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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Three Burger Experiment

I'VE been going to Lure Fishbar, nearly weekly, for over a year now. Located just across the street from where I spend most of my time "Behind the Open Table" as a maître d' in SoHo, Lure has always been the obvious choice for a post-shift (or sometimes, between [double] shifts) meal. I've always opted to dine at the bar and it's afforded me the privilege of forming a pleasant kinship with the bar staff. I've even become close enough with one (who's now abroad) who told me if I was ever in Paris to look her up. (I took it as genuine)

Since Lure has always been a place for me of winding down after a long day's work, I've never ordered anything fancier than the Lure Style Burger. (I can't picture myself having anything more at the bar; and if eating at the bar means having only one course, I'll accept the trade off—the company's worth it.) Just the other night, as I was enjoying a rejuvenating Lure Burger, a glass of Schramsberg and bartender, Annie's pleasant conversation, she told me that in addition to Lure's two burgers on the menu (Grilled Cheeseburger and Lure Style Burger) there's also a third, off the menu burger, the "Bash Burger."

I nearly felt as if someone had just told me, unbeknownst to me, that I had another sibling. 

How could I have not known about this burger? I thought to myself.

Right then and there, I informed Annie that I'd be back tomorrow night to pierce my fork into this classified, off the menu dish…

But Sunday night, as I jauntily sauntered over and saddled myself up upon my usual barstool... Annie informed me that—unfortunately—the kitchen had closed early. Unfortunate indeed. My heart just about sank, but Annie quickly buoyed it with a sparkling glass of Schramsberg. As I sat, sipping my wine, I decided that I'd be back tomorrow to taste all three of Lure's burgers—side-by-side—in what I eventually came to call the "Three Burger Experiment."

MONDAY, I was free from OpenTable duties and spent my first day off of the week forming plans for the Three Burger Experiment. Now I had already had both the Grilled Cheeseburger and the Lure Style Burger and could have just as easily had the "Bash Burger," alone, and still come up with a laudable verdict. But the truth is (even though Kat [one of the floor managers], upon hearing plans of my experiment, told me to just have the Lure Burger and the Bash Burger because the regular burger is just, "eh") I wanted to top myself—I get rather upset when I'm at a restaurant and don't feel special for one reason or another…

So, Monday morning, after making myself a glass of iced coffee with one spoonful of sugar and motivating myself well enough to shower and dress, I made a reservation on OpenTable for a party of three with the following special request for the maître d': I'm a party of 1, but I'm going to be ordering 3 entrees for an article I'm writing about your dishes. A table large enough would be appreciated…

About an hour later I arrived at Lure, fifteen minutes past my reservation time, and was greeted by Albie (the evening maître d') and Vin (the General Manager), who courteously ushered me to a spacious banquette opposite the bar. Laura was behind the bar and after exchanging greetings, she inquired if I'd like "a glass of bubbly" to which I coolly and readily acquiesced.

I placed my three burger order with Beth, my server, and patiently awaited my meal de triomphe. A few minutes later (after enjoying a complimentary amuse bouche) my dishes arrived and I felt like the grand dame of the ball. The food runner placed before me: the Grilled Cheeseburger, the Lure Style Burger and the "secret" Bash Burger. Accompaniments included perfectly fried French fries and the Lure house salad.

I decided I'd start in order of what I supposed would be least to greatest. I reached across the table for my first dish, the Grilled Cheeseburger. After cutting the burger into two halves (I wanted to take home nice, neat halves of my unfinished burgers) I cut myself a small bite (sans the top half of the bun) and came to the conclusion (as I had guessed I would have) that the Grilled Cheeseburger leaves a bit much to be desired. I placed my utensils down on the table and moved on to my next dish: the (classic) Lure Style Burger.

I knew exactly what I'd be getting when I ordered this burger and upon tasting it, it was like attempting to compare a peacock to a sparrow. No contest. A few highlights of the Lure Burger include: shredded lettuce (Kat says the shredding is key), sliced pickles, a brioche bun (it's the only burger which I eat the top half of the bun), a secret sauce and large fried onion rings set atop. (I recently also learned that one of main secrets to the Lure Burger's success is that both sides of the [Pat LaFrieda] patty are brushed with mustard and ketchup before cooking—it soaks into the patty, giving it a very distinct flavor.)

Lastly on my tasting menu, was the longingly awaited Bash Burger. I expected the Bash Burger (with bacon relish and shredded pickles) would be even more extravagant (-looking) than the Lure Burger (like a Hyacinth Macaw, perhaps?), but instead, it was the most simple looking burger of all (but sometimes the most inconspicuous looking things conceal the greatest worth). Unlike the first two burgers, which were set on brioche buns, the Bash Burger was housed between a rather frumpy-looking sesame seed bun. After removing the crown of onion rings, I placed one half of the burger on the plate which held the remnants of my first two burgers and prepared to cut my first taste of the Bash Burger. With its other half removed, stacked beneath the top half of the bun, the bacon relish and shredded pickles became clearly visible.

There was no comparison. The Bash Burger and the Lure Burger are two totally different animals.

The patty in the Bash Burger had an almost mushy texture (Kat said the Bash Burger is like a "Sloppy Joe" burger), or maybe it was the texture of the bacon relish that I was tasting. But nevertheless, the Bash Burger was like nothing else I'd ever tasted; it had such a distinctive and luxurious flavor, almost like eating of foie gras. It'd be a great burger to have in the wintertime; it almost makes you feel warm…

SO, I had decided upon a winner: The Bash Burger. I went on to finish the first half of my Lure Burger and then the first half of the Bash Burger. I also made my way towards the one serving of French fries (I told the server I didn't need three) which seemed to be prepared with added care—I'd never noticed sea salt on them before. And then finally, while sipping my final glass of Schramsberg, I also made my way towards the Lure house salad—which I've never had before, but have always admired from afar because of its cucumber ribbon which holds it all in place. It was a pleasant salad, and more than I'd expected.

My server, Beth, asked me if I cared for any dessert to which I replied, I couldn't eat another bite! As I sat back in the banquette and gazed at the cleared table before me, I felt sad, as if I had just left a party that had ended—all too quickly. But I'm also happy to know that in this great, big old city I have another place—aside from where I hang my hat and lay my head—that almost... almost feels like home.

Correction: Lure's General Manager is Robert Collins
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