It sounded strange when I first heard that someone was going to open a burger place on Sawtelle, the epicenter of Japanese cuisine in LA. If you could get a burger in Little Osaka before Plan Check opened, it wouldn’t have been anything to write home about (ersatz Tommy’s on Pico aside). But the news rolled in that the man behind Plan Check was responsible for the beautiful eponymous Umami Burger and that he had withheld a gimmick from the Umami cartel – ketchup leather:
Plan Check is on the north side of Sawtelle, closer to the hookah bar near Santa Monica Blvd than the familiar. Hustle of Little Osaka. They’ve done a beautiful job making a nice patio to eat on a wide sidewalk, and a hip (if familiar) gastropub scene inside.
We ordered the Chef’s Favorite Burger, the Plan Check Burger, the shrimp burger, and the Southern Fry chicken sandwich.
The CFB was a mess. It’s a burger with “cheese two ways, bacon two ways”, ketchup leather, and a fried egg. First, whenever a place says they are doing something two ways or three ways, it seems so pretentious. Maybe because it’s every Top Chef contestant’s dumb way to label their “creativity,” when it is usually at the expense of taste. Anyways, here that stuff might be well-executed, but no one will ever know because biting into the thing becomes a cacophony of flavors. It’s not that it’s not tasty – it’s just too much. (Cf. the Escondite)
It’s also too salty, which unfortunately is a common theme at Plan Check.
But the PCB is a revelation.
I had to ask a couple times what they meant by Americanized dashi cheese. Dashi is having its moment, apparently. The idea of combining the deep fishy flavor of dashi with American cheese is so weird, it doesn’t sound good. But it’s amazing. That and the schmaltz onions make for a deeply umami flavor that exceeds the Chef’s more famous prior creation. The balance on this burger was amazing, with the flavors striking deep notes but still being distinct. It was elegant in a way the CFB was totally not.
The only miss was that the ketchup leather turns out to be just a gimmick. It just tastes like ketchup and doesn’t really add anything to the texture, as it melts from the bet of the burger.
The chicken sandwich also turned out to be pretty great. The jidori chicken is beautifully fried, crisp and flavorful. The pimento cheese is interesting, and probably would be evocative if I were from the South in the 50′s. The house made pickles are excellent with a subtle bring flavor that brings good balance to the sandwich. The only problem is that the ham was overkill. It feels like how everyone throws bacon on top of everything and declares it to be better. It’s unnecessary and makes things too salty when you had a perfectly balanced sandwich to begin with.
And that encapsulates how I feel about Plan Check. They do a lot of things great, and that PCB is going to vie for the title of best burger in LA. But they throw one or two things too much on things, throwing the balance off. Plan Check may suffer from being born in this ridiculous, last days of Rome moment in cuisine where chefs are goaded by each other into adding more and more trendy ingredients to their dishes, rather than seeking the perfect balance of delicious ingredients. It’s like they hear Food Network voiceovers describing ingredient after ingredient, thinking that’s what they have to do to get attention. And maybe that is where we’re at as a gastronomic society, at least in LA. More is better, especially if it’s bacon.