Editor's Note: We're happy to welcome back former AHT East Coast editor (and, of course, highly qualified burger fiend) Matt Jacobs! Here's the first of his monthly New York burger reviews.
Rare Bar & Grill
228 Bleecker Street, New York NY 10014 (at 6th Avenue; map; another location at 303 Lexington Avenue)
The Short Order: Fantastically beefy steakhouse burgers with a slightly wimpy bun. Meat-o-philes can skip the condiments and should take notice
Want Fries with That? The sweet potato fries were good and the cottage fries were okay, but they're not a necessity
Notes: Mon.-Wed., 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sat., 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Oh, hello there reader. If the clamoring for my return in the Serious Eats office is any indication, you were waiting with bated breath for this day. There is likely a party room decked out with red and yellow streamers, hamburger piñatas, and diced onion confetti waiting for me. While I appreciate the effort, I'd rather get straight to work. Let's talk meat.
Rare Bar & Grill has long been a formidable contender for top burger honors and has been on our hit list since it got noticed back in 2006. Rare straddles the line between fancypants and working-man burger, offering high-quality cuts (Ribeye, New York Strip) with high-quality toppings (truffle butter) at high-quality prices ($21, $26 with the truffle butter). On the other end of the burger spectrum is the simple Rare Classic ($9), made with an eight ounce patty of freshly ground chuck. This could have been a showdown between the hoity-toity and the hoi polloi, but we focused on the burger you're most likely to purchase—the Rare Classic.
Start with Mini Burgers
But before getting to the main course, we whetted our palates with the Burger Trio starter ($15) consisting of three mini burgers of the chef's choosing. One was covered in cheddar and the other two were topped with Swiss, mushrooms, sautéed onions, and apple-smoked bacon. These were served on a sweet brioche bun and accompanied by onion rings.
While the terms "mini burgers" and "sliders" are used interchangeably, these were appropriately named. The patties were about an inch high and maybe two in diameter, which turned out to be a disadvantage. The beef flavor was strong, but the burgers were too finely ground and were cooked to medium instead of our desired temperature of medium rare. My theory is that the height-to-diameter ratio (nerd alert!) required a more tightly packed burger to avoid falling apart on the grill. Because of this, I was still optimistic about the bigger burgers. As for the onion rings, they were delicious—crunchy outsides with sweet, soft insides.
Juicy and Flavorful, Rare Classic is the Way to Go
With our starters out of the way, we waited for our Rare Classic and All Natural Classic ($10.50). Aside from the fancypants burgers, Rare offers a few pre-configured options, like the popular M&M Burger (flambéed in whiskey, topped with caramelized shallots, cheddar cheese & apple-smoked bacon), as well as organic burgers (aka the All Natural Classic). In hindsight we should have ordered the M&M, but we wanted to try another cut of beef.
Since the burgers didn't come with fries, we sprung for the French Fry Tasting Basket ($10), which included cottage, shoestring, and sweet potato fries. The shoestring were forgettable; the cottage were good, but too heavily spiced; and the sweet potato were the highlight of the basket, but maybe not worth the calories.
We ordered the Rare burger with American cheese, which came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a couple pickles. As you can see from the picture, the juice was bubbling up through the doneness stick. When we cut it open, the center was very red and closer to the joint's namesake than it was to our requested medium rare. That's fine though—because the meat was really coarse and incredibly juicy, I wasn't worried about eating a pile of mush. Biting in, it was clear this burger was worthy of its accolades. The meat melted in my mouth and the flavor was off the charts.
While the bun-to-beef ratio was spot on and the brioche bun was sufficiently smashable, it couldn't hold up to the juices. Brioche buns, for whatever reason, tend to be sliced too thinly on the bottom—in this case, it was completely soaked through. Another (minor) complaint is that the two large slices of cheese were overwhelming. They melted well, but I'd rather have just one slice that is totally glued to the patty and acts only as an accompanying flavor.
As for the All Natural Classic, something was not right. Although it wasn't spelled out on the menu, it seemed pretty clear that the fat content was lower, making the meat a little tough. The burger was still flavorful, but had a slightly more metallic flavor. That quality isn't necessarily negative, even if it doesn't sound particularly appetizing—it's just different. For me, I much preferred the Rare Classic.
Rare will make your day if you're a true meat-o-phile. This is not a West Coast burger covered in toppings that steal the stage; this is a steakhouse burger with big, bold, beefy meat that commands your attention. Rare takes the tried and true path of combining high quality ingredients with classic recipes and it doesn't disappoint. Rare is definitely a spot to add to your New York burger hit-list.