Washington, DC: Refined Burgers at Bourbon Steak
Editor's note: Please welcome Brian Oh to A Hamburger Today! You may recognize his name (and beautiful photography) from Washington, D.C.-related posts on Serious Eats—he joined us back in May—but this is his first burger review. If you have burger recommendations, let him know in the comments!
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007 (map); 202-944-2026, bourbonsteakdc.com/the-lounge
Cooking Method: Wood grilled
Short Order: A simple, but expertly crafted burger that is as familiar as a Big Mac, but is as sophisticated as McDonald's is not
Want Fries with That? Not included, but definitely worth an order. Twice cooked and twice as delicious
Price: Oak-Fired Prime Steak Burger, $19; duck fat fries, $6
Notes: Burger only available in the lounge
For a restaurant of the caliber of Georgetown's Bourbon Steak, it's not really a surprise that of the five burgers on the bar's menu, only one is a beef burger. The other options include veggie, turkey, lamb, and salmon, but when it comes to the standard, chef Adam Sobel is confident enough in his Oak-Fired Prime Steak Burger ($19) to let it stand on its own without diluting the menu. There's no fussing over extraneous toppings or seasonings. Just an expertly crafted burger that is better for its simplicity.
The eight-ounce patty, served medium rare unless otherwise requested (but don't request otherwise), is made of high quality dry aged beef—a 75/25 blend that includes brisket, short rib, and chuck, freshly ground everyday. The meat is cooked over a wood burning grill and brushed with red wine butter to achieve a nice charring. The sesame seed bun is also toasted on the grill and brushed with mustard butter. The burger is topped with Cabot white cheddar, red wine braised shallots, and shredded lettuce, then served skewered with a homemade spicy pickle. Oh, and let's not forget the Secret Sauce. The presentation is meticulous, understated, and assuages some of the buyer's remorse you might be feeling for ordering a nearly $20 burger.
Make no mistake, it's an expensive burger (you're in the Four Seasons, after all), but after your first bite, that buyer's remorse is gone. The patty is well formed, but your teeth will cut through it effortlessly. The meat is tender and very juicy (aided by the 25 percent fat content). A very light char contributes a subtle smokiness and, with the shredded lettuce, an added crisp to the texture. The cheddar is noticeable but not overwhelming, and it complements the saltiness of the beef. And that Secret Sauce? It's the familiar ketchup-and-mayo Thousand Island dressing flavor (though being secret, I can't say for sure) of classic fast food burgers.
It also bears mentioning that, as juicy as the meat is, the bun holds up surprisingly well. In spite of the torrent of juice that's released with each successive bite, the bun retained most of its consistency until the end of my beef binge. And yet, admirably, it's also light and airy. Take a look at the cross section shot—the cleanness of the cut and non-smashed form of the half is attributable to the tenderness of both the patty and bun. It required very little force to slice the burger in half and, unless my knife was unusually keen, is testament to the delicate, yet robust texture.
Unfortunately, the burger doesn't come with anything (even fries) except its skewer mates. The good news, however, is that the duck fat fries are superb and well worth the extra $6. Twice cooked and served with a trio of flavors and sauces, the fries are a worthy companion. If you're inexplicably still meat-hungry after the Prime Steak Burger, let's not forget that Bourbon Steak is also home to the pork cupcake!
At Bourbon Steak, I'd be more surprised if the burger were subpar than if it were excellent. The burden of high expectations. Hell, Forbes named Bourbon Steak's burger the best in the country. Luckily, the pros at Bourbon Steak are well versed in the bovine arts and the Oak-Fired Prime Steak Burger does not disappoint.
About the author: Brian is a Washington, DC based international development professional, food lover, and photographer. In his free time, you can usually find him chasing down a good burger or slice. Follow him on Twitter @brianoh11