3709 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
If you asked someone with little or no knowledge of Los Angeles to describe Sunday brunch here, she might paint a picture that looks a lot like Sawyer. Sunlight would stream through a constantly open window fronting Sunset Boulevard, filling the place with golden warmth. It would splash onto the face of the bright bar whose tiles evoke what you might find in the breezy colonnade of a Mediterranean – or maybe Aegean? – villa. To heighten the charm of it all, there would be a snug little patio out back, with a few tables, a fireplace, strings of unlit lights (“You should see them at dinner,” the host assures us).
That impossibly bright sunlight would bathe the crowd of diners, all trying very hard to look as if they weren’t trying hard. The men would sit, NIck Fouquet hats balanced on golden locks, henleys unbuttoned to there, draining Peroni from glasses that look too much like jars. Across from them would be ladies in vintage everything, wrists cocked, a glass of rosé balanced just so in their hands, nursing avocado toast with whisper thin discs of radish scattered atop. Everyone would be wearing sunglasses. Everyone would be beautiful.
The food would be typical Los Angeles brunch fare: the aforementioned ubiquitous avocado toast. Something with quinoa and kale. Mexican inspired items (here, shrimp tacos and a breakfast burrito). Chicken and waffles. A breakfast sandwich. And, of course, a burger.
Granted, this person might not know to paint Kelsey and me into her picture. Unless, I suppose, she envisioned Los Angeles as a place where wonderful girls like Kelsey voluntarily spend their birthday with burger-obsessed nerds. In which case, perhaps you’d find us painted into that idyllic scene right where we were today, at a corner table relishing the superlative people-watching Silver Lake generally (and Sawyer specifically) has on offer, and discussing whether Fear of God jeans would be worth the investment (the verdict: likely not), and contemplating the finer points of the Sawyer Burger.
The Order: Sawyer Burger (added bacon and avocado)
The Price: $18 ($14 base, optional additions (sunny side up egg, bacon, and/or avocado) $2 each)
First, a quick overview of the presentation: between seeded rolls is a hefty patty, cooked medium (per our server’s recommendation) and thinly filmed with Grafton cheddar. The meat sits atop a single piece of lettuce about the size of a catalpa leaf. On top of the patty is a splash of tomato relish that looks like it came off the end of Jackson Pollock’s brush. The bacon and avocado were added last.
It’s the kind of burger you might expect from a restaurant focused on seafood. That’s not really a ringing endorsement off the bat, I realize, but for what it’s worth, it’s more a comment on the approach to this dish than it is one on its quality.
The patty is the burger’s greatest weakness. The seasoning was ham-fisted, unsophisticated, and excessive, creating a constant peppery undercurrent to every bite that was more annoying than charming (probably because of the lack of a subtle complementary flavor). The texture of the beef might perhaps best be characterized as “unsettling.” It’s hard to describe, but also decidedly…well, wrong. Whereas one might expect a beef patty to have a certain coarse crumble to it, Sawyer’s patty had an off-putting, sticky coherence to it. When cut, the patty looked – and tasted – downright raw in some places.
The cheddar may as well not have been there. Indeed, I almost forgot it had been included in the first instance as I ate it. It added no texture, no taste, no contrast, nothing. A true disappointment, especially considering the excellent Vermont cheese on offer. The lettuce was unwieldy and far too large, seemingly there more for artistic reasons than culinary ones. The bun was a soggy, tasteless mess, soaked before I even took a bite, and disintegrating like Lot’s wife once I laid hands on it.
The tomato relish was a theoretically interesting presentation, but based on the taste, I suspect that “relish” is being used more as an impressive label than a reflection of reality. It was pulverized tomato, a halfhearted, uninspired stew that merely impersonated a culinary flourish. In point of fact, the relish did nothing but soak the buns into oblivion, making the whole enterprise much messier than it needed to be. As even casual readers of this publication know (and yes, I’m indulging in the rank fiction that I may have another kind of reader), I’m not averse to getting my hands dirty, but it’s got to be in service of something.
Not to harp on it, but the relish really captures my sense that this burger was a seafood restaurant’s burger. Relishes, often work on fish as a means by which to complement the flaky, buttery flesh of the catch (as a trip to basically any hotel restaurant in Hawai’i would prove conclusively), but they’re less inherently at home on a burger. Burgers generally benefit from the presence of a true sauce. If you’re going to add a relish or a jam, fine, but it should have a purpose that comes across in every bite. This slurried, nascent pico de gallo did not achieve that.
This burger is not without positives. Like so many college electives, the bacon and avocado were the most pleasant aspects of this experience, largely because they were the least challenging. The former was thick and savory, cooked to a pleasant, succulent crisp. The wedges of avocado were rich and buttery, playing well – if predictably – with the bacon. But again, these garnishes stood largely alone. And it’s telling that the optional elements of the burger were its strongest elements.
Another issue is the sheer structure of this dish. It is so large, so unwieldy, that I never at any point got a bite with all the ingredients in it. In addition to being frustrating, it makes the burger an incoherent experiential jumble with no real arc. I daresay, $18 is quite a dear sum to fork over for such a burger like this, which is as poorly conceived as it is executed.
I’m not saying a seafood restaurant can’t make a good burger. I am sort of saying that you can’t approach a burger like you’d approach seafood, and just hope that you can let people throw some bacon and avocado on it and forgive all your sins. The team at Sawyer has created a burger in a Mahi Mahi fillet’s body. Idyllic atmosphere aside, this burger is a miss. Come for the ambience, maybe stay for the smoked trout salad? This is, after all, a seafood restaurant.
Flavor: 6.10 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 8.00 / 10.00
Value: 6.40 / 10.00
Efficiency: 6.90 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 8.10 / 10.00
Bun: 6.80 / 10.00
Patty: 5.10 / 10.00
Toppings: 7.90 / 10.00
Sauce: 6.00 / 10.00
Balance: 5.00 / 10.00
Total: 66.30 / 100.00