"This is the dilemma of any workday lunch spot: how to make tasty, affordable food that fits inside the time constraints of a workday. Sadly, the Lemon Moon Prime Burger isn't the answer."
12200 West Olympic Boulevard #110, Santa Monica CA 90034 (map); 310-442-9191; lemonmoon.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Two gourmet chefs teamed up to make an aspirational lunch spot that fails the burger test
Want Fries with That? A surprisingly ordinary spud from such a highly trained pair of chefs
Prices: Prime burger, $12
Notes: Breakfast, daily 8 a.m. - 10.15 a.m.; Lunch, daily 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Important note: A keen eye will find some dishes that are comparable to their much higher-priced cousins at the owners' haute cuisine establishments, but don't expect any truly cheap eats here
Figuring out what to have for lunch during our work week is a process fraught with tensions of time, economy, and personal satisfaction. It has been, for me, a story in chapters.
The first was marked by an obsessive relationship to frugality. I would spend Sunday evenings cooking up the week's lunches and portioning them into plastic containers. Each was an exercise in nutritional balance born of the weekly specials from my local Ralph's supermarket. In the second chapter, I found myself a budding Hollywood executive drunk with passion for my expense account. My midday meal became an exercise in restaurant exploration disguised as a working lunch.
My current relationship to lunch is—despite my freelancer identity—the one most common for an urban worker. Lunch is a ongoing decision; a dynamic phenomenon. On some days it's an excursion into excess; on others it's an exercise in personal responsibility. What it longs for is a happy medium (rare).
Lemon Moon is a restaurant that tries to strike that balance. This daytime-only cafe attempts to bridge the lunch gap. The menu is a mixture of gourmet salads and sandwiches (panini, of course) and a few grill items, but for me, in the end, there can be only one. I tried the burger.
Located on the ground floor of a West Los Angeles office building Lemon Moon is the café progeny of two chefs that forged a relationship over a love of food and surfing. Josiah Citrin (the "Lemon" in the name) and Rapheal Lunetta (the "Moon") first worked together opening the restaurant Jackson's in Hollywood to just moderate success. Their decision to follow that up with the fine dining restaurant JiRaffe (another name game) seemed a bit bold, but surviving the kitchens of the two most important chefs in Los Angeles (not too mention Pipeline waves) left little fear in the duo. Citrin trained under Wolfgang Puck and Lunetta sharpened his skills under Joachim Splichal. Citrin went on to open the award-winning Melisse in Santa Monica.
For these fine-dining chefs, Lemon Moon takes on a (relatively) simple menu, as well as pair of meals that hadn't before been a focus for these daytime surfers. If you can't make it to Lemon Moon for breakfast or lunch, you are out of luck. The limited hours and geographically undesirable location make Lemon Moon a de facto high-end cafeteria for the few surrounding office buildings during the work week.
Walking in, I find little in the decor to dissuade me form this assessment. The high ceiling, hanging chalkboards, and open drink fridge announce the purpose of this restaurant: a quick, straight-forward daytime meal. For me that means their Prime Burger.
After the standard issue lunchtime queuing, I put in my order in and get a wooden number for my trouble. I grab a coke and find a small table inside. The patio area doesn't lack charm, but there is a mess of construction in the area so I opt for the (marginally) quieter inside.
The burger is dropped at my table by a server who reassures me with a question:
"Burger, medium rare?"
"Yes, and yes."
The Lemon Moon Prime Burger is a hearty eight ounces (at least) of prime chuck covered in cheddar cheese that sits atop a pile of arugula, tomatoes, and caramelized onions. The bun is a thick, attractive number that splits the difference between brioche and commercial. It comes slathered in herb mayo. French fries and a homemade red cabbage slaw come along for the ride.
My first bite of the burger is a mouthful of disappointment—it is woefully overcooked. The meat still lays claim to a bit of juice, attesting to its quality and fat content, but the grill that killed my burger didn't even have the courtesy of doing it with high heat. There is no evidence of a good char so the patty is rendered into a gray slab. The lack of seasoning and a too-fine grind mean this burger tastes more "cafeteria" than "high end."
The toppings are all high quality, but placing all of the veggies underneath the patty has left the bottom of the bun overwhelmed by the fat and steam. The herb mayo also finds its home on the bottom of the bun. Some say the fat protects the bun, but in this case I think the bun is sleeping with the enemy. It's almost disintegrated by the third bite. The bun itself has a lot of potential, but the top is a bit dried out. It's not so much stale, but rather, I'm guessing, the victim of pre-service toasting.
The fries are flavorful, but are barely warm. I fear my late lunch means I get the batch that was cooked an hour earlier and kept in a warmer. The sweet and tangy cole slaw is certainly a high point. In fact, it is a helpful reminder of what I have enjoyed about Lemon Moon in the past. They offer a slew of gourmet salads that deliver on the high-end hopes of the cafeteria, but this does little for my burger dreams.
By the time I finish my burger, the lunch rush is tapering off and the fatigue of the workers is starting to show. They probably serve hundreds of meals over the course of a couple of hours. This is the dilemma of any workday lunch spot: how to make tasty, affordable food that fits inside the time constraints of a workday. Sadly, the Lemon Moon Prime Burger isn't the answer.
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