718 North Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
I was talking to my friend Peter last week about Petit Trois. He went there with his wife recently, and ordered the omelette. I’m not sure Peter is an omelette connoisseur, but he certainly is an educated enthusiast. Anyway after a few bites of their omelette – a facially pedestrian offering with nothing more Boursin (yes, from the box) pepper cheese and a dusting of chives – his wife asked if it was the best omelette he’s ever had. “No,” he replied, “it’s the first omelette I’ve ever had.”
That’s what makes Ludo Lefebvre special. His strength is not so much in wildly innovative concepts (though one trip to Trois Mec will show you he’s no slouch in that regard), but rather in expression. Whatever the concept, from veal belly with crispy artichoke on down to a double cheeseburger, Lefebvre cannot be matched in execution. Each dish is prepared with such skill and care, that his food has the potential to transcend quality and establish itself in your mind as an archetype of what a certain dish should be like.
Ludo Lefebvre is the rare chef who can make a simple dish feel definitional. Not every dish achieves it, but when one does, you feel it, and to describe it is really just to speak normatively about how every dish of that kind ought to taste. I’ll stop short of saying that his best offerings are infused with the intent of the divine, but the thought occurred to me.
The Order: Big Mec
The Price: $18
Even if the name Petit Trois isn’t immediately familiar to you, you likely know more about it than you realize. It’s the daughter restaurant of Trois Mec, at which reservations are famously difficult to secure, but which offers among the finest tasting menus in the city. Petit Trois, then is an approximately Le Comptoir-sized appendage to its venerable – albeit only marginally larger – parent. Though the restaurants have markedly different personalities, they share more than a wall; they have a common creative nucleus: Ludo Lefebvre teams with Los Angeles culinary power pair Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (the minds behind Animal, Son of a Gun, and Jon & Vinny’s) on these two gems tucked away in a strip mall behind a gas station. Don’t let the understated location fool you, though – this part of mid-city is a culinary hotspot. Just across the street is the mighty, higher-profile Mozzaplex, where Nancy Silverton et. al. have been slinging really important food for decades.
Roughly speaking, Petit Trois is a French lunch counter. Reservations are not accepted, and the menu is a cheesy, framed and laminated piece of printer paper. They serve comfort food which oozes with nostalgic sentimentality (for instance, every Sunday, Ludo Lefebvre – continuing a family tradition – does a chicken roast, where a half chicken is offered atop mirepoix, a bed of rough-cut vegetables redolent of a French country table). The dishes are, in concept, often childishly simple. Confit-fried chicken with bitter-cool frisée. The aforementioned omelette has a flavor profile simple enough not to overwhelm my five year-old niece, but a subtle, buttery complexity that would floor just about anyone.
The cheeseburger is similar. The name is a tip of the cap to an iconic – though hardly estimable – progenitor, and the inspiration, weirdly enough, is discernible. The Big Mec is a double cheeseburger featuring two patties, Tillamook cheddar, all utterly drenched in Russian mayonnaise and house-made bordelaise sauce jammed between two brioche buns. This burger is a study in messy decadence. It bleeds sauce over its edges like a fountain. The bottom bun is coated with the two sauces but somehow not soggy, and incredibly, never even threatens disintegration.
The concept here is to unify simplicity and excess. At first blush, that might seem paradoxical, but it works in practice. This burger is decadent without being overwrought. It takes simple ideas and presents them in a maximalist fashion. It is the culinary equivalent of “Untitled,” the first song off Interpol’s debut, Turn On the Bright Lights. In that song, Paul Banks repeatedly intones the promissory phrase, “I will surprise you sometime, I’ll come around,” amid a swirling, sparkling, ever-rising torrent of Stratocaster. There isn’t much to it; but it’s arresting because the same idea, the same brief, haunting, beautiful motif, is pounded into your head so many times. That approach informs this dish as well. Of course, the concept would be nothing without execution. The Big Mec is executed masterfully.
The cheese is perfectly melted but still decidedly solid – it has heft and mass. And it’s Tillamook, so it’s approachable: sharp and flavorful without being too overpowering. The patties are stellar, massive things. Charred on the outside, pink on the inside, irrepressibly juicy and thick. They absorb only some of the ocean of sauce, but it’s enough to subtly change the flavor of the meat.
At bottom, this burger is about the sauces. And really, it’s about the bordelaise. The Russian mayonnaise is piquant, fresh, and just creamy enough, but it is utterly overshadowed by its companion. The bordelaise at Petit Trois is made with red wine and veal stock and mounted with foie gras (usually, the mount is butter). It is astounding. It teeters on the boundary between boozy and acidic, like wine a few atoms away from oxidation. But it is given shape, depth, and balance by the foie gras mount. In the end, everything about it feels decadently intentional. It is the most challenging, but also the most comforting, bordelaise you’ll likely ever taste. It is smooth but also sharp, mellow but also bright. It is also just about omnipresent in this burger…and you’ll still want more. It also creates a beautiful, natural mash-up with the Russian mayonnaise – so natural, in fact, that the sauces feel more coextensive than cooperative.
You’ll ravenously devour this plate of food. Your hands and teeth will drip with oxblood bordelaise and Russian mayonnaise the color of cooked salmon. You will do violence to this burger. The taste of the sauces will linger in your mouth long after you finish. You will be exhausted, you will be panting. You will look down at the plate, full to the gills, and you will ache for more. You’ll see the pool of what’s left of the two sauces, intermixed, looking like a Woolnaugh endpaper, and you’ll wish it wasn’t over.
This is a cheeseburger. Other things we previously might have known as cheeseburgers do not deserve the privilege of sharing a categorical identity with this dish. It is the archetypal burger: comforting, rich, indulgent, decadent, massive, messy, meaty, subtle, warming, unpretentious but refined, accessible, filling, and utterly delicious.
Make no mistake: This is as indispensable an eating experience as the critically acclaimed tasting menu across the wall. If you have not yet eaten this cheeseburger, it may well be argued that you have never eaten a cheeseburger at all. The Big Mec at Petit Trois is nothing short of a masterpiece. Drive quickly, order quickly, but eat slowly. After all, this will be your first cheeseburger – you should savor it.
Flavor: 10.00 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 10.00 / 10.00
Value: 8.40 / 10.00
Efficiency: 9.80 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 8.90 / 10.00
Bun: 9.90 / 10.00
Patty: 10.00 / 10.00
Toppings: 8.70 / 10.00
Sauce: 10.00 / 10.00
Balance: 10.00 / 10.00
Total: 95.70 / 100.00