888 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Bar: Full bar (plus this…gracious)
The weird thing about modern urban renaissances – well, one of the weird things – is that they all have an inflection point. Before that point, things are cheap, and gems are hard to find. And while it’s never entirely clear precisely when a given neighborhood reaches that point, after it is reached it matters less how good your chilaquiles or fatty tuna or octopus salad or burger or whatever is, and more how good your relationship with your investors is. Take Ari Taymor’s iconic and beloved Alma: shuttered in spite of fawning praise from critics and customers alike.
I don’t mean to hate on rich folks funding restaurants (to the contrary – keep them coming), but even the most successful restaurateurs have their ups and downs. What’s more, when investors define a restaurant’s identity, sometimes the focus can shift from the meat to marketing. When image starts to trump the product on the plate, places run into trouble. This tends to happen more as neighborhoods gentrify and it becomes harder for people to open restaurants without investor backing. Tricky business.
Which brings us to Miro, an aggressively trendy new restaurant, which seems to cater to downtown power brokers who yearn to be farm-to-table foodies. Reclaimed wood abounds, the servers have hair and vests pulled straight from the roaring 20s, and the menu is a sprawling exploration of current food scene obsessions. Don’t have time to get the crudo at Wolf and the house-cured charcuterie at Chi Spacca? Can’t pencil in time for craft cocktails at The Fiscal Agent and garganelli at Union? Not a moment to spare for biscuits at the Hart and the Hunter and the pork chop at Salt’s Cure? No problem – come to Miro and get it all. To call it the refuge of the dilettante might be a little harsh (especially in light of the fact that it has the best whiskey bar in California, which is a connoisseur’s paradise), but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate either.
Anyway, one entry on Miro’s – ahem – *diverse* menu was a burger. Johnny and I took some summer associates for lunch, and I tried it on the firm’s dime. Is Miro the first sign that Downtown Los Angeles has passed its inflection point?
The Order: Grass-fed burger
The Price: $15
The burger really embodies what Miro is trying to do – for better and worse. Onion jam and bacon (made in-house!) are ostensible pride points, but they are lost in the shuffle. You may detect a whisper of one or the other amid the bitter, charred swirl of the flavor profile, but only just a whisper, and it will not overwhelm you. The bacon was cut thick into slabs, fatty and without taste. The onion jam was so difficult to detect that I’m not even certain it was there at all. Same with the aioli and cheese, while we’re on the topic. Much of what is on this burger is swallowed by two ingredients: the arugula and the beef.
The grass-fed patty is well-intentioned but overcooked. It’s big enough; easily a third of a pound, and with a promising, estimably charred crust. But it is cooked well past medium until brittle and bland. There is some residual juice left to keep things from getting too dry, but unfortunately, the final product is even less flavorful than the grass on which the poor cow subsisted. To cook a patty that much, you have to justify it with a blend of meats. Miro failed to do so, leaving us with little more than fancied up chuck, which doesn’t forgive overcooking.
Grass-fed though the patty may have been, the fine folks in the kitchen at Miro seem to have felt it was starved for roughage. At least, that’s the most plausible explanation for the Chugach-worth of arugula (one supposes, a ham-fisted tip of the cap to Father’s Office) asymmetrically heaped atop the patty. It spills out of one end of the bun like a Kardashian out of an Herve Leger dress that’s one size too small, and is barely present at all on the other end. If all it did was add a (too-heavy) dose of fresh bitterness to the burger, it wouldn’t be so bad. But in this case, it masked the remainder of the flavors at work, obfuscating an otherwise intriguing suite of ingredients.
So you won’t taste the subtle interplay between still-melting cheese and bacon drippings. You won’t taste the sweet matrix of onion jam flirting with the creamy aioli. You won’t even get to enjoy how the delicious – if slightly dry – bun holds it all together. You’ll get overcooked meat and an impenetrable thicket of arugula. For all this burger’s ambitions, it winds up being a poorly executed, unbalanced affair, where the two most pedestrian ingredients outshine the more interesting – though, admittedly, a bit try-hard – additions.
The burger reflects the restaurant that serves it. A lot of sizzle without much steak. Miro is swanky, modern, eclectic, and has all the features you’d expect to find in a trendy, delicious restaurant. Similarly, the burger looks great and features a slew of really of-the-moment ingredients. Ultimately, though, it just doesn’t deliver. It looks better than it is. It’s too trendy for its own good. It puts image above execution. Is this a portent of things to come in Downtown? Hopefully and probably not. But it’s hardly encouraging.
Flavor: 6.20 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 8.50 / 10.00
Value: 5.10 / 10.00
Efficiency: 7.90 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 8.40 / 10.00
Bun: 9.00 / 10.00
Patty: 6.80 / 10.00
Sauce: 7.00 / 10.00
Toppings: 6.00 / 10.00
Balance: 6.00 / 10.00
Total: 70.90 / 100.00