Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bastide for Burgers

I eye the clock on my phone with panic. I have approximately 6 minutes to get there.

I down the water bottle I’ve taken with me and crush it in my right hand, taking pleasure in the satisfying sound of the crunch. There’s no place to put it, so I shove it into my Hobo clutch -- I’ll find a recycle bin to deposit it in later. There are more important things to focus my attention on now.

I hike my skirt up ever so slightly so it doesn’t impede my motion, and then begin speed walking in the direction of the restaurant. I have six minutes to go six blocks, and I’m not going to be late for this very important food date.

I’d been thinking and planning for it all day. I’d signed up for a Bar Method class to work up my appetite before, I’d laid out my clothing so it would be ready for me when I got home, and I’d spent the majority of the day whispering to myself with gasps of giddy pleasure, “I’m going to eat a burger tonight.”

It’s been a while since my last full-sized burger at Rustic Canyon last February. There was a slider from XIV and another slider from 25 Degrees, but nothing that’s carried the same gluttonous weight of an eight-ounce beast of saturated beef with all the requisite fixings. I’ve been more than ready to deflower my tongue yet again, and Bastide’s new Monday Burger night that offers diners their choice of three burgers, a side of fries or salad, and wine or beer for $28, seems to be the perfect way to do it.

It’s 8:02 pm when I finally join my friend Sook and her friend Lisa at our table on Bastide’s patio. My brow is slightly damp with sweat from the half-mile walk/sprint, my limbs are still tingling from the intense Bar workout I’d only just finished 25 minutes prior, and my breaths are heaving forth in agitated sputters. Yet, as soon as I take a seat on the cushioned chair, my whole body instinctively relaxes.

I’m home.

I fell in love with Bastide’s patio during the summer when I was invited to the quietly ambitious restaurant for a special media event featuring a tasting menu prepared by Chef Joseph Mahon. The impeccable food, gracious service and familial ambiance took me by surprise – it was not the stuffy rich man and woman’s club I was expecting.

I’m even more enchanted with the space tonight. The tepid air, delicately warmed with heat lamps, envelops my bare arms like the black wrap that I won’t be using. I let it fall over the back of the chair, and won’t even notice when it tumbles to the cobblestone ground later in the night.

There’s a mystical quality to Bastide’s secret patio garden that seems all the more remarkable because of its existence in a city like Los Angeles. While the half dozen or so tables are all occupied, it’s almost eerily quiet. The soundtrack for the evening comes from hushed tones that drift in and out of consciousness, and the subtle step of the servers and wait staff as they surreptitiously refill a water glass or replace an empty basket of the restaurant’s house-made bread.

It seems a shame that all three of us already know what we are going to order and can’t whittle away more precious patio minutes debating our various menu options. We’re there for the burgers and the burgers we shall have. Sook and I select the Short-Rib Burger with Forme d’Ambert (a French blue cheese), horseradish, arugula and tomato confit, and Lisa opts for the Mushroom Feta Burger with tomatoes and paprika mayo. We’ll try the restaurant’s signature burger with Fontina, caramelized onions, bacon, and spicy sriracha aioli on another occasion.

The burgers arrive, pre-sliced into neat halves, and cooked according to specification – medium for me, and medium-rare for my friends who opted to eat theirs as they would typically come. I’m surprised, and initially slightly disappointed, to see that my burger is topped with short ribs. I was expecting the meat to be integrated into the well-salted patty rather than heaped on top of it like a slew of slick caramelized onions. Upon tasting the burger, however, my raised eyebrow quickly settles back into place.

The smokiness of the short ribs is thrilling with the tangy blue cheese and sharp sting from the horseradish, and the 8-ounce patty itself is grilled with a seasoned hand. There’s a satisfying char on the exterior, but the inside remains as ripe and juicy as a summer peach. It’s a drippy beast of a burger, but the dainty brioche bun holds its shape, molding to the meat like a pair of perfectly fitting jeans.

Sook and I are convinced that there’s no way Lisa’s mushroom burger can compare, but a bite of hers almost sways my opinion the other way. The earthy sautéed mushrooms temper the richness of the finely ground meat, and the feta is generously applied for an additional zing of assertive flavor.

We are all, however, in agreement that the vibrant butter lettuce salad with fresh herbs and a bright lemon vinaigrette is the stronger of the two sides. The couple skinny fries I sneak from Sook’s plate are more reminiscent of potato chips than the substantially starchy fries I prefer.

“Dessert?” Our charming waiter asks when our plates have been bussed away and the last sips from our glasses of Gamay have been taken.

Lisa’s face clouds with concern, but Sook and I soldier on as though we hadn’t just eaten enough fat to live off during a long and cold Chicago winter.

“We’ll have the pear tart ($12).” We say, our eyes sparkling with mischievous delight.

It’s a prescient decision. The pastry is finely groomed to flaky tenderness, the pears are firm on the tongue, yet sweet on the palate, and the cinnamon ice cream and caramel rum sauce are the perfect devilish companions. Lisa’s face is no longer marked with distress – she’s the lucky gal who secures the final bite.

I leave the restaurant the same way I entered it – on unsteady legs. This time, it's not because I’m worn out from my work out and frantic half-mile mad dash from my apartment. This time, it’s because I don’t want the mysticism of another special evening at Bastide to end.

8475 Melrose Place
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(323) 651-5950


the actor's diet said...

i love burger nights! well, i've only been to one, at larchmont grill - have you been?!

weezermonkey said...

I am still a Bastide virgin.


stuffycheaks said...

I def want to check this out.. sans cheese though. Do they still have the Monday HH? Thatd be awesome! Load up on AYCD wine, then gorge on a burger.

Esi said...

Like weezermonkey, I'm a Bastide virgin (that sounds dirty) I think burger night would be the good first time to go.

Anna A. said...

Burger, again? TALF, who are you? Has it been that long? No, I think you are just living on the wild side, which I like! I just had a burger after 11 months a few days ago with Tha HIZ who I was dating. He text msg broke up with me afterwards. I kind of have to laugh at it all. It's been a crazy 3 days.

Diana said...

Lynn - I haven't been! Actually only had two *real* burgers in the past five or so years! I'm not normally a big red meat eater, but every once in a while...

Weez - You and Mr. Monkey need to correct this. Soon.

Stephanie - I think they still have the HH? But it's not AYCD -- you get one glass of something and then AYCE passed apps.

Esi - I agree with your assessment! Burgers at Bastide is a brilliant way to check the restaurant out! :)

Anna - I don't think two burgers in 8 months qualifies me as a DTAB imposter. Yet. ;) We need to catch up soon! I need the run down on this bloke!

ChocoMeat said...

I'm a Bastide virgin too! NEED that burger.. right.. NOW!

Monet said...

Wow! You sure know how to transport me. I felt like I was right there with you. What a lovely sounded just about perfect and that pear tart was the cherry on top of the ice cream! Thank you also for your kind words on my blog...your thoughts are so appreciated!

Ashley said...

I can taste my temptation. Gaahhhh.

bagnatic said...

oh i've never been. so many burgers yet to conquer!

Jenny said...

Oh, the Smoked Ribs with Blue cheese looks amazing!
Have you been to Varsailles, the Cuban restaurant?
I swear that's the tastiest food in LA... but this looks super yummy too :)
-Dessert Darling~

Daniel said...


I stumbled across Diana Takes a Bite today and ended up reading for a good while-- certainly one of the best-written blogs around!

While our palates are admittedly very different (I probably consume more meat in a month than you do all year), one can't deny your blog is an absolute delight to read.

Definitely a welcome change from the numerous food blogs out there that read like one's scientific summary of a meal.

I've just started a food blog myself-- certainly not as well-written as yours but do stop by if you get a chance :)