Monday, August 11, 2008

The Best Burger in America?

At this year's South Beach Food and Wine Festival, sponsored by Food Network, a competition over the best burger was waged. It was a contest hosted from Rachel Ray. She's a food personality I have very little tolerance for. Over exposed and irritatingly (and fake) perky, her speciality seems to be telling America how to not tip when working with only $40.00 a day and how to "figure friendly" hamburger stew is. Yum-o and sammie are not words and yet RayRay seems hell bent on always using them. Ugh

So since she was the host of this competition, I have very little belief in it's true validity. In any event, the burger at Radius was name #1. And I've been kinda curious about it ever since. It was only after meeting the bar manager from Radius that I decided a trip had to made to see for myself. I dragged E and a few friends along for the ride.

As an aside, I had been to Radius before for lunch during Restaurant Week about two years ago. I thought it was going to be a really fantastic little treat for myself. A lovely lunch to myself. The best thing about the meal? The space was unique and interesting. But the meal? Perhaps one of the worst I've ever eaten. I had an "spice" encrusted fish fillet. The spices were left whole. Have you ever tried eating whole coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper? After a few bites, my tongue actually went numb. It was an awful experience and I hated the fish. The dessert I chose was the german chocolate cake and it amounted to a very dry little lump of cake with caramel and coconut on top. It was like it came from a box mix. It was absolutely lame and I left very disappointed. I chalked it up the overall suckiness of Restaurant week in Boston and vowed that I would never do another restaurant week experience ever again. I feel like people in the food industry hate Restaurant week from the chefs to the servers. Why places participate and always do a half ass job is beyond me. If you don't want to do it, don't!!

And so I was a little wary of returning to a place where I had one of the worse meals of my entire life. But like I said before, curiosity got the best of me.

We met our friends at a table considered still part of the bar but big enough for all six of us. It was nice because it was still located in the bar section but was still part of the main dining room. The bar menu looked decent enough. Nothing too crazy...burgers, fried things...the usual. The only unique sounding thing on the menu was something called "low country" eggs and bacon. Hmm, when we asked about that appetizer, it was explained. It was deviled eggs. Too bad, E and I thought maybe it mean grits would be involved somehow. I was hoping white or red eye gravy. Oh well.

Our friend Avery ordered them. And I ordered the crispy oysters to start.

My oysters:

Avery's "low country eggs":

My oysters were fantastic. They were panko breaded and covered with perhaps $30 worth of saffron stems. The saffron did nothing for the overall taste but did look nice. The oysters were apparently local. They were quite small. I wish they were a bit bigger because much like fried clams what I love about fried oysters is that kinda creamy inside that tastes of the ocean. These oysters didn't have that but they were light and very well seasoned. I did enjoy them.

Avery said the eggs didn't suck but they certainly weren't the best he had ever had. We all loved the whimsical presentation of the bacon. Like a bouquet of bacon!

E, being the expert on alcoholic beverages ordered a lovely champagne for us to share. What the heck it was, I haven't a clue. I think it was rose in color. And it was expensive and special enough that the bartender scolded me when I tried to leave without finishing my glass. I passed the 1/3 left to E and she downed it for me. It was lovely and tasted crisp and bright. I did enjoy it but I'm such a lightweight when it comes to adult type drinks.

Onto the burger. E and I split one and the kitchen was kind enough to cut it half and give us our own plates.

Here is mine:

The burger cames with the cutest little copper pot of french fries. I have thoughts on both the burger and the fries. First the burger.

We ordered the burger rare. It was well cooked but very, very densely packed. Infact, I almost thought for a second the burger had been medium rare but it wasn't. The bun to burger ratio was decent.

Cheese and horseradish were already on the burger. Since I love horseradish I was ok with this but I think it's odd to make that choice for a customer right off the bat. It kinda reminded me of people who put liption french onion soup in their burgers. I don't know why but it felt like a very odd presumptive move. Plus the cheese really did nothing for me. It seemed almost tasteless or lost against the horseradish.

No lettuce, no onions and no pickles are offered. I guess for a $20 burger they're kinda making the statement that this burger doesn't need such things. But I love condiments and I love the way they enhance a burger. And since it is summer and produce is so great, a slice of heirloom tomato or a crisp leaf of local lettuce would have been a welcome addition for me.

The french fries were on the pale side. I like my fries with a little bit more golden. And while they were fried just fine, they weren't seasoned! It was a very obivious blunder after the intense seasoning applied to the burger. No salt, no truffle oil, no pepper, nothing! It was kinda odd.

Alright, so clearly Radius doesn't get my vote for the best burger. It was decent and by far much better than my earlier experience with the restaurant but overall, a bit pretentious and not completely well executed.

My favorite burgers in Boston still go to Eastern Standard (homemade pickles!!!), Aquitaine (anyplace that put creme fraiche in their mustard and boursin on their burgers is alright with me!) and U-burger (cheap and fantastic "fast food").

However, I was pleased to finally try the burger at Radius and look we even got two fantastic desserts as well. A goatcheese panna cotta thingie and something we all dubbed the chocolate unit.

Both were fantastic! As was the company for that evening. We had a great time and ended up being the most ruckus causing people in the joint. What can I say? I roll with some very fun peeps.

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