Thomas Keller, the chef/owner of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, has been talking about opening a burger restaurant for years. In 2006 when Ad Hoc opened, it was supposed to be a temporary restaurant (an incredible placeholder) until his "Burgers and Half Bottles" would take that space. But Ad Hoc became so popular that it couldn't be closed, and the burger concept has still not come to fruition as its own establishment.
Thursday night, at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, hamburgers went onto the menu for the first time at a Keller restaurant, that I am aware of. These burgers are only available Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings after 9 pm. The burgers are ground on-site from a combination of cuts of beef (sirloin, brisket and chuck.) They are served with a mountain of Bouchon's famous french fries.
The first burger ordered went to a well known local chef who tried to order one at 7:30 on Thursday evening. No dice. So just after 9 pm, Chef de Cuisine Rory Herrmann brought out the first burger to the appreciative customer who had already eaten a full meal in the interim. There were no leftovers.
Last night a compatriot and I went to Bouchon to try this burger for ourselves. It is $21 and is not on the written menu. The idea is somewhat reminiscent of the midnight burger at Pulino's in New York or the 10 pm burger at Holeman & Finch in Atlanta, but don't worry there is no bullhorn at Bouchon, and no limit on how many burgers they will serve in an evening.
Our burgers arrived, beautifully presented, but alas overcooked. We sent them back and they were very gracious about it. They grilled us new ones and in the interim sent out Salade de Melon (summer melon salad with French feta, picholine olives, arugula & citrus vinaigrette) and Salade de Tomates (heirloom tomato salad with English cucumber, grilled red onion & young basil. Both were very good and the melon had been pressed to give it an intensity of flavor and color.
Then the main attraction arrived: two burgers cooked perfectly to medium rare. The meat was nicely seasoned and was loosely packed. The burgers had been cooked quickly and chef Hermann told us he was trying to get the same level of doneness the whole way through the burger, rather than the traditional way of having the exterior be significantly more well done than the middle.
The burgers are beautifully presented (I had mine without the tomato) and served with enough french fries to feed several normal people or half of the women in Beverly Hills. The overall verdict was that the burgers were quite good. I prefer the burger I had a few months ago at Comme Ca, because it had some char on the outside while still being medium rare in the center. If you are into char on your burgers, these are not the burgers for you, as that is not the effect that Chef Hermann is going for. I'll have this burger again, perhaps splitting it with someone, so I have room to eat more of the menu, such as the legendarily decadent foie gras in a jar.
We were pleased to see that in addition to the Animal sauce (ketchup, mayo, cornichons), Heinz ketchup was served (in small bowls, not bottles). As Hermann said, why mess with recreating something that everyone already knows and loves.
We sat outside on the balcony, which I think are some of the best seats in the house. There are heatlamps if you get cold, its quieter and you get the great view of the gardens and the Montage hotel.
Bouchon Beverly Hills is at 235 N Canon Drive. Phone: (310) 271-9910. Website: www.bouchonbistro.com