Whether served traditional style or with out-of-the box toppings, you would be hard pressed to find a carnivore who doesn’t like a good juicy hamburger. It is the quintessential comfort food of America, and one that is a hot trend in the L.A. area.
One of the pioneers of making delicious, feel good delicacies is L.A. native Chef Ernesto Uchimura. Growing up in a multicultural family in the city had a direct impact on Uchimura’s approach to food. His mother is Jewish-Argentinean and his father is Japanese-Argentinean, so his diverse background served as a backdrop to his culinary career today.
After studying at Paul Smith’s College in New York, he worked at a variety of restaurants that include Napa Valley Grille, Meson G, Opus and Punch Grill. You may have originally heard of Uchimura when he served as the opening chef for Umami Burger, arguably one of the first establishments to bring a new concept of the burger to the City of Angeles, causing a revolution to explode over five years ago.
Chef Uchimura opened his own burger-centric spot, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, on Little Osaka’s Sawtelle Boulevard in 2012, followed by a Fairfax outpost late last year. Now slated to open a third location this spring in Downtown, Plan Check has been getting a lot of attention – awarded “best new dish” by Angeleno magazine and a spot on Jonathan Gold’s list of 101 best restaurants – all to Uchimura’s credit. His passion for comfort food with a unique, progressive twist is what keeps the restaurant relevant.
Take, for instance, his spin on fried chicken. It is “traditional” in the sense that chicken is battered and fried, but this is boneless, Jidori chicken that is cold smoked then marinated in a buttermilk brine before being dredged in rice flour and fried in beef tallow. The chicken is served with yam preserves, a thick smokey gravy and spicy pickled okra. Okra is not my favorite vegetable, but these pieces were – not too slimy and a nice texture.
The big draw for Plan Check is, of course, Uchimura’s creative burgers. While perusing the menu, you’ll notice that there is something unique on each burger. An example is Ketchup Leather.
“The idea stemmed from a way to avoid eating a soggy burger. When you eat a burger the proper way (medium to medium-rare), there tends to be a lot of juice,” the chef explains. “So I worked on creating a barrier, dehydrated ketchup, to prevent the bottom bun from becoming too mushy.”
When I tried the signature Plan Check Burger, the ketchup leather – which I can really only liken to a tomato fruit roll-up – exceeded my expectations. It really did act as a shield for the crunchy bun as I bit into my perfectly medium-cooked patty served with “Americanized dashi cheese,” pickles and onions. Dashi, a fishy broth that is popular in Japanese cuisine, is somehow infused with good-ole American cheese and pairs very well with the meat.
There are three different burgers on the menu, but make sure to take note of the daily specials. There lies a plethora of fun items – like the Tommy Lasorda burger that was featured the day of my visit. It had exactly what a burger that invokes the spirit of a Dodger game should, you guessed it: hot dogs!
What better way to finish off your meat extravaganza than with made-to-order cruller donuts. Chef Uchimura was pretty insistent that I try them, and I’m happy that I listened to him. The donuts are light, not greasy and literally melt in your mouth. The cream that accompanies them is actually a refreshing palate cleanser. The cream also clings to the bottom of the pan the donuts are served in, meaning these are donuts meant to be eaten with a fork. Make sure to have some napkins nearby, though, because the sprinkled sugar will definitely stay on your lips – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Plan Check Kitchen + Bar is located at 1800 Sawtelle Blvd. and 351 N. Fairfax Ave. For more information, call (310) 444-1411, (323) 591-0094 or visit plancheck.com.