Thursday, May 01, 2008

Miscellaneous Food: New York 3

One of the great things about New York is how the lowliest food can become such a unifying culinary and cultural icon, something I discovered on my final day, in a day of gorging.

The burger is perhaps the quintessential American food, and the burgers in New York are really something else. What is most remarkable though, is how even the top restaurants and chefs have decided it's simply not feasible to eliminate the burger from their menus.

DB Bistro Moderne

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A good example is DB Bistro Moderne, one of the less formal offerings of Daniel Boulud, the successful French chef behind the two Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel. I did not, on this occasion, have the budget to sample Daniel, so I decided to try the lunchtime specials at the bistro instead.

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The interior of the bistro is bathed in light, which showcases the dramatic red walls and portraits of flaming flowers even more starkly, and the plush seats are extremely comfortable.

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One of my gripes about restaurants is that, often, when the chef is good enough to prepare a complementary amuse-bouche, this gesture is often ruined by the waitstaff who rapidly mumble what it consists of. While it is always possible to ask them to repeat themselves, often the diner is somewhat reluctant to do so, and even if he does, the waiter merely mumble it again. Sadly, despite the fact that service was excellent in all other respects, I was unable to hear what was being placed in front of me.

To the best of my belief, I had a crab salad served with what might have been quince jelly, and a pea-sized ball of pea or avocado mousse. Still, whatever it was, it served its purpose well - the briny, distinctive crab flavour dominated, and made me look forward to the rest of the meal.

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Lobster bisque is so often mutilated that it's such a treat to be able to order a good one; one that is heady and robust, packed with that warm, mouth-filling umami that is so characteristic.

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Perhaps I exaggerated, and the burger is really just standard lunch fare, and one would expect nothing less than to see it on any lunch menu.

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One certainly does not, however, expect this particular burger, with a patty that dwarfs the bun and makes every other burger look like nothing more than a round sandwich. The db Burger boasts a patty made of pure ground sirloin, stuffed with braised beef shortribs, foie gras and truffles (because it's not at all excessive), maximising flavour without compromising on juiciness. In fact, the patty is so saturated that it just oozes juices of its own accord, which made for some very messy eating as the lower bun began disintegrating.

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I really can't do justice to this burger in words. It is a wonderful thing that must be sampled to be believed. Apparently, the recipe is even too complicated for it to be revealed in public, but you can find a reasonable (and humorous) facsimile here.

DB Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street
NY 10036
Tel: 212 319 2400

Shake Shack

And yet burgers are the ultimate snack food, they are the emblem of the fast food chains and globalisation in general.

New Yorkers, it seems, have a special affinity for burgers. There are dedicated burger joints all over the place; boasting that they offer the true New York burger, or the best burger in New York.

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While I haven't exactly tried every single burger in New York, the general consensus seems to be that the best burger in this City, without a doubt, is the Shake Shack burger.

Situated in the middle of nowhere, this place pulls crowds from all over the city, and if you come at the wrong time you could be stuck in line for quite a long while. Thankfully I was there for tea (if a burger could count as tea), because I had heard all about the Shake Shack and wanted to try it first hand.

It's quite an easy system; you place your order and you're given this device that resembles a cattle prod. When your order is ready, the cattle prod vibrates, letting you know to go collect your goodies.

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And wow are they goodies! I don't know what Shake Shack does to their burgers, but they really taste amazing. I had another cheap burger for dinner one night, and there was just no comparison. The Shack burger was warm, juicy, flavoursome, and savoury. The melted cheese oozed off the double patties in messy, dairy goodness. The vegetables were fresh and crisp.

By far and away the best snack burger I've had in a long time, despite regularly dining at GBK back in Oxford. There's an inevitable comparison to the DB burger; but I think that's a bit of an unfair test. They both appeal on different levels to different budgets and different frames of mind. I suppose if you really only had time for one burger in New York, this would have to be it, assuming you'd rather go to Daniel's for "posher" fare.

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It's true that the Shack burger is not very big; but that just leaves space for more burgers. Shake Shack also does other foods that are bad for you but you can't resist, like hot dogs and milkshakes.

Shake Shack
Madison Square Park, Southeast Corner
Enter at Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street
Tel: 212 889 6600

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