1115 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Winsome is not on Sunset Boulevard. Head west down Sunset (away from Downtown) and as you pass Beaudry, you’ll see the Holy Community Church on your right. Beyond that, you’ll see a new apartment building made of white stone and glass. Just past the church, make a right on to White Knoll Drive. That’s where Winsome is, in the ground floor of the aforementioned stone and glass building. Just a public service announcement, lest you wind up wandering aimless and befuddled down Sunset like Kelsey, Erin, and I did (that is, until finally we gave up and called the restaurant to whimper a desperate request for directions).
I couldn’t help but wonder why they say they’re on Sunset if the restaurant demonstrably is not on Sunset? Well, this is Los Angeles, which means it’s all about appearances. It’s easier to brand yourself as a trendy new Los Angeles eatery if you’ve got an address on an iconic Los Angeles thoroughfare. Per contra, it’s much harder to do it when you front some tributary with a name that sounds like a sleepy cul-de-sac. And if people get confused or lost by this branding chicanery, all the better; being impossible to find in spite being on a major street is another mark of effortless cool.
Make no mistake, though. This place is far more polished than Echo Park, a neighborhood renowned more for its unvarnished charm than for its sparkling new real estate developments. It’s beautiful for being the situs of a cultural collision of sorts, where numerous ethnic and socioeconomic groups live side by side. There’s something aspirational about that Echo Park.
Winsome represents the “new” (or, if you prefer, the “approaching”) Echo Park. The building that houses it resembles one of those swanky new high rises over by L.A. Live. It’s the kind of building that one suspects will be ubiquitous in a few years’ time. It’s the kind of building that multiplies and slowly, inexorably drains the charm right out of a place, until all that’s left is a spiritually vacant enclave occupied by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of incalculably basic USC alumni. It’s a nice enough building in itself, but as more of them crop up, before long, Echo Park will be a place where you only see soul if it’s immediately followed by the word “cycle.”
Right, anyway; the restaurant.
Winsome has developed a fair amount of buzz as a brunch-and-pastry spot. Its light-wood, airy interior has the body of a diner but the heart of a case study house. The long, dining room is flanked along one edge by a long, white oak bar and on the other by booths with windows for walls. This breezy, midcentury space spills out onto an idyllic patio, on which strings of lights hang languidly above. This charming outdoor area is loosely packed with amateur food photographers trying to no-filter their way to fame.
But it still bears markers of the old Echo Park. Our laconic waiter was clad all in black but for old white Reeboks and an apron the color of pond scum (the latter of which was splattered inexplicably with persimmon-hued paint). He oozed edgy and aloof Echo Park cool, and he did his job without all the fanfare of interpersonal warmth.
Atmosphere aside, the place is renowned for its brunch offerings. The pastries are local celebrities and, in the aggregate, merit the acclaim they receive (the strawberry-vanilla brioche is especially superb). The caramelized grapefruit is a novel idea, but largely ham-fisted in execution. The slathering of honey provides a syrupy front end to the flavor profile, yielding a product that tastes like Taylor Swift’s personality: saccharine on the surface, but ultimately and fundamentally marred by a gothic – almost corporate, definitely innate – bitterness.
There is a burger on the menu, but no one really talks about it. I went with Kelsey and Erin to find out if they ought to talk about it.
The Order: The Burger
The Price: $16
There’s a scene in The Fountainhead where Ellsworth Toohey says to Howard Roark, “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.” Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you.” That exchange flitted into my head as I tried to collect my thoughts in preparation for writing this; I just didn’t have that many thoughts to collect.
On the face of it, there’s nothing objectionable about this burger, and one might even think there is the potential for something quite good. The bun is a seeded pan de mie sourced from Gjusta. A bun from a different bakery is an odd choice for a restaurant that prides itself on its superlative baked goods, but I suppose Gjusta is an estimable choice if you’ve chosen to outsource your bun-making. Delicately sweet and soft at its heart with perfectly toasted edges, this bun was the highlight of the burger. The patty is about a third of a pound of grass-fed Sunfed Ranch beef, with a slice of milky white Hook’s aged cheddar melted on top. It is rounded out by pickled shallots (allegedly) and a tall, tangled stack of mustard frills.
The server recommended I order the patty cooked medium. That was an error; it was overcooked, dry, and charmless. The patty scarcely deserved the exceptional cheese that was melted on top of it, a truly lovely Hook’s aged white. It was distantly sweet, mild, perfectly melted, and utterly wasted by the lifeless piece of flesh it was meant to complement.
With a better cast around it, this cheese would have been a wonderful final touch. But even ignoring the patty, the rest of the burger is rather a mess. The mustard greens were flaccid, virally overabundant, and bland. The pickled shallots so nearly approached absolute zero on the palate that I actually doubted their existence. The sauces, served on the side, were ketchup (from a bottle) and an almost oppressively banal aioli, which essentially tasted like mayonnaise that had been left sitting out. They weren’t much, but they were just about all I tasted every time I took a bite.
I rarely make overt mention of price unless it is a virtue. In this case, though this is far from an offensive product, it does not even nearly approach being worth $16. This price tag is wholly unjustifiable. I couldn’t help feeling I was paying for the delicious inattention of our server and the string of patio lights more than I was paying for a good meal. I very seldom feel as though I have wasted money eating a burger. This was one such occasion.
This is a burger without personality; it is a lazily conceived pro forma offering that expresses nothing, demands nothing, gives nothing. It smacks of brunch menu tokenism (which is a thing I made up just now, but essentially amounts to the creative minds behind this restaurant saying something like, “Ugh, we probably should put more lunch items on this menu, because otherwise it’ll be all ‘br’ and no ‘unch.'”).
Is this the folly of a young restaurant? Probably not. Most young restaurants err by trying too hard. This just feels lazy. There’s something respectable in a calculated, but ultimately botched, gamble. There is little to respect – let alone consider or discuss – in paint-by-numbers concepts executed poorly.
So try as I might, it’s hard to articulate exactly what I think of it. I just don’t think of it. Nor should you.
Flavor: 6.10 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 8.80 / 10.00
Value: 4.00 / 10.00
Efficiency: 8.80 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 6.20 / 10.00
Bun: 9.10 / 10.00
Patty: 6.90 / 10.00
Toppings: 6.40 / 10.00
Sauce: 4.80 / 10.00
Balance: 6.30 / 10.00
Total: 67.40 / 100.00