Sunday, February 27, 2011

Caveman Kitchen -- Los Angeles, CA

2215 S Vermont Ave 
# 101
Los Angeles, CA 90007-1693  
website ‎ 

Happy Meal and I had spent the better part of the day at the California Science Center, and we were both pretty darn hungry. I had spotted Caveman Kitchen with its sign promising "fine burgers" on Vermont Street on the way to the center, and I talked Happy Meal into trying it out.  Parking in the little strip mall was free, and we walked into a nearly empty, but spotless, restaurant. We ordered a couple of 1/4 pound burgers, fries, chili cheese fries, and two drinks--that set us back 14 bucks. Our burgers and fries arrived in just under 10 minutes.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: This was tender, moist, nearly creamy Chuck. I saw the bright red patties as they slapped them on the grill, and I noticed that they were peppered with bits of fat. This rendered as the beef cooked--while the burgers were a little on the greasy side, they were very beefy in flavor. There was no trace of aging in our cheeseburgers.

The Seasoning: Caveman Kitchen used a savory spice blend on the exterior of the burgers and did not season the ground beef prior to forming it into patties. This was fine, since the patties were quite thin.

The Sear: This was very weak--no char from the diminutive gas grill.  This would have required that they use the griddle, but that may have left way to much fat on the burger.  I was grateful to see a small inferno raging around my burger as it cooked. This was less fat for me to injest.

The Preparation: The beef was ground to medium and cooked to a juicy Well-Done. The patties were formed by a gentle hand, which did not overwork the beef into a rubbery mess. Well-Done was the only way to go with a blend with such a high fat content.

The Cheese:  This was standard American, and the cook slapped it on the griddle for a brief moment before applying it to the cooked patties--this caused the cheese to melt perfectly.  I am a huge fan of American cheese on a burger.

The Bun: This was the same sort of squishy, yeasty, seeded, moist bun that I have come to expect and appreciate from Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The bun looked a little big for my 1/4 pound patty, but it compressed perfectly, and it did not interfere with the flavors or textures of the beef and cheese.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: Perfect.

The Fries: These were thick-cut fries, and they were just fine. They were crisp and golden. My chili cheese fries were fantastic.  Creamy, gooey, savory, and decadent.  

The Value: For the price of a single pretty darn good burger at The Lazy Ox Canteen, we got 2 pretty darn good cheeseburgers, 2 beverages, and 2 orders of fries at Caveman Kitchen. 

Caveman Kitchen served up more juicy, artery clogging chow than I could pack away--I took half of it home. The cheeseburgers were above average and at a darn good price.  Win.

Burger Review : Caveman Kitchen deserves your business.

Rating...4 Bites

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Lazy Ox Canteen -- Los Angeles, CA

241 South San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, California 90012

Things had been way too healthy at the world headquarters: whole grains, antioxidants, running the stairs, and what have you. It was time that Fat Bruce Lee and I undid some of that hard work and packed in some beef fat.  We'd heard good things about The Laxy Ox Canteen, so we had our man, Chiburger (what's the Korean word for Kato?) get us down to Little Tokyo pronto.  Parking was abysmal, so we shelled out 6 bucks to deposit our car for 60 minutes. We started with the Fried Pigs Ears, which were phenomenal, and we had the Crispy Surf Clams, which were nothing special.  We ordered a bunch of $14 burgers, and it went something like this:

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The claim was of a 7 ounce burger, but I think that was overstating the portion size--this was a glorified, largish meatball on a bun. Note that the burger was photographed beside standard ramekins, so one could note the scale.The burger meat was a blend of Brisket, Rib Meat, and Pork Fat.  Yes, Pork Fat!  In spite of that superstar lineup of fat and protein, what we got was a really pleasant burger. I had hoped that the flavors of the beef, blood, and fat would come roaring in like an ax-murderer. Instead, the flavors were decidedly delicate, and the pork fat served to smother/mute the beef--it was a case of  2 plus 2 equaling 2.5. Aged steak fat would have been a bolder and more satisfying choice. There was some aging present, but this, too, was subtle at best. The burger was juicy--really juicy, and that was a huge plus. The beef blend in The Lazy Ox Canteen cheeseburger was quite good, but it was not great.

The Sear: Yawn--the sear was practically nonexistent. This was particularly disappointing, since the pork fat could have provided so much crunch. They managed to get more color onto the bun.

The Seasoning:  They ever so gently applied a miserly portion of seasoning to the exterior of the burger, but this was not enough to make it pop.

The Preparation:  The beef was ground to medium, and they cooked the thick patties to a PERFECT Med-Rare.  Sadly, the burgers were grilled rather than griddled, so all of that pork fat wasn't used to develop a crunchy and satisfying crust. The beef was properly handled, so the patty was toothsome in spite of its thickness. Again, it was a darn good burger, but it failed to make the leap to great.

No sear at all
The Cheese: This was Cantal cheese. It sounded fancy, and maybe it would have been a big deal on a cheese platter, but it fell flat on the burger. It was a silent passenger.  It lent no salt, funk, umami, or creaminess to the dish.  A booming, salty, Vermont, white Cheddar would have done the trick here. The mild Cantal was way too subtle, and it was in far too meager a quantity to add any flavor or texture.

The Bun: This was a house-baked Brioche-style, poppy-seeded bun. It seemed a little dry, but when the pornographically moist burger added its juices, the bun matched the burger perfectly. The best part of the dish was the sopping wet, bloody, juicy bottom bun.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: It was just right.

The Fries: Damn, those were some tasty fries. They were thick-cut, crisp cylinders of mild potato creaminess. They were perfectly cooked and seasoned with just enough dill to make them memorable.

The Value:  14 bucks for a small burger, which did not blow us out of the water and some truly excellent fries.  The value was so-so.

Burger Review : The Lazy Ox Canteen delivered a very good but not a great burger. All of the flavors were muted, so this cheeseburger ended up tasting just a little washed out. A solid sear, some seasoning, and a hearty cheese would have made this a burger to remember. Don't let the pictures fool you.  I just got that kick-ass new HTC Evo Shift, and it has an AMAZING camera.

Rating...4 Bites

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rush Street -- Culver City, CA

9546 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 837-9546

It was the day after Happy Meal's birthday party, and I could not face more leftover cake and/or pizza. I talked him into checking out Rush Street over in Culver City.  I didn't have high hopes for it, but I figured that it couldn't be worse than Ford's Filling Station across the street. I was correct, but just barely. I ordered the 12 dollar Rush Street Dry-Aged Burger w/ fries. It came with apple wood bacon, Cheddar, shoestring onions, arugula, and a confire sauce. I ordered everything but the cheese on the side.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: My waiter claimed that the beef was a  blend of USDA Choice, dry-aged Sirloin and Chuck--he went on to explain that the blend was mostly Sirloin.  Maybe it was...I can attest to the fact that the beef was DRY.  When compressed, the beef did yield some fat but no water.  The flavor of dry-aging was weak at best, and the beef flavors were very mild.  The beef tasted like a low-grade Sirloin burger cooked to Medium Well, but they only cooked it to a hair under Medium.  The beef was simply not good enough for a 12 buck burger.

The Sear: They got some grill marks on the burger, and judging by the depth of the indentations on the surface of the patty, one could draw the conclusion that someone in the kitchen had actively pressed the juices out of the burger while it was cooking on the grill. That would have explained the dryness and lack of flavor in the beef.

Note the indentations from the pressing on the grill
The Seasoning: The exterior of the burger patty was properly seasoned with salt and pepper.

The Preparation: They cooked the 6-7 ounce burger a little too long on a very hot grill.  The heat of the grill was evidenced in the burnt edges of the grilled bun. The beef blend was ground to medium.

The Cheese: It was Cheddar, and it was bland. The Cheddar never stood a was up against too much dryness from both the beef and the bun.

The Bun: DRY. The brioche-style bun was grilled hard. Whatever super drying powers that grill used on the burger meat, it also used on the bun. This equated to a lot of beverage to help wash this mess down.  It was like eating a bag of cotton balls.

It looked Med-Rare, but it was dry
The Fries: The skinny fries were pretty darn good.  They were nicely seasoned and crisp. The fries were better than the cheeseburger.

The Sides: All of the sides seemed designed to further dry out the cheeseburger. The arugula was 2 days past being fresh enough to serve. The fried onion strips and bacon would have added nothing but dryness. The "confire" sauce was onion in BBQ sauce. I found the idea of onion strips and onion sauce on the same cheeseburger to be overkill.

The Value: At $12 for a dry burger, the value was weak.

Dry Arugula at Rush Street
Culver City is a microcosm of San Francisco when it comes to burgers. A lot of mediocre burgers in a small area. Rush Street did its part to inject truth into that statement. Rush Street can be safely avoided when it comes to filling a cheeseburger void.

Burger Review : A dry and bland cheeseburger was eaten and not enjoyed at Rush Street.

Rating...2 Bites

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fatburger -- Los Angeles, CA

10955 Kinross Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024 

Fat Bruce Lee and I had about an hour between daring rescues and touching reunions.  The Westwood location of Fatburger was close enough to our offices to warrant entering LA's stream of automotive passive aggression to sample this well-regarded burger and get back to the business of crime-fighting with time to spare. It was a simple process...we ordered at the counter...1/3 pound burger, onion rings, and a drink for 10 bucks.  They called our numbers, and we retrieved our food--our so-called food.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: WEAK! The ground Chuck was beyond bland. It was punishingly bland. No tastes of aging, beef, umami....nothing--the burger meat was all texture and zero flavor.

The Sear: The sear was fantastic. It was crunchy, dark, and even. Sadly, they expertly seared the world's blandest beef, and this resulted in a completely uninteresting sear in terms of flavor. The texture was terrific, though.

The Seasoning: They dusted the exterior with something sort of peppery, but they did not use nearly enough to make my cheeseburger taste like anything more than chewy water. 

The Preparation: Fatburger took thick pucks of medium ground Chuck, smashed them flat, and griddled them hard to a juicy Well-Done on a very hot flat top.  

The Cheese: The cheese was American, and it was applied to the bottom of the burger. It was nicely melted, but it was completely lost in the blandness of the beef. 

The Bun: This was a standard, non-seeded, barely toasted, bland, flabby hamburger bun. The bun did not overpower the flavors of the beef.  

The Meat To Bun Ratio:  In terms of mouth feel, this was pretty much perfect, but in terms of flavor, I couldn't tell--neither component tasted of anything.

The Fries and Rings: The fries were great--they were crunchy and flavorful. The rings were unforgivably oily. I could not, in good conscience, eat more than two.

The Value: The value was very poor at Fatburger. The cheeseburgers were miserably bland, and the onion rings were oily beyond belief.

Fat Bruce Lee, after a moment of deliberation and consideration of more profane alternatives, settled on "Shartburger" as a more fitting name for this purveyor of weak burgers.

Burger Review : Weak...never again.

Rating...2 Bites

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marie Callender's -- Los Angeles, CA

11324 National Blvd.
Los Angeles West, CA 90064

Happy Meal had been good all week (by Happy Meal standards...I grade on a curve), and it was up to him to pick our Friday night destination. The boy had a thing for Lemon Meringue pie, so he chose Marie Callender's for dinner. The average age of the patrons there had to be at least 63, but seniors know their pie, so who was I to complain. We ordered a couple of the burger specials--cheeseburger, fries, and a slice of pie for $8.99. I went in expecting awful...I was pleasantly surprised.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: It was a blend of juicy Chuck and Sirloin. The menu claimed this: "All burgers made with USDA chuck and sirloin..."  Huh?  That was sort of like declaring that the beef came from cattle.  USDA what?  I suppose one could have concluded that, previously, Marie Callender's had been getting beef that had not been federally inspected, and they just wanted to assure us that they were now compliant with local, state, and federal laws regarding such formalities. I suppose we can never know...  Anyway, the beef was flavorful, and even though the Sirloin percentage seemed relatively low, it still gave the burgers a satisfying beefiness, some complexity of flavor, and a firm bite.  The beef was far better than expected.

The Sear: Yeah! Marie Callender's seared the hell out of our a good way.  The sear was even, deep, and crunchy.  Win!

The Seasoning: There was no seasoning.

The Preparation: Our cheeseburgers were cooked on hot flat-top to a juicy Medium. The beef was ground to medium coarseness, and it was hand-formed into irregular 6-7 ounce patties. The burgers meat was treated gently enough not to create excessive chewiness in the bite.

The Cheese: The cheese was as American as childhood obesity and every bit as satisfying.  The cheese lent some much-needed saltiness, umami, and creaminess to the bite. American cheese really is safe and good bet when it comes to topping one's burger. 

The Bun: The bun was a silent and competent beef and cheese delivery platform. It was plain, non-seeded, and under-toasted. The bun was fine, but it lent no character of its own to the dish.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: Dead on.

The Fries: These were peel-on, square cut, shoestring fries, and they were good. The fries were crisp, hot, and perfectly seasoned.

The Value:  A cheesebuger, fries, and a slice of pie went for $8.99 at Marie Callender's--that was a good value.

What amazed me is that Marie Callender's managed to serve up a better burger than Comme Ça did on our last visit. The beef was a higher quality...the bun was not monstrous or leathery...the sear was perfect...the cheese was flavorful...the fries were not soggy...the price at Marie Callender's was half of what we paid at Comme Ça.

Burger Review : While Marie Callender's did not serve up a great burger, they did serve up a better than average burger.

Rating...3 Bites

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rounds Premium Burgers -- West Hollywood, CA

8871 Santa Monica, Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069

The newly opened Rounds Premium Burgers was a short drive from the world headquarters of TheBurgerReview aka The Burger Busters. The restaurant had already been open for a week to work out the service kinks. This was another The Counter setup--we filled out our order slips with meat type, doneness, cheese selection, topping choices, etc.  I went with a beef burger, on a brioche bun, with American cheese, and I asked for them to cook it to Medium.  After a 5 minute wait, we got our burgers.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The beef at Rounds Premium Burgers was a beefy and juicy Chuck. They cooked my burger to Well Done, but it still managed to be juicy. The over-cooking actually melted more of the collagen in the Chuck to really bring out the beef flavors.

The Sear: Meh...the sear was semi-present, but they only had the Wolf flat tops set to a cool 375 degrees, so even with the extra time on the grill, they failed to develop a solid, crunchy sear on my burger patty.

The Seasoning: They hit the burgers with a salty blend while they were on the griddle. The seasoning was well-balanced and just salty enough to enhance the strong beef flavor in the cheeseburger.

The Preparation: I ordered Medium, and they handed me Well Done....sigh.  The burger patty was good, though. It was a Medium-Coarse grind--it was packed loosely. Again, the griddle should have been turned up to at least 450 degrees. That would have imparted a good sear to the beef, and it would have properly toasted the bun.

The Cheese: The American cheese was perfectly melted so that it fused the top bun to the burger patty. Win!

The Bun: Hmmmm.....the brioche was daunting in appearance. It was, however, fresh, moist, tender, yielding, and mildly sweet.  Sadly, they oiled the top, and they didn't toast it well enough.  Additionally, the bakery got them overly brown.  This created a slightly bitter and leathery crust on the top bun.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: 15% too much bun. While the brioche bun yielded and compressed nicely, there was still just a little too much bread in the bite.

The Fries: The were nearly identical to what one would get at a Five Guys Burgers and Fries.  The fries were excellent..crisp, salty, and earthy.

The Value: 11 bucks for a 1/3 pound burger, a side of fries, and a soda.  The value was average.  I could have done better at Wolfgang's Steakhouse.

While this was only the second week of operation for Rounds Premium Burgers, I think I saw a reasonable example of what sort of product they delivered. That product was fine--it was a notch above average in terms of the flavor, but the preparation and bun brought it back down to average.

Burger Review : It beat the heck out of O'Burger!, Hamburger Haven, and Irv's. Rounds Premium Burgers served up a tasty but average cheeseburger for a reasonable price.

Rating...3 Bites

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Juicy Burger -- Hollywood, CA

6340 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028-6303
(323) 465-8429

Happy Meal and I had a zoo date, but we also had a powerful craving for a juicy burger. It turns out that there was a place called Juicy Burger on the way to the zoo. Juicy Burger was rated Best Burger in LA by Citysearch. There was just no FREAKING way that Citysearch would have steered us wrong.

It was our queue to walk out when this conversation went down:

Attendant: How would you like your burgers cooked?
Me: What cut of beef are you using to make the burgers?
Attendant: Uh, beef....
Me: Excellent! What sort of beef?
Attendant: *looks confused--goes back to kitchen for a moment--returns* Premium.
Me: That is also not an answer to my question. Please cook the burgers to Medium.

Other words that would have been equally useless in describing the cut of the beef used in the grind at Juicy Burger would have been Orangutan, Tire Fire, and Internet. Maybe it was his first day, and Juicy Burger's tag line of "A Premium Burger Bar" was something better explained to new hires after their 30-day probationary period.  Regardless, it seemed safe to assume that it was a Chuck burger. The ordering routine was just like The Counter--check the boxes on a slip of paper and hand it over to be prepared. We went with the 1/3 pound patties on burger buns with American cheese.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  If by "juicy" they really meant "greasy", then Juicy Burger served up some amazingly juicy burgers. The cut had to be Chuck, because it was only mildly beefy with no other flavors in the mix. 

The Sear: The sear would have been great, but they probably covered the burgers while griddling them, and this caused the patties to cook in their own steam. The steaming process created a grayish, rubbery sear. No crunch--just a leathery layer of beef over an over-cooked, greasy center.

The Seasoning: Juicy Burger covered the patties in something resembling powdered onion soup mix. This resulted in a very heavy salt flavor, which even further served to obscure the mild flavors brought to bear by the insipid beef.

The Preparation: Juicy Burger used Medium Coarse ground Chuck. The hand-formed patties were packed loosely The burgers were griddled/steamed to a nearly impossibly greasy Well Done.  Well Done was far beyond what I had requested.  Looking back, I am thankful that they disregarded my request, since the over-cooking process rendered off some of the copious fat from these cheeseburgers. 

The Cheese: We requested American cheese, and we got American cheese--it was fine. The flavor was generally lost in the over-seasoning, and the texture was lost due to the huge bun.

The Bun: Oof. It was a BIG brioche. No, it was a BIG, greasy brioche. No, wait...It was a BIG, greasy, leathery, bland, and dry brioche. They oiled the top of the bun to make certain that the burger was unpleasant in the hand and the mouth. The bun was just leathery and dry...and it was huge. I threw half of it away, and I regret not throwing away the other half.  This horror show composed of yeast and flour was too damn big for the 1/3 pound burger patty, and it would have been too big for the 1/2 pound burger patty.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: See the photos.

The Fries: The fries were fine. They were, sadly, the best thing going at Juicy Burger.

The Value: $18 bucks for a couple of  greasy Chuck burgers, a side of fries, and a couple of drinks....not great--not even OK. Why, Juicy Burger, why?

The only good thing about going to Juicy Burger was seeing Johnny Cash's star on the sidewalk.Somehow Citysearch determined that Juicy Burger was the best burger in LA in 2010. In 2011, I can assure you that it was not the best burger in LA or even on that block of Hollywood Blvd--it was fair to assume that the pizza place next door would have a better burger.

Burger Review : Juicy Burger = Fail Burger.  If you have not gone yet...don't. This was like a dirtier version of The Counter with slightly better burgers.

Rating...2 Bites

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Comme Ça -- West Hollywood, CA

8479 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Comme Ça Website
It had been a little over a year since the last visit to Comme Ça, and I was in the neighborhood--I needed a couple of $150 t-shirts.  Comme Ça had since swapped out chefs. They lost Michael David (we lost), and they replaced him with Sous Chef, Dong Choi, and then they went with Eric Samaniego for the role of executive sous chef--he was formerly the sous chef under Dong Choi.  I was curious if the current rendition of the Comme Ça burger was as good as the amazing burger that they served when Chef David was at the helm was not even close. It was like the wheels fell off at Comme Ça when it came to the cheeseburger and fries. A popular translation of "Comme ci--comme ça" is "Could be better--could be worse. Chef Samaniego and team made it a point to show us worse...much, much worse.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: The burgers were comprised solely of unbelievably greasy Chuck. Greasy, as in I had to wash my hands twice to feel normal again. Greasy, as in I couldn't stop wiping my lips. Greasy, as in I could have swallowed a pine cone with a pea gravel chaser and not felt it on the way in or out. The overwhelming greasiness also generated a couple of cases of heartburn. The beef was funky from aging, and that's what the dish led with.  What the bite ended with was a startlingly heavy flavor of iron. It tasted like a nosebleed, and that iron aftertaste persisted for 20 minutes after we finished. Unsettling.  Gone was the delicious Chuck, Brisket, Rib blend of a year ago.  The comedy was when I asked the server what sort of beef they were using, she came back and replied with "...single-cut shoulder steak."   That was the theme at Comme Ça...take mediocre ingredients, tart them up, and overcharge for them.

The Sear: BOOM! They got a really nice, crisp, and dark sear on the thick (7 ounce) patty by cooking it on a hot griddle. The sear was great, and it added some very nice flavors to the dish.

The Seasoning: They seasoned the exterior but not the interior, and in the case of Chuck, it would have been appropriate to hit the blend with a little salt to amp up the otherwise flat flavor profile.

The Preparation: The medium ground beef was loosely formed into thick (nearly spherical) patties and then seared on a hot griddle. Due to the oiliness of the beef, these burgers sat in pools of hot grease while cooking, which made the sear quite even. Sadly, my request for Medium was ignored, and I got a very bloody and very greasy wad of ground Chuck. Maybe they cooked the burgers on an unseasoned cast iron skillet--that would have accounted for the brutal iron aftertaste.

The Comme Ca Burger  Nov 2009--Delicious

The Cheese: This was just another way to deliver more cholesterol without adding flavor. The mild Cheddar did nothing for the dish in terms of flavor or texture.  Gone was the sharp, flavorful Cheddar of a year ago.

The Comme Ca Burger Feb 2011--Gross
The Bun: The buns were actually perfect for this burger..almost. Since the theme at Comme Ca was "Grease", the buns were coated in a thick oil to guarantee that we felt as greasy on the outside as we did on the inside. The bun tasted like a cross between Texas Toast and Wonder Bread, and that was OK. The bun was also nearly stale, but that dryness quickly went away as the burger juice and grease flooded the bread. A less stout bun would have collapsed and fallen apart. I attributed this harmony to luck rather than planning. Gone was the perfect, delicate, and NON-GREASY bun of a year ago.

The Meat To Bun Ratio: It was heavy on the bun side--why did they ruin that, too.

The Fries: Yech...I had them try twice to deliver fries that were crisp, and twice I got fries that were lank, wet, pulpy, and unseasoned.  They browned up nicely, though. Our server reported that the kitchen told her that during the Winter potatoes are too starchy to crisp up well. That was, of course, total BS. When live, whole potatoes are stored cold (below 50 degrees Fahrenheit), they convert starch to sugar. This causes them to caramelize far more deeply when cooked/fried. Why in the hell was the kitchen serving fries that they knew would be limp and substandard? They could have just as easily chipped them and served perfectly edible and flavorful starch in an alternate form. Or..or, they could have also sourced potatoes from a vendor that stored potatoes in a temperature controlled environment...sigh. Ideally, potatoes for frying and chipping should be stored at 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Value: 16 bucks for a greasy wad of undercooked, iron-heavy Chuck with awful fries...NO.

Comme Ca was one of my favorite burgers in LA. I will not go there until they change chefs again. They changed everything that was good and made it bad or mediocre. The bun, the beef, the cheese, the fries all have all suffered dramatic drops in quality. I miss the old and delicious Comme Ca cheeseburger, which  in 2009 was proclaimed this to be perfect burger by the New York Times. 
Couldn't/wouldn't eat the raw Chuck or lank fries.

Burger Review : Comme Ça went from hero to zero in about a year. Pass on this place until they sober up and bring in a better chef that gives a damn about good ingredients. What they saved in food costs, they will more than lose in repeat business.

Rating...2 Bites

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