Entries in Pat LaFreida (5)


The White Truffle Burger at Burger & Barrel

Go ahead, call me a sucker. When I heard that Burger & Barrel was serving a white truffle burger, I had to have one.

It’s a gimmick dish, but B&B is not a gimmick restaurant. The chef, Josh Capon, knows his burgers. (We tried his burger at Lure Fishbar last year, and thought he nailed it.)

The truffle burger will be on the menu only for a few months, while the fungi are in season. The rest of the menu is classic bistro comfort food, ranging from an old-fashioned cheeseburger for $13, up to a grilled ribeye for $38.

On a cold, rainy Thursday evening at 7:30, the place was packed. The wait for a table would have been over an hour. Even at the bar, I waited about fifteen minutes for a stool to free up.

At $48, Capon isn’t exactly giving these burgers away, but he gives you plenty of truffles for your money. Actually, I tasted them more than I tasted the beef. He uses a Pat LaFreida blend (doesn’t everybody?) that was a shade over-cooked: the specimen he served to A Hamburger Today looked distinctly rarer. The fries were spot-on, and so were the two onion rings, which seem to come with every burger he serves, truffled or not.

It’s not a dish that any sane person will order twice, but I was happy to try it this once. I look forward to sampling more of the menu—perhaps when the place settles down.

Burger & Barrel (25 W. Houston Street between Mercer & Greene Streets, SoHo)



After dinner at Manzo the other night, we wandered around Eataly for a little while.

The crowds have been ridiculous. The space is the size of an airplane hangar; yet, it is not big enough. On Sunday, security closed Eataly to new customers, due to over-crowding. The line to get in at the 23rd Street entrance was wrapped around the block, onto Fifth Avenue.

Eataly is half supermarket, half restaurant. It is divided into half-a-dozen or more themed departments, where you can buy food of a particular kind (e.g., vegetables) or order food of that same kind. The layout is surprisingly slapdash, with poor wayfinding and cardboard signs that look like they were thrown together.

There are several sit-down restaurants, though only Manzo takes reservations. Seating is demarcated with crude stanchions, as would be used in an airport. Other parts of the enterprise have counters where you stand and eat, while both shoppers and servers try to dodge one another, hoping to avoid collisions that could range from the disastrous to the merely embarrassing.

Many of the prices are ridiculous, like Pat LaFreida chickens for $23, and white truffles for $3,300 a pound (that’s three thousand, three hundred). Squid ink pasta was the rare bargain, just six dollars for a dinner-sized portion that serves two—a terrific deal, bearing in mind that very few places in town even sell the stuff. But for the most part, the food sold at Eataly is at an outrageous premium to what you could easily obtain elsewhere.

Photos are available after the jump.

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The Minetta Burger

Note: Click here for a review of the steak at Minetta Tavern.

I don’t quite get the breathless excitement over Keith McNally’s latest restaurant, the reborn Minetta Tavern. Then again, I have never understood the excitement for Keith McNally’s other restaurants—most of them formulaic French brasseries. He’s got a good grasp on the format, but does this justify the long lines and impossible-to-get reservations?

Even Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton had to admit defeat, conceding he hired a concierge service to get him into Minetta at a decent hour, after multiple failed attempts to get in on his own. Restaurant Girl didn’t let on how she got in, but she does not dine anonymously, which perhaps is all we need to know.

Last night, I decided to take a flyer on the bar at Minetta Tavern, figuring it was early enough (5:45 p.m.) that I would get a seat.  Sure enough, there was exactly one stool free when I arrived. The staff were friendly and accommodating—well beyond my expectations. I was expecting “attitude” at the host stand, but there was none of it.

Minetta Tavern shares its chefs with Balthazar, the McNally establishment to which it is most similar. The Minetta menu is slightly less expensive, and has slightly fewer offerings than Balthazar does. Most notably, it lacks Balth’s humungous plateaux de fruits de mer ($65 & $110 respectively), and it offers burgers, which Balth does not.

There are two burgers at Minetta Tavern, the Minetta Burger ($16) and the La Freida Black Label Burger ($26). Both Restaurant Girl and Bloomberg’s Sutton thought the lower-priced option was better. We tried the purported Black Label product at City Burger a few months ago, and weren’t impressed. Later on, La Freida explained that City Burger wasn’t getting the real Black Label blend, which was available only at Minetta. We weren’t going to fall for that trick again. It was the Minetta Burger for us.

And I fine burger it was: thick, juicy, and flavorful. Oh, and they nailed the fries, too. It’s not cheap, but this is a burger I could eat every week. I asked the kitchen to hold the caramelized onions that normally come with it. When the beef is this good, who needs onions?

There’s much more to Minetta Tavern, which I’ll be back to sample another day. Yesterday belonged to the burger.

Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal Street between Bleecker & W. 3rd Streets, Greenwich Village)


The Burger at the Spotted Pig

As time allows, I’ve been eating my way through the city’s iconic burgers. On Friday, it was The Spotted Pig’s turn. No less an authority than Citysearch’s Mr. Cutlets ranks it fourth—not bad in a town where there’s a burger on every street corner.

I eat at the Pig only when I can arrive between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m., when dinner service begins. Any later than that, and you’re looking at a long wait. The service puts many two-star restaurants to shame, from the friendly hostess that found a bar stool for me when it appeared there were none, to another hostess that offered without prompting to transfer the bar tab to my table.

But let’s move onto that burger ($17), a hefty monster with a gorgesous beefy taste and a crisp, charred bun. One could argue that the roquefort cheese overpowers the meat (that’s Cutlets’ position), though I would probably order it again as-is. The shoestring fries that come with it are insubstantial.

The burger seems to be the most popular item at the Spotted Pig. I had a great view of the kitchen, and it looked like about 60% of all orders coming out were burgers. I now see why. It is truly a masterpiece of burger science.

The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11 Street at Greenwich Street, West Village)


The La Frieda Black Label Burger

Note: City Burger closed in July 2009.

Mister Cutlets, among others, have been giving lots of love to the LaFrieda Black Label Burger. Cutlets calls it the “Bentley of Beef.” According to A Hamburger Today:

The Black Label blend is aimed at high-end restaurants and features an intoxicating mix of skirt, brisket, short rib, and a secret cut that is actually dry aged! It has an extremely generous 70/30 meat-to-fat ratio, making for an ethereally succulent burger.

It is most curious that a secret blend allegedly aimed at high-end restaurants is available only at the lowest-end restaurant, City Burger in midtown. It’s a slip of a space with less ambiance (though better service) than the average McDonald’s. The only seating is at either of two narrow counters, one of which is along the glass wall. I kept on my winter coat, and I was still freezing.

This Bentley of Burgers comes in a styrofoam box. I’ve nothing against styrofoam at fast food restaurants, but I struggle to comprehend why this ultra-secret, heavily hyped blend is served nowhere else. Anyhow, it is a very good burger, a bit on the small side, with a hint of dry-aged flavor and a foie gras-like richness. The bun that City Burger uses doesn’t quite stand up to such a juicy piece of meat (more photos here and here).

The Black Label Burger sells for $12.99, twice the cost of the regular burger. With french fries ($2.75) and a diet soda ($1.95), the bill came to $19.17. And just one word of caution: City Burger is closed on weekends—as I found out to my dismay when I stopped by on a Saturday evening.

City Burger (1410 Broadway near 39th Street, West Midtown)