619 W Randolph St., Chicago IL 60661 (map); 312-715-0708; blackbirdrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Sous-vide
Short Order: Burger made from nothing but short rib is one of the best in Chicago
Want Fries With That? Most definitely
Price: $15 (comes with fries)
Notes: Burger only available at lunch
In the spirit of giving the people what they want, there is no shortage of high end restaurants putting out burgers these days. Still, I did a double-take when I discovered that Michelin-starred Blackbird in the West Loop has a burger on the lunch menu.
Sure, Paul Kahan, thrice nominated as the nation's Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation, has shown his willingness to focus his efforts on food that is far from high brow (see Big Star). But conventional wisdom, by which I mean my assumptions, was that if Kahan was going to craft a burger, it would be at his meat palace, The Publican. The food at Blackbird tends to be a little more intricate and deals in more subtle flavors. But thanks to a still relatively uncommon cooking technique and some slight twists, the simple burger is elevated to Blackbird sophistication without being too pretentious. And oh yeah, it's phenomenal.
The patty at Blackbird is made of nothing but short rib. I've had patties with short rib mixed in to give the finished product extra beefiness, extra fat, and extra umami, but a burger made of nothing but short rib had never crossed my lips before. My only worry was whether it would be too much of a good thing. It wasn't; this was one sensational half-pound piece of meat.
The burger is cooked sous-vide and then finished off on a griddle in order to give a little more texture to the remarkably tender patty. I ordered one rare and got what I asked for. The only problem is that it appears the temperature of the water circulator is pretty close to rare so the kitchen couldn't let much of a crust form because it would have resulted in a more well done burger that I ordered. This might be one of the rare instances where I'd recommend medium rare or even medium. There so much fat and juice in the beef that no amount of cooking is going to ruin it.
The burger comes topped with a lightly sweet red wine-shallot jam that added some depth to every bite. The cheese is Mimolette, though it must have been a very young one as there was nothing nutty about it; I'm sure I was impacted by the color, but I would have sworn it was American cheese. I did add a thin layer of mustard to the burger to give it an extra zip to cut through the beefiness. The sesame seed bun, soft but not too pliant, was ideal for the soft and intensely flavorful burger.
The fries, which come with the burger, are sensational. These thinly cut potato spears are the epitome of the crisp exterior/pillowy interior that most places only dream about. They are well salted, not too oily, and are piled on a plate far too high for any sane person to eat at lunch. But as good as they are, I'd recommend pleading with your server to get the garlic fries that accompany a different lunchtime menu item instead.
About the author: Daniel Zemans is so devoted to Chicago that he covers pizza for Slice and burgers for A Hamburger Today. When he's not focusing on expanding his waistline, he works as a lawyer on behalf of employees and tenants.