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Bourdain and Ozersky owe me 26 bucks

I am an unabashed Bourdain follower, and my wife and I travel to NYC every couple of years from Portland, Oregon, for a week of eating and drinking, with a play or a museum visit thrown in occasionally to pass the time between lunch and dinner. Since Tony has lately been squeezing at two or three shows per season out of Manhattan or the boroughs, there's no shortage of spots to visit that he has featured, and they generally fall into 3 categories: (1) places I would probably not know about or pay much attention to if they weren't on his show, (2) places I'm generally aware of beforehand but his portrayal pushes up from a "might-go" to a "must-go", and (3) the obvious places anyone would visit. I've also gotten familiar with Josh Ozersky through his appearances on No Reservations and have more recently been making daily visits to his rather excellent Ozersky.TV site.

Our most recent trip was last week, and we hit several Bourdain-featured places in Cat. 1 (e.g., Keens, Sushi Yasuda, Barney Greengrass) and Cat. 2 (e.g., Momofuku Ssam, Russ and Daughters, RUB). Now, I do have a mind of my own -- or at least I do synthesize opinions from other sources -- and, for example, have never been to Les Halles, and included EMP (OMFG... thanks, NYC Hounders, for letting me know not to fixate on unobtainable seats at Per Se), Shopsin's (twice), and Carmine's Times Square (which I unapologetically love love love) on our recent itinerary.

But this isn't a trip report. This is about Minetta Tavern, and to express my beef, pun intended, with the recent adoration given by Ozersky and Bourdain on the "Obsessions" episode of No Reservations for their Black Label Burger. Now perhaps they have extremely well-developed palates that have been trained with years of extensive vertical beef tastings, which I decidedly do not have under my belt, capable of appreciating the subtle differences between cuts and grades and finishes and aging and grind and whatnot. But if you haven't seen the show, the mouth-gasm that they implied -- nay, virtually guaranteed -- would be achieved by any Joe Schmo upon taking the first bite of a Black Label was the single thing that compelled me to pay a visit to Minetta for a Sunday brunch. And to cut to the chase, I instead experienced 26 dollars worth of "meh." Underseasoned, bland, unjuicy meh. I might take some blame for the unjuicy character, having ordered it medium, but that's usually a worthwhile trade-off for more char flavor. Not in this case. And having been to Keens a couple days prior, where I believe I went as far as duplicating what Josh ordered on the show (mutton chop, creamed spinach, hash browns, and scotch (the dinner flight)), which proved to be an utterly sublime meal, the MT BLB let down was that much harder to take. Parenthetically, I'll add that I can't remember a restaurant as pricey as Minetta where the upsell was so strong, but I can't hold that against TB and JO -- unless, of course, they were paid off for their upselling of this rather mediocre hamburger, which is now my working assumption for how this segment got aired in the first place.

So, Tony, Josh -- I'll let you know next time I'm in town so you can pay up. A couple rounds at PDT might do the trick, or maybe take me to a place that you actually love so much that you don't even dare feature it on your show or website for fear of naive tourists like me ruining it for the locals. Thanks guys.

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  1. It's your own fault for ordering it medium.

    Who orders really good beef done medium? Misses the point.

    6 Replies
    1. re: gutsofsteel

      I would never order a steak medium, but I've had plenty of burgers ordered and properly cooked medium and find that they generally come out more to my taste than medium-rare. I actually did order it medium-rare at first, which the server clarified as "with a cool red center" which made me think that their definition of medium-rare skewed more towards rare. Just Google "cool red center" and you will find a slew of sites that use that exact phrase as a definition for rare, not medium-rare, so I adjusted my order accordingly. And I think the result was what many places would call medium-rare.

      1. re: gutsofsteel

        medium rare at minetta is cool or cold in the center, thats rare to me. There is no issue ordering it medium as that would be considered medium rare anywhere else outside of france....

        1. re: Cpalms

          Proper medium rare is "rarely" served(sorry,unintentional), that is the issue.
          Proper medium rare has red center, a thinner strip than rare, with some pink and the outside shell. Rare is the outside shell and mostly red.
          So, Minetta is doing it correctly, actually.

          1. re: dietndesire

            where can I get a copy of the foodie rule book?

            minetta's medium rare has a purple center, thats rare

            1. re: Cpalms

              Well, if there are no rules then anything could be rare or well done, no?

              I am sure you can find some info from respected chefs(non-French) on the subject.

              You only mention purple now. There is certainly red(and it can be purple, though that color is often overstated)in med rare, proper.

              Rare to you, maybe 1+1 is 19 to you and you are entitled to that opinion, of course. Nobody would want anything else though it is hard to bother arguing about the "rules" of it.

              Most people go with their meat cooked more than most top notch chefs prefer to serve it. That is how it is. I do not understand the need to alter the scale. Order it how you like it, no problem.

        2. re: gutsofsteel

          Agree rare is the proper way to order beef.

        3. I'm not sure what you were expecting. It's an excellent burger, one that's made from a pricey blend of dry aged Pat LaFrieda beef, but a burger nonetheless. It deliberately eschews cheese, bacon, and excessive salt, letting the subtle dry aged funk and high beef quality take center stage. Medium-rare is a must.

          You're free to dislike Minetta Tavern, but praising Carmine's to high heaven in the same breath seems disingenuous. I mean really, Carmine's?

          Les Halles is pretty terrible, don't bother. I like Bourdain, but there's no need to slavishly follow his every recommendation.

          -----
          Minetta Tavern
          113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

          Les Halles
          15 John Street, New York, NY 10038

          5 Replies
          1. re: hcbk0702

            Dude, did you read my post? First of all, they showed the damn thing on TV so I knew that it was all about the beef unspoiled by garnishes, which is exactly how I left it. Second of all, I didn't "praise" Carmine's, I said "I unapologetically love" it, so if you are saying that I can't have a palate that is capable of appreciating a place like EMP or a good piece of beef without finding Carmine's detestable, then that's just snobbish. Third, I said that I'm smart enough and not a "slave" to Bourdain to know to avoid Les Halles.

            1. re: jeff_pdx

              I think on the New York boards there's a general sense of mutual exclusivity when it comes to liking the hyped, "cool," "sophisticated" places of the moment and enjoying touristy restaurants. Or even being able to comment on the latter without attracting a hateful response unless your comment happens to be "haha, Carmine's. Who would be dumb enough to go there when there are so many great Italian places in New York??!?! lolz guyz" There was a rather venomous thread a while back regarding Serendipity 3, and chowhound has a history of arguments regarding what makes a chowhound, what doesn't, etc. So it doesn't come as a surprise to me that your op resulted in comments like "*snark* who would order a BLB medium rare *snicker*" and "you like Carmine's?!?! what are you a tourist?" <---which you actually are. and are unapologetic and unashamed. I've never been to Carmine's, but you're certainly free to express your opinion here, especially in such a good natured and roundly joking manner. Frankly, I wish everyone would tone down the outright snobbery (as in oh yes, my food knowledge is so much greater than yours, my palate is so much more refined, a special occasion hmm why would you ever go anywhere other than EMP? never order anything beyond medium rare, sushi yasuda is amazing/terrible, per se is overrated. . .insert NY chowhound meme) and just let everyone be. . .So in short jeff_pdx, I'll keep what you said in mind the next time I consider dropping $26 on a burger.

              -----
              Serendipity 3
              225 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022

              1. re: jeff_pdx

                Dont sweat it Jeff. There are tons of haters on these boards that will bash you if you are not touting the HOT place of the day. Some of them have posted in this thread. Eat what you like and enjoy. Report back what you liked and what you did not. Let everyone take it with a grain of salt.

                1. re: jeff_pdx

                  Jeff---I think I have a fairly refined palate and also happen to like Carmine's. Is it the best Italian food in the world? No. Is it tasty family style Americanized Italian food? Yes it is.

                  By the way, I was in Portland a few weeks ago. What a great food town, from the street food pods to Le Pigeon I really enjoyed myself.

                  1. re: MVNYC

                    Thanks for the kind words on the Portland food scene (not that I deserve any credit for it) and for getting the tongue-in-cheek nature with which my original post was intended to be taken.

              2. i think that the issue with minetta's burger (the black label one b/c they have two versions) is that it is very different than a regular burger, so someone who loves burgers might come here and be like whoa wtf is this, this is not what i was expecting at all (i think that is the way my gf felt when we went)

                a few things:
                - you really can taste the difference in the meat in a dry aged burger vs a regular ground beef burger (assuming you don't kill it with ketchup or something) and its a very good flavor and minetta's clearly highlights it...if you try their two different burgers at the same sitting, there is a very distinct flavor difference in the meat
                - is it really so transcendent or better than a very good regular burger? i'm not so sure, certainly i thought it was very good, but i also tried it side by side with their regular burger (gf ordered regular, i ordered black label) and they were both really good, just different, it wasn't like A is clearly better than B, In fact, my GF liked the regular one better although she likes a traditional burger with the condiments much more than a dry aged burger
                - not to bash you and you are obviously free to order anything however you prefer, but in a dry aged burger i do think you should order it medium rare...i don't actually think of it much different than a good cut of steak; if done right (and they do it correctly) you'll get the good char flavor (which i agree with you...i love it) and the meat will be properly tender and you won't have overcooked it

                I don't think its the transcendent experience that Ozersky hypes it up to be, but it is very good. You seemed to have gotten overhyped in your head as opposed to saying its a bad burger?

                btw just b/c its on bourdain (think he's great btw) doesn't mean its going to be awesome...for example they go to Kampuchea with that crazy egullet guy who thinks he's food god and I think that place is quite mediocre and just another asian-fusion place frequented by people who don't know any better (i really wanted to like that place too, its very close to where i live)

                2 Replies
                1. re: Lau

                  Jeff_pdx- I think you should apologize for loving Carmine's.

                  All kidding aside, I didn't think the BLB quite lived up to the hype either. I ordered it medium, as you did, and I have no complaints about how they cooked it at all. But it's really hard for me to say it was life changing or "best burger ever" or things like that. It was great- but different. The funkiness of the dry aged beef is probably the reason for it.
                  Like I said, I thought it was really good but it's probably not what people expect to taste in a burger so a lot of people might not love it.

                  1. re: razorramon

                    OK, since you asked: to you and you alone, I apologize. I'd explain my love a little more but that's not what this thread is about. Suffice it to say that if you like "east-coast Italian" and you lived in Portland, you'd kill for a Carmine's out here.

                    Perhaps one really needs to have seen the segment on No Reservations that I'm referring to, in order to know there's no way to have seen that and have misplaced expectations about what the burger is. I totally expected funk, but really got none. If it was such a super-colossal mistake to have ordered it medium, that it turns it from something sublime to something ordinary, then goddamn it, at 26 bucks our server should have corrected me instead of just trying to sell us more things we didn't want to order. But isn't it just more fun to blame celebrities on TV?

                    Oh, and to clarify one more thing to hcbk0702: I don't dislike Minetta Tavern, and I don't wish we hadn't gone there. I just wish I'd ordered the Slow-Baked Ham in Hay.

                2. i havent had the black label burger since minetta opened but it was worth every goddamn penny.

                  it was excellent...and i call bs on lots of hype-y places.

                  1. Not to pile on but you love Carmine's and follow Bourdain. If you have only wasted $26, you are doing well. Does Bourdain ever hate anything, anymore? Does he ever have anything but a "this is the best........" line? Original show was good, now, it is just more gushing and advertising. And I would rather go to Les Halles than Carmines. And since it is piling, y, you should not have ordered medium. I have not had that burger and am not defending it. My expectation is that I will not be so blown away though I hope it is different.
                    And the problem with your server correcting you is that people like to do dumb things, like order prime steaks well done, etc. Obviously, your "sin" was not so blatant but you complain they did not correct you but others complain they are corrected it. It could be argued the serve could say "the chef recommends......" but I do not blame them for not saying it.
                    With a board like this, there are no more secrets. There is no reason for Bourdain in NYC. Much more info here and though some of it makes no sense and hard to navigate, with a bit of your own thought, you will do fine. Better than hearing "the best, the best, the best". Obviously, that is not true.
                    If/when I have that burger, if it disappoints, I will tack my IOU onto yours.

                    -----
                    Les Halles
                    15 John Street, New York, NY 10038

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: dietndesire

                      Bourdain is not a credible source for what is a good restaurant. He's a promotional vehicle. I mean take Sammy's...some folks on this board went there with him and he apparently hated the food and barely ate it. Then lo and behold, he goes there on his show and it's fantastic.

                      1. re: gutsofsteel

                        I will agree with you on Sammy's being terrible but the places the original poster went based on Bourdain's recommendations were all very good and good places to go when you are from out of town.

                        "Our most recent trip was last week, and we hit several Bourdain-featured places in Cat. 1 (e.g., Keens, Sushi Yasuda, Barney Greengrass) and Cat. 2 (e.g., Momofuku Ssam, Russ and Daughters, RUB). "

                        Of those, the only one I don't think is excellent is RUB and BBQ is very subjective.

                        -----
                        Barney Greengrass
                        541 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024

                        Momofuku Ssam Bar
                        207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                        Sushi Yasuda
                        204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          My visit to RUB was specifically for the burnt ends since they're not a common BBQ menu item (although once in the door I couldn't help myself but order brisket, ribs and sides as well). The burnt ends were great, the rest of the meat was good enough BBQ but I agree there's kind of a limit to how good BBQ can be, and even the best places are subject to good days and bad days.

                          Oh, and although this comment is tangential to the original topic, I thought our meal at Momofuku Ssam (6 dishes ordered plus a couple drinks for <$200 before tip) was one of the best price-to-value-ratio experiences I've had in NYC or anywhere else for that matter, especially considering its recent listing in the Pellegrino top 50.

                    2. Jeff, you can't order it medium and then complain that you can't taste it. I mean, really. Tony and I will send you the $26, and split the cost of showing you the folly of your way. It's as if you went to go hear Yo Yo Ma and then wore your ipod the whole time.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mrcutlets

                        See above for my defense of this medium vs. medium-rare decision, as questionable and difficult as it was. Even you in your "22nd Century Hamburger" piece lamented the problem of the mealy red center of a thick burger and I feared that a "cool red center" would translate to raw mush in the middle. So it's more like I went to Yo-Yo Ma and the usher handed me an iPod to listen to. Still my decision, but perhaps based on bad advice.

                        And in retrospect, the Keens mutton chop meal was worth at least $26 more than what I paid, and did approach life-changing status, so all is forgiven.

                      2. Leave it to Mr. Cutlets to encapsulate the argument with an analogy like that. Excellent.

                        2 Replies
                          1. re: Vesuvius

                            And that's all I really wanted out of this post.

                          2. Repeat after me - "There is no life changing burger."

                            Just because someone charges $26 for it doesn't make it so.

                            It's a burger. A burger. There are natural limits to how good a burger can be, just as there are natural limits to lots of things.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Bob Martinez

                              Yep. And yet some people love to obsess over things, which is totally their right.

                              And some people make a living by being obsessed with these things, and by counting on other people to obsess over their obsessions. It's called marketing. And I'd have to guess that Ozersky and Bourdain did not fork over $26 from their own pockets for that burger either.

                              It's like the lemmings lined up for an hour to wait for a Shake Shack burger. People, it's a burger. A burger. I like Shake Shack, I really do. But wait on a line for it??? No way.

                              -----
                              Shake Shack
                              Madison Ave and E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010

                              1. re: gutsofsteel

                                Next you'll be telling me that I shouldn't get on a 45 minute line for artichoke pizza or Magnolia cupcakes. If there's a line it *has* to be worth it.

                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                  I am with you guys. I love a good burger but I am not spending $26 on it nor am I waiting on a 1 hour line for one.

                            2. Is it a good burger? Yeah, sure. An excellent one.

                              Is it worth $26? Nope.

                              I say this with some hesitance, since I like McNally and his restos for the most part. And I think he actually keeps a good quality-to-price ratio at all of his establishments. And the rest of the menu at Minetta is no exception.

                              But the BLB is a rip-off. Let's do the math, shall we?

                              What does the patty weigh? 8 to 9 oz, give or take? That gives it a cost of somewhere between $2.88 and $3.25 per oz.

                              To compare, I'll use BLT Prime, one of the higher-priced steakhouses in the city as an example: there, a dry-aged NY Strip comes to $2.75 / oz. A Rib-Eye, which from what I've heard the BLB is primarily composed of, is $2.14 / oz. Prices at other high-end steakhouses (S&W, Luger's, Keen's) are in the same neighborhood.

                              Assuming that rib-eye makes up the bulk of the BLB, with lesser priced cuts rounding it out, there's no way the burger should cost more than $17.12 - we'll round it up to $18 to include the bun and other accoutrements. Of course it's a "secret" blend, so they could claim it's all filet or something. But we all know it's not.

                              So - your choice. you can pay $2.75 / oz (or less) for a beautifully marbled, well-aged piece of meat. Or you can pay more for the ground-up scraps of said meat. You're paying a very high premium for the novelty of "steaky" taste in burger form, pure and simple.

                              Might as well have a steak, then.

                              Again, no dis on McNally and crew... I just think the whole BLB thing got out of hand.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: sgordon

                                What a wonderful way to get to heart of the issue. Thanks.

                                1. re: sgordon

                                  I hear they are considering topping it with caviar, lobster meat, fois gras and sprinkling 24k gold dust and charging $100. Could just be a rumor.

                                2. Jeff - one other thing to take into consideration (in addition to having the burger medium -bad idea) - you went for brunch. now, i've had the BLB and while it wasn't life-altering it was juicy and good (unlike Ozersky, i generally do not find burgers life-altering though). but there is something about brunch in NYC. i don't know what it is (well, I guess: B or C team in the kitchen) - somehow otherwise good/decent restaurants often turn out crap at brunch. This should not be an issue at a 3 (crazy!) star restaurant but i normally stay away from brunch. Should listen to Bourdain re: brunch ;-)

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: crackpie

                                    I repeat: "cool, red center." :-) And it's been a while since I read Kitchen Confidential... Maybe they ran out of the Black Label grind on Saturday night and figured I wouldn't know the difference if they substituted the regular stuff.

                                    1. re: jeff_pdx

                                      Or maybe all the hype, and the price tag, elevate the thing in people's minds to something other than.....just a burger. And then when it turns out to be just a burger...well, it's just a burger.

                                      1. re: gutsofsteel

                                        this is food people, aint nothing that you put in your stomach and then excrete going to change your life
                                        only time it will cahnge your life if it gets stuck in your gullet and you choke to death on it
                                        get real and stop the hype
                                        remember what the late warren zevon wrote when asked aboutr how he felt being terminal boy that sandwich tasted good
                                        not the black label not the day boat not this not that
                                        just the sandwich

                                        1. re: foodismylife

                                          Just my 2c as an outsider to this board and an occasional visitor to NYC (so a percentage of you can say who the f... is this guy?).
                                          I took for granted the OPs tongue in cheek post. Without that, I'd probably be snarling like some.
                                          The rare/medium rare debate seems immaterial.
                                          1. if the burger is as phenomenol as its supposed to be, it should survive being cooked to med rare
                                          2. regardless of how it was cooked, I don't think it would have lived up to the OPs expectations (and I think this is the most valid point).
                                          Much is said about hype and 'its only food' - sage advice indeed, but how often do we fall for it. Me? I'm plenty guilty of it...
                                          But who's to blame? Bourdain and company or Jeff and company?
                                          I say split the difference and put the extra $13 into the cynicism pool.