Sunday, May 14, 2006

Too Good Burgers New York City Entry #92 Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien and db Bistro Moderne at the City Club Hotel

Hamburgers are nothing to sneeze at. It is not for nothing that the American fast food industry applied their Fordist techniques most successfully to those pucks of beef. Seemingly anyone can flip a burger, making it the ideal entry job for teens whom no parent would think of trusting with the family meal.

However, everything can be upscaled, transformed into a luxury good, a source of what social theorist Thorstein Veblen spoke of as pecuniary emulation. Burgers are no exception. This past week I slipped into two hotel restaurants to see what all of the fuss is about. Over the past year I have had a few noteworthy burgers, including those at Donovan's (an extraordinarily fulfilling, juicy burger at an archetypal, convivial Irish neighborhood bar in Woodside, Queens), Better Burger (a better-than-average fast food effort) and Burke in the Box (a cute conceit at Bloomingdale's), but none that I have written about. (Perhaps I should try the burger at Peter Luger's Steakhouse, but that seems such a damn waste). Hamburgers are among the most American of foods: steak on a bun, and even when they are not at their best, they can be intensely satisfying.

Perhaps the most notorious celebrity burger in Manhattan is "The Original db Burger," a $29 platter of excess, the Paris Hilton of beefcake: "Sirloin Burger Filled with Braised Short Ribs, Foie Grass and Black Truffle on a Parmesan Bun with Pommes Frites." But where is the beluga and Tasmanian leatherwood honey? No diner could possibly doubt the damage of this fare to one's own liver - or the elegance of the luxe room in which it is served. One could hardly spend a year in Manhattan without a db Burger and a bit of sushi at Masa (more on this later), if one hopes to understand how capitalist inequalities are tottering.

Daniel Boulud and his Chef de Cuisine Oliver Muller serve a composition that truly deserves the label "concoction." After finishing I felt like a nervous ten year old who has just exited the Cyclone, glad that he had a story to tell and relieved it was over. Chef Daniel, has anyone ordered the db Burger twice? Why? I do not disdain the experience. It was luscious and I will remember the foie gras, short ribs, and truffles, and I have a tale about a burger priced $28 above a White Castle slider.

The Burger Joint at Le Parker is reached by entering a curtained area off the lobby of this upscale hotel. The experience has the feel of finding La Esquina, the hidden SoHo Mexican dungeon, a space whose concealment swells the arch desire to Be There! (At 10:30 p.m. on a weeknight I faced no long line.) This is a burger that does not carry the weight of Chef Daniel's reputation. It is a high-end burger, ground top sirloin and shoulder. Mine nicely grilled with some charring. I requested my burger rare, but it was, by my standard, medium-rare. I am perfectly happy with medium-rare hamburgers. Ordering rare insures that I will not receive a grey medium. Perhaps the Burger Shack did not produce a Platonic burger, but at $5.50 it was estimable. It did not match the beauty of the perfectly cooked burger at Donovan's, just good sirloin cooked without pretense, and presented rare, served by barmen who are not just marking time, and, of course, at the Meridien there was no Guinness Stout on hand to complete the perfection.

db Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street (at 6th Avenue)
Manhattan (Midtown)

Burger Joint
Hotel Le Parker Meridien
118 West 57th Street (at 7th Avenue)
Manhattan (Midtown)

Donovan's Pub
5724 Roosevelt Ave. (at Skillman Avenue)
Queens (Woodside)

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