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The Tasting Room's Hamburger


Note: As of June 2008, the Tasting Room has closed.

The Tasting Room has added an “Old MacDonald’s” Hamburger to the menu. I read about it on Grub Street, and it sounded intriguing enough to take an after-work detour.

Chef Colin Alevras “swore for twenty years that I wouldn’t make one,” that is, a hamburger, “unless I could completely rework it in a way I believed in.” Well, I guess he believes in it now. It has a section of the menu to itself, labeled “To Experiment” (it comes after “To Start” and “To Continue”).

Here’s the description:

       Coarse Ground 6-week Dry Aged Piedmontese Beef, Marrow, Heart, Tongue & Liver
       Homemade Wholewheat Bread, Ouray Cheese, Fried Egg & Mushroom Ketchup


The taste is not quite like any other burger you’ve had. All of those organ meats give it a slightly gamey flavor, but in an enjoyable way. The “mushroom ketchup” (how’d he come up with that?) complements the burger nicely. Alevras cooks it rare, with a charred crust.

According to the server, some guests have tried to make a sandwich of it, but you need to be prepared for a gooey mess. I wasn’t prepared for that, so I used my knife and fork, alternating between the burger and the fried egg & cheese. There was a garnish at the bottom of the plate, but I’m not sure what it was.

I agree with Cutlets at Grub Street that the bread doesn’t add much. If anything, it gets in the way. That’s a drawback I recall from my last visit: Alevras puts bread on plates that would do better without it.

The menu category, “To Experiment,” is appropriate. Alevras is toying with an idea. If you’re the type who likes playful, inventive food, and if you don’t mind taking a chance for $23, then maybe you’ll enjoy this burger. It certainly won’t be to all tastes.

tastingroom_bar.jpgThe menu at The Tasting Room changed over the winter. Formerly, most dishes were offered in either “tasting” or “sharing” portions. As I noted last time, this system leads to confusion, because the “tasting” portions were sharable too, and it wasn’t clear how much to order.

Well, the menu now features just one price for every item, with appetizers at $14–24, fish entrées $21–26, meat and poultry entrées $21–27, the cheese plate at $18, and desserts $8. It’s gratifying to note that the entrées haven’t yet crossed the $30 barrier, but the naming of the first three sections—“To Start,” “To Continue,” “Followed By”—tends to encourage a meal of three savory courses, and costs can mount in a hurry.

The bartender told me that they found the old system of both “tasting” and “sharing” portions was confusing diners, who would either over- or under-order. It’s a strange discovery for a restaurant that’s been around a long while. I suspect the real reason is that the original format, which was developed for a restaurant one-third the size, didn’t work as well in a larger space.

Anyhow, there are no more “tastes” at The Tasting Room, which might just be a better restaurant without them.

The Tasting Room (264 Elizabeth Street, south of Houston Street, NoLIta)

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