San Francisco: Burgers and Spy Games at Prospect
300 Spear Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 (map); 415-247-7770; ProspectSF.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Quality ingredients yield a quality product, even if the beef doesn't quite steal the show
Want Fries with That? If you like thick-cut fries, then absolutely
Price: Prospect Burger, $9; Spiced Fries, $5.50
Notes: Burger—and a secret burger which does not appear on the menu—available only at the bar, except during brunch
For a while, the burger at Prospect was a strictly wink-wink, off-menu affair. Then, in June, they announced that they were going public with the burger and acknowledging its existence on that quaint restaurant item known as a menu. Slow-witted rube that I am, I took this at face value when I seated myself at the bar, looked at the printed offerings, and requested the Prospect Burger—lettuce, tomato, pickles, special sauce, and pepper jack cheese. You can then imagine my confusion when two ladies down the bar received burgers that had been fetchingly topped with fried eggs. My queries about these items—and obvious interest in receiving one myself—were met with vague responses from the bartender that they'd made a special request.
Clearly, I didn't know the secret handshake. As it happens, the special burger is not even that secret, as the Prospect website instructs diners: "Ask about our Secret Burger." So, feeling a bit like I've had a loser sign stuck to my back, let me tell you about the only burger at Prospect that I was in-the-know enough to order.
Prospect comes to us from Nancy Oakes, the brain behind San Francisco fine dining mainstay Boulevard. The upscale, cheffy pedigree shows through in the Prospect Burger's components. The bun, an eggy-sweet brioche, gets made in-house. The same goes for the grinding of their beef. Along with the pickles and special sauce, they add a hefty slice of vibrantly-colored yellow tomato to the mix. If not for some restraint on the patty size, the whole thing would stack so high that it would become a Snake Jaw burger.
Quality ingredients typically yield a quality product, and that's true for Prospect's burger. I liked it. Yet, I did find myself wishing that the beef would have come to the fore just a bit more. The flavor-forward bun and the pickles (though, surprisingly, not the pepper jack cheese) stole some of the thunder from the meat, which needed a bit more salt. That the massive round of tomato leaned more astringent than sweet likely added to this effect. Still, I had no problem finishing off the juicy burger, which the chef had cooked a bit rarer than my requested medium-rare.
Some folks feel that only skinny little sticks of potato truly count as fries. I may be in this camp. But if you like thick-cut fries, order them at Prospect, as they turn out an exemplary member of the genre. The potato remains pillowy and moist inside, but still has a crisp exterior. They spice them to taste like a less artificial version of barbecue potato chips and, well, that's not a bad thing.
As for the Secret Burger, an Internet search makes clear that past incarnations have included pork belly and kimchi. That sounds pretty good, just as the egg-topped burger I saw arrive down the bar during my own dinner looked quite nice. It probably feels pretty cool to order it too, though it's more than a little frustrating to discover you're somehow not invited.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He's usually quite up-to-date on all the top secret menu items around town. You might even catch him tweeting about it.