I was at Federal Bar in NoHo last night, and ordered their signature cheeseburger. I've lived outside the U.S. for the last twenty years, so I have a perhaps dated idea of what a hamburger should be like (particularly in an upscale establishment). When it arrived it was swimming in their "aioli" sauce (read mayonnaise). WTF?? Like a bacon cheeseburger isn't fattening enough? The whole mess was so slimy I could barely hold it in the bun. It was loathsome.
Then it occurred to me that this is how everybody does it now. It's the new American calorie cuisine. I'm hardly a diet Nazi, but this is over the top. And the French fries were some mega bomb of salt, parmesan cheese and truffle oil, which I couldn't stop eating, not because it was delicious, but it was hitting some low pleasure center in the reptile part of my brain.
Are there any other Rip van Winkles out there who know what I'm talking about?
Funny - twenty or more years ago every restaurant or lunch counter burger came completely condiment-free, and the only ones on the table would be catsup and mustard. I got in the habit of asking for mayonnaise, and would be lucky not to get Miracle Whip …
I have to say, though, that while I like both mayonnaise and aioli (they aren't utterly the same), if the burger comes pre-treated the buns have an annoying tendency to start dissolving almost immediately. I will therefore ask for all condiments to be on the side, unless I know that this is their practice anyway (as at the Oinkster, for instance).
As for the observation about "new American calorie cuisine," the source of that is partly the widening understanding that these things are not and can never be diet food, and partly the popular championing of fuller flavors over "puritanical" restraint. Okay, I'm almost as fond of bacon as these guys, but the only sandwich I want it in is a BLT or bacon-and-egg.
We went there a few months ago to hear some music and ate upstairs. We found the food to be pretty grotesque, a lot of it as you described: pleasantly calorific, but grossly overdressed and misprepared. I've heard there have been changes in the kitchen since then, but we won't be returning until we hear reports that are more encouraging than yours, which suggests that little has really changed. Thanks for the update.