Wednesday 20 February, 2013

Brit Chef’s New Burger Bar: No Horsin’ Around

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You might ponder the wisdom of reviewing another new gourmet burger spot on the Las Vegas Strip. There are already an embarrassment of them. But this is certainly the most casual venue TV personality and Michelin-starred British chef Gordon Ramsay has ever done, so the approach of a purported perfectionist to the almost-fast-food world is something deserving a look. Even if, as Ramsay admitted himself, Brits are not known for their gourmet burgers.

BurGR--which is actually Cheffed by Ramsay protege Eric Mickle-- has been doing brisk business (maybe even historically huge) pretty much since the moment it opened, so there is also little need to either try to knock it down or to go out of the way with praise. Let me just cut to, as they say, the meat of the matter: Are the burgers any good? And are they worth $13-16 dollars?

Yes. And yes again. Made from ground chuck, brisket and short rib (inspired by Daniel Boulud's DBGB burgers), they're basted a jillion times with butter and then flamed over apple and alder woods on a rotating grill. The result is a patty (looks around 10 0z) that's tender, juicy and full of enough flavor to stand up to any condiments (on which more below). Are they, as one of my fawning colleagues declared, the very best burgers in Las Vegas? I'm not ready to go that far, but I would say that they're firmly in the top 5-6 burgers on the Vegas Strip (including Comme Ca, Delmonico, Carnevino, KGB, BLT, etc, etc) and that is some impressive company. Very good burgers on the Strip range from the Fat Bar under ten bucks to over $20 at the fancy steakhouses, so BurGR is right in the middle, pricewise. I'm sure that wasn't an accident.

THE LAST TIME I RANTED ABOUT ALL THE GREAT BURGERS IN LAS VEGAS

When I first walked into BurGR I wasn't sure what to make of the big, slick space with huge TV monitors, brushed chrome everywhere and waitresses in formfitting uniforms. And then it struck me: The place looks like a TV spaceship! While most burger places lean toward the retro feeling, BurGR is a very 21st century version...with menu concepts  to match.

Like Ramsay's other Vegas spots, GR Steak and GR Pub & Grill, servers here present an iPad for the beverage service: cocktails, beer and wine. That works well at the others, but here I think they are misusing the technology. First of all, they could easily use existing software to integrate all of the menu into the ipad (even though the glossy souvenir menus are a nice touch), and even use it for ordering to speed up service--the one thing which seemed to perturb some of my neighboring diners. They could also put Angry Birds or other games on the ipads (is there an Angry Gordo game? Wreck-It Ramsay?) to keep kids busy, and every family visiting Las Vegas would wait on line to eat there. Just saying, you already made the investment in the ipads. Use them.

Regarding the drinks themselves, most of the cocktails lean on the sweet side, like the Skinny Screw, which basically tastes like Tang + a shot, fresh tangerine juice notwithstanding. However the Green Gin Tea is a clean, herbaceous, balanced sip. There's a decent beer list, but nothing terribly remarkable considering how many places have deep selection on the Strip now. The wine list is mostly a decent survey of decent options (doubtful you'd expect much more), but it does include Belle Glos by the glass, something you definitely don't see often. Pair that with the Chanterelle burger below, and you will feel shockingly mature for the setting.

From the starters, or 'Snacks,' my colleague Mitchell Wilburn and I tried the roasted jalapeno poppers, five spice chicken sliders and honey-pig bao buns. All were very good, the first two thickly breaded and fried crispy for a serious crunch offsetting the strong sauces and flavors. Premium pre-hangover food. The bao are fairly classic, and nicely done (but you might feel they're a bit overpriced at two for $13). I tried the Maui onion rings at a previous event: they're just good classic onion rings.

MY TALK WITH GORDON RAMSAY FOR BONAPPETIT.COM

Next we tried the Soba Noodle Chicken Salad, which comes with two sriracha-roasted chicken skewers aside the cold heavily dressed noodles with creamy avocado and crunchy veggies. This is definitely a splitter-salad, and the rare Vegas item that is worth getting packed up for leftovers. It will keep.

As I said above, great burgers aren't uncommon in Vegas, but here's what is: a great hot dog. Ramsay's "Dawgs" (dangerously close to Fieri-land with that one) are all natural beef 'footlong' red hots, and almost definitely the best on the Strip. They cast a serious shadow over his neighbors at Pink's just a jog around the corner (sorry, lads), and for what you get, are actually worth $12-14. The pork belly dawg (really, do I have to keep spelling it that way?) is piled so high it's pretty impossible to put in your mouth, even if you're a professional at such things (ahem).

GORDON RAMSAY MEETS THE VEGAS FOOD PRESS

Back to the burgers, there are 11 varieties here (I didn't see if they will let you adapt them...) all pretty cleverly wrought and served on excellent eggy buns with two kinds of sesame seeds. They are cooked to order, but if you get them any more done than Medium Rare, you're not someone I'd wish to associate with. ;) The signature Hell's Kitchen burger is topped with roasted jalapenos, creamy asadero cheese, avocado and a roasted tomato, a great creamy-peppery balance. The Chanterelle burger with figgy-onion jam is predictably more earthy, very fresh tasting, and kind of light in this setting, actually. The Farm Burger, topped with ribbon-thin duck breast bacon, English cheddar and a fried egg, is messy, unctuous and delectable. It should be called the Farmer's Daughter burger because most guys will probably have those kinds of thoughts about it.

Fries are a la carte, and judging by the unfinished cones at other tables, not a big hit. They're kind of limp and tasteless. Really, decent french fried potatoes, fresh or not, "truffle parmesan" or natural, shouldn't be so hard. I loved both the chipotle and curry ketchups, however. Putting vanilla powdered sugar and honey jalapeno mayo on sweet potato fries is even more dangerously close to Fieri-land. I'll pass.

On the "Sugar Fix" side of things are five clever flavor-combo shakes topped with pudding, a seriously decadent concept. I liked the coffee shake topped with chocolate hazelnut pudding but in retrospect, might have enjoyed the Elvis-inspired peanut butter shake with banana pudding and a ginger snap more (get some bacon in that, and we'll talk). Again, these are sharers, as are the Sticky Toffee Pudding Push Up Pops, a cute takeaway.

So, overall, BurGr is a unique, fun experience worthy of Ramsay's reputation. It's playful and clever, yet in the end, it delivers...but order cautiously, so you don't wonder how you spent $100 on "a couple of burgers."

A few addl notes on pricing:

*Like all Caesars Resorts venues, BurGR offers a small discount for "Total Rewards" players club members. Joining the club is free and you don't have to gamble a penny. Do it.

*Really, BurGR, you're going to charge two dollars MORE for a portobello cap on a bun than your standard burger? You hate vegetarians that much, huh?

* BurGR charges $4 for a cup of regular coffee or a fountain soda, a profit margin of something like 1000 percent. I think it's unnecessary to squeeze an extra couple of dollars out of every table like that (p.s. Where I come from, Dr. Brown's don't qualify as "specialty sodas" either). Nobody is going to sit down at BurGR and just order a soda, so it's not like you need to charge that much to compensate for lost business. Gimme a break. You could give away the drip coffee and still be killing it.

Gordon Ramsay BurGR

P.S. If I ever get another band together, I'm naming them Figgy-Onion Jam. There, I said it.
BURGR by Gordon Ramsay on Urbanspoon


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