When is a hamburger not a hamburger?
by David Farley
The hamburger, that culinary icon of disputed origins, has always been a sandwich for the ordinary person. Priced to sell (especially at fast food restaurants), the hamburger could be enjoyed and eaten by anyone with some change in their pockets.
This is still the case to some degree but times have changed. The hamburger has gotten a makeover in the last decade or so, being dressed up as if it were making an appearance on a ketchup-colored carpet.
When Daniel Boulud’s db bistro moderne introduced a $32 foie gras-stuffed burger to its menu, eyebrows certainly raised. But years later, it’s not uncommon to see a burger on a Manhattan restaurant menu for $20 or more.
But what happens when a restaurant is serving its burger for, say, $250?
That’s what the new Beer & Buns, a New York City restaurant on E. 39th St. is serving. Dig, if you will, the picture: a Kobe beef patty topped with a slice of seared foie gras, crispy bits of pancetta, some shavings of white truffles and a dollop of caviar.
Is all this worth the amount of what a worker makes in Pakistan in a month? I attended a media preview of Beer & Buns where I had the chance to sample the so-called Indulgence Burger. I was about to find out.
The ridiculously priced burger is not new. Serendipity 3, on the Upper East Side, famously offered up a burger for $295. Most recently, Umami Burger was selling a Money’s No Object Burger for $65 at its first New York City outpost in Greenwich Village.
The Indulgence Burger at Beer & Buns is certainly just that. I bit into the edible indulgence. The brioche bun was too invasive to really appreciate the flavor profile of this whopper. Which turns out to be a good thing. The Kobe beef was overcooked. The fishy taste from the caviar and the gamey umami flavor of the foie gras didn’t mix well. The latter ingredient, in fact, was texturally repugnant, as it was slippery and slimy.
It turns out that building a burger for the sake of extravagance and not taste is a bad idea for our palate. It’s not such a bad idea if you want publicity, as a plethora of publications around the city have run stories about the burger.
Which brings us to the answer posed in the headline above: when is a hamburger not a hamburger?
When it’s a publicityburger.