooked. This was particularly odd as the servers told me that the burgers came out medium rare as standard. Perhaps they have a different notion of burger temperature than I, but I couldn't help but feel a little put off by it.
That being said, Stout isn't without merits. The beef and bun are both very good. In fact, I couldn't help but imagine the pleasures of a straight-forward (and less cooked) version of their burger. Unfortunately, every offering is a mass of contemporary gourmet burger cookery (and naming) that longs for slice of simplicity. Cheeseburger, anyone? Yeah, me too.
It would be easy to dismiss the folks behind Stout as burger interlopers looking to capitalize on the recent wave of fascination with this classic sandwich, but I don't think that's the whole story. They seem earnest in their search for a pleasing burger. They use quality ingredients and make a heartfelt attempt to make them their own. Alas, that might be the problem. Burgers aren't meant to be complex and unique creations. At their best, they are warm and familiar recreations that remind us that sometimes we go to restaurants to order the usual.