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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Red Rooster

310 Lenox Avenue, New York NY 10027 (map); 212-792-9001; redroosterharlem.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Juicy and well-cooked, but the toppings can be overwhelming.
Want Fries with That?: Yes, but ask for them without the spices if you want them plain.
Prices: Red Rooster Burger (w/fries), $16

Last year, Daniel Zemans reported on a fabulous burger at Samuelsson's C House in Chicago. Could he pull off the same feat in New York?

According to Samuelsson (who happened to be sitting at the communal table next to me when I stopped in for my burger), the patty is 70% lean and made with house-ground chuck, some of which is dry-aged. What's that? A cheffy burger not made from LaFrieda beef?

He cut me off at the pass and guessed what I was going to ask even before the words came out of my mouth. "It's not LaFrieda," he said. "We worked with LaFrieda for a while on it and the burger blend we came up with during our tastings were really incredible, but in the end, we decided that everyone's doing LaFrieda, and we just wanted to tell a different story with our burger."

Grinding in-house is a tricky business, and one that can easily backfire.

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I needn't have worried. My 8-ounce burger came out plenty juicy (despite being a shade beyond the medium-rare requested), with a distinct funk from the aged beef and a nice smoky char. The bun was soft, spongy and buttery, but without the cloying sweetness of brioche. Despite getting soaked through with juices, it still maintained its integrity throughout the meal. It came with cheddar, romaine lettuce, red onions, roma tomatoes, and a big scoop of sautéed wild mushrooms by defauly, but the mushrooms were so powerfully flavored that they overwhelmed the beef. Next time, I'll ask for the burger without.

The only other thing I'd like to see: the high fat content and dry-aged flavor made this burger so rich that I seriously longed for some kind of pickle to brighten things up a bit. Instead, I went through four free refills of diet Coke, which my waiter whisked in just as I was finishing the previous glass—now that's service! Even a pile of the sweet Swedish-style pickles they serve with their excellent Swedish meatballs would do. You reading this Marcus?

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Crisp, golden blonde and packed with potato flavor, the faultless fries came tossed with a few crisped chunks of sweet potato and fingerling potato, all dusted with berbere, a curry-like Ethiopian spice blend. As with the mushrooms on the burger, I'd have preferred my fries without the extras. Make sure to ask for a side of their spicy aioli, which is really more like a lemony mayonnaise and works well with both the fries and the burger.

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