Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One Amazing Burger

At the beginning of December, I woke up with a sore left shoulder. My wife suggested it was due to sleeping in the wrong position. The pain moved all the way down my arm into my hand and made typing, even sitting difficult for 6 weeks. A seriously wrong position, I guess. I consulted a doctor soon after the pain began, and he just agreed with my wife, and recommended I take some Tylenol. I hope he wasn't paid by the Tylenol people for the endorsement. I imagine any pain killer would do. I was able to live but sitting at the computer, or sitting in the car were 2 things my body really wanted me to avoid for a long time.
During this period of time, famous NY chef Daniel Boulud took over Vancouver's most famous restaurant Lumiere, and it's downscale neighbour Feenies (as Feenie himself moved into consultancy for a restaurant closer to McDonald's than actual food). Daniel's New York flagship is one of only 5 restaurants in NYC to get 4 stars from the New York Times, and I was intrigued to discover he specialized in hamburgers, at least in some of his places. You can get some very good hamburgers in Vancouver. Dex, at my local farmers' market/commercial space called Lonsdale Quay is an old favourite and the chain Red Robin had what they called a Bonzai Burger that was even better. Was. When my family abruptly began eating meat after the Cuban Missile Crisis, after 11 years (for me, more than 20 years for my parents) of vegetarianism, I discovered some wonderful burgers in early 60s LA, though I suspect they're long gone now. I was planning to visit Daniel's New York joint when I next visit NYC, but now I don't have to. He's brought his famous burger to me in Vancouver. Just the burger, I'm told, the rest of Lumier'e cuisine is only tweaked by Daniel, still the same old Chef McKay. He's cut 40 bucks off his prix fixe this month only, but if it ain't Daniel's food, why would I drive all the way over there again? After weeks of arm agony, I could finally drive again and finally made my way over to burger Buddha's new DB Bistro Moderne for an anticipated feast.

It's still winter and this is Canada after all, so a two block walk from where I parked to this place seriously chilled me. The waitress offered me a cocktail list and I told her I just wanted a cup of hot tea pronto. She came back with the best cup of chamomile I've ever had. Now pleasurably warmed, I knew Daniel knew good tea. Now let's see about his famous burger.
What is this thing? It looks like Charlie Brown's head in a bun. I carve off a fork full, and am transported back into a childhood when Charlie Brown was a big deal and hamburgers were new. We had just gone from soothing porridge to a vile meat product called a Minute Steak for breakfast. The chance to have really, really good hamburgers at local restaurants was magnified by comparison to what I was daily inflicted with. It had all the wonder of that first really good burger, and the many to come, before chains robbed hamburgers of their nuance and nobility so easily found in the San Fernando Valley in the early 60s. Even Hamburger Hamlet, which used to have amazing burgers in the 60s, was serving vast chunks of garbage between buns the last time I had the misfortune to visit one, a couple of years ago. Each bite of Daniel's burger balanced a trip down memory lane with a more recent appreciation of what really good beef can be here in Vancouver and in my decades in Japan. A burger for gourmets. No wonder Daniel has all those stars. It's as if he's created a new constellation: forget the dipper and the hunter, the DB burger should be the guiding stars for anyone who appreciates such things. I didn't taste the truffles per se, but was probably too expectant. There was a Caspar the friendly ghost-like smile of horseradish. The tomato was inspiration itself, wedded to the friendly, evocative bun. The salady things appeared on tongue like UFOs determined to suspend disbelief in the intensity of the beef. It's not the best beef I've ever eaten, that evolves. But it does take me back to a day when, discovering a great new burger place in Van Nuys could be the most important thing I did in a year when the world teetered on the brink of non-existence.

Even after lifting weights before driving to DB Bistro Moderne, I still wasn't hungry enough to finish more than half of it. This uneaten half smelled so good in the car driving home, it was like driving within the burger's cacoon. I had to get out to buy gas, alas, and then back into the divinely aroma'd vehicle. Like being returned to heaven. My taste buds continued to re-live the DB burger's ridiculously radiant goodness for the rest of the day, even though I ate other things. Truffle as virus, in the positive sense, the virus that saves you from burger forgetfulness, the pit where all your bad memories go and the thought of ever having a burger again revolts you. Fumiyo also found the aroma inviting and had a bite, though it was too meaty for more than one. I finished it today for lunch, watching Barack Obama, a man who appreciates a good burger I hear, become president of his country where my negro friend and I could not eat in the same restaurant in Florida in the 50s, before President Obama was born. What changes we've seen! America has awoken (maybe) from a long nightmare. And here in Vancouver, yes we can make an amazing burger.