Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern

I am officially an idiot.  I can't believe I waited this long to go to Minetta Tavern to try their masterpiece, the Black Label Burger. I'd been reading about the glorious burger by Pat La Frieda made with prime skirt, brisket, and Dry-aged ribeye from Creekstone Farms even before the place opened, but I just never made it over there. Perhaps it was the stories I heard about how hard it is to get a reservation, or how clubby it is with a bouncer outside; I'm sure it didn't help that Minetta is not on OpenTable, as I am deathly allergic to phones nowadays. And honestly, I just didn't buy into the hype. I figured it was a quite good burger, probably even excellent, but I assumed it would not be head and shoulders above other great burgers of lore. Well I have seen the light and I am here to tell you to believe the hype, it is well deserved.
The stupid thing is how easy the place is to get into, despite my fears and assumptions. I simply walked in at the 5:30 opening a couple Friday's ago and got a prime seat at the bar no problem.
Granted it was a snowy Friday, but I think I got the single best seat, at the end of the bar overlooking the whole room, with a shelf behind me to dump my jacket and extra space with no one to bump into on my left. And there were still open seats for some time at the bar where a party of two, perhaps even 3 or 4, could snag a contiguous place to dine there. Luckily, no one really reads my blog, so I'm not worried on ruining it by spreading the word, it can be our little secret.
But back to the burger. Served with just caramelized onions, cheese is not an option, and keep the ketchup away. The onions and aged beef supply plenty of umami and ketchup would nudge the beef somewhat away from center stage, where it belongs.  (They do offer cheese on their less expensive Minetta Burger, which I hear is quite good in its own right, but it's the dry aged beef you want. I assumed I would eventually try both, but I find it hard to imagine not ordering the Black Label every future time. Perhaps I'll try a bite of the Minetta Burger if a future companion orders one.)
The Black Label is different enough from other burgers that it took a couple bites for me to fully wrap my head around. Even though I knew the burger contained aged beef, the extreme level of dry-aged mineral funk which it so familiar when diving into a steak at Peter Luger's was still surprising. After those first two bites when I had processed the deliciousness of this heavenly patty and recalibrated my expectations I was loving every morsel and could not get enough. I fear I have been spoiled for future burgers. In fact, I had a burger yesterday for lunch at Balthazar, another McNally restaurant which actually shares Executive Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr with Minetta, and the burger there was disappointing this time. This does not bode well for future burgers of a normal pedigree.
Even the Black Label's bun is something special; it is an ethereal creation that just barely restrains the power of the beef. In the picture above it may look too substantial, but once the ample juices from the burger interact with the bun it proves to be the perfect foil for the meat, a light but somehow sturdy enough shell to add a contrasting texture and provide a delivery system for the burger.  And once you've had a few bites of the burger, its intoxicating tangy aroma envelops you with each bite. The fries are pretty great as well.
As if the burger was not enough, Minetta's François slings a mean cocktail.
I was a bit disappointed by the Blood and Sand, as it was served on the rocks and was a little less robust than I prefer, but they made a nice Maple Leaf Sazerac (ask for it neat, I'm not sure if the default is rocks).  The best drink of the night was not on the menu and a suggested creation of François, a combination I believe of Cognac, Coruba, Grapefruit juice and bitters, agave, egg white and a touch of lemon. To make the cozy atmosphere even better, I was really digging the Sinatra heavy soundtrack.
Now my dilemma, in addition to the Black Label Burger's greatness, I've also read that the Dry Aged Côte de Boeuf for two (with Roasted Marrow Bones!) is perhaps the greatest piece of meat in the city. I had discounted this as hyperbole, but now that the burger has shown itself to be worthy of all the praise, should I really now ignore this other dish?
I did quite enjoy the Seared Veal Heart "Tartare" I got this time before the burger. And how am I supposed to go and not get the Black Label?  The only solution must be to get the burger to start and then the hunk of meat, right?  Ok, perhaps I can share a burger to start. Who's with me?

Here's my guess on approximate proportions for François' drink, I don't have grapefruit right now to test, but I'll update if I get around to verifying this works:
François Sour
  • ¾ oz Cognac
  • ¾ oz Coruba
  • ½ oz Grapefruit Juice
  • ¼ oz Lemon Juice
  • (scant*) ½ oz Light Agave Nectar
  • 1 oz Egg White
  • 2 dashes Grapefruit bitters
Dry shake, shake, and double strain; Flamed Orange twist to garnish

*UPDATE: I got a grapefruit and tried out my guesstimated recipe above, and it worked pretty well, perhaps a tad too sweet, so use a bit less than ½ oz Agave, and it's quite a fine drink:

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