I Chased My Soulmate (a Burger) Halfway Around the World
The now-closed Comme Ça, a French bistro in West Hollywood prominently featured on The Hills, had a legendary burger. Here's one woman's story of finding that burger – and love – again
The story of one of the greatest loves of my life began as many do: with no preconceived expectations or over-inflated hopes. Which is probably why it went so well.
It was an August 2010 girls weekend in L.A., and when I booked a reservation at Comme Ça, a French bistro in West Hollywood that I knew from the TV show The Hills (R.I.P.), I didn’t know I was about to have my world rocked. All I know is I arrived with a mild hankering for a burger and I left understanding – for the first time in my life, it seemed – what a burger was meant to be.
It probably helped that when I ordered it, I didn’t know "the Comme Ça burger" was kind of a big deal: about a year before my visit, the New York Times called executive chef David Myers’ creation “the consummate burger,” and countless local media outlets had already written that it was basically the food in its most perfect state. And it was: coarsely-chopped steak seared medium-rare and topped with a slice of cheddar and slaw of shredded iceberg lettuce and shaved onion, tossed with garlic mayonnaise, served on a brioche bun. I took a bite and moaned softly, and then offered a taste to my friend, who stared unabashedly at my plate for the rest of the meal. This was a woman who tried to share boyfriends with our third best friend in high school; I took a lesson from our other friend’s experience and offered her my fries.
Over the next few years, the Comme Ça burger became part of my L.A. routine. I’d dash up to the restaurant on layovers through LAX or have long cozy dinners when I was in town for the weekend, never once straying from my regular order. Until one day Comme Ça was gone. Like a Tinder fling who ghosted, there was some uncertainty at first – it was reported that the restaurant was undergoing renovations – but months, then years, after the projected reopening, there was no sign of life. I never really got over it, but at some point I managed to accept that it wasn’t coming back.
Fast-forward three years – i.e. now – to a hotel opening invitation that I might have breezed past had a name not caught my eye: David Myers. Myers, the Michelin-starred chef responsible for my great burger love (it took him eleven tries to perfect the recipe), disappeared from the L.A. scene after he divested from Comme Ça to concentrate on international ventures. But now he was set to open two new restaurants at the new Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai. I felt giddy. I accepted the invite without seeing a menu but the steadfast confidence that burgers in hotel restaurants are one of the few sure things in life.
Myers’ Dubai opening shouldn’t have surprised me – though he also has restaurants in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, Dubai’s dining scene is transforming into a Vegas-like assemblage of big-name international chefs. (Myers shares his Renaissance address with Masaharu Morimoto, and Gordon Ramsay and Nobu Matsuhisa are among those with Dubai outposts). “Vegas was really the first place to bring in all these world-renowned chefs, and promote this idea that you don’t have to fly to Paris to dine at Joel Robuchon,” Myers told me after I flew across the ocean for the big reunion. Though it certainly takes longer to get there, last year Dubai became the fourth most-visited city in the world, and between playing host to Expo 2020 and Dubai International Airport’s steady expansion into a top global flight hub, its Vegasification – Sin City minus the sin, of course – is only likely to intensify.
That said, Myers is the chef I’m in town to see and the burger at Bleu Blanc – a restaurant fashioned after a Provençal-style farmhouse – doesn’t disappoint. Topped with cheddar, caramelized onions and arugula, it’s not the same as the Comme Ça burger, but the two share enough in common that I feel a quake of lust and familiarity on first bite.
“That burger follows me everywhere I go,” Myers says, when I somewhat bashfully confess my fandom the next day. (I dined alone in order to fully appreciate the moment.) “I wanted to put that exact burger on the menu here, but I can’t get the key secret ingredient in Dubai.” Of course, I have ask what that is, and, of course, Myers won’t tell. “It’s the key secret ingredient,” he repeats.
In principle, however, the burgers are the same, and not just because Myers uses a consistent proportion of fat to meat, the ratio is another secret he refuses to disclose, as well as the same coarse grind. “Simplicity is key,” Myers says. “A burger should not be complicated. It should be all about the meat. Whatever topping that comes with it shouldn’t take away, it should only enhance. It shouldn’t be something that overwhelms. To me, a burger is minimalism at its best.”
Before my time with him is up, Myers mentions that he’s still trying to source his secret ingredient in Dubai, and that the exact Comme Ça burger is on the menu at the David Myers Café in Tokyo. “There are lines for it every single day,” he says.
I know where I’m traveling in 2018.