Fresh Kill: the burger at Les Halles downtown

Bourdain Burger

Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s downtown brasserie, makes one of my favorite cheeseburgers: ground to order with chopped sirloin, perfectly cooked with a good sear, served alongside some of the best fries in the city. I’ve had the burger at their Park Ave. location and I prefer the John Street joint, in the Financial district. They also serve good beer, from Allagash White to Kronenbourg 1664. Not a fantastic selection, but good. The Brooklyn Winter Lager was my favorite on tap.

Their burger is good because it is simple. A solid sesame bun, some caramelized onions, tomato. And good beef. Nothing crazy fancy, no claims of “single steer” or other nonsense. They grind it from the sirloin trimmings of their many tasty steaks. This time around it felt a tiny bit smaller and a little less fatty. I suppose it depends on what they have. But it is still one of the best burgers in the City. It’s not cheap, but not ridiculous. For great cheap burgers, there’s HB Burger, Shake Shack (AVOID the awful Times Square one), and the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien (behind the curtain). Those are around seven bucks and really damn good.

The best, I am told, is at the Minetta Tavern. We have yet to try it. It is $26 for the top end burger. The burgers at DBGB, the beer & banger joint, are half that and are fantastic, one of the best. So is the roquefort burger at Spotted Pig. So it’s tough to go pay that much for a burger, even as a treat. How great could it be? If it is as disappointing as the “single steer” burger at Pig & Prince in Montclair- I’d rather have a $7 burger from Krug’s Tavern- then it’s money down the drain. But I will try it eventually, and report back to you. My standard is still the Cloverleaf Tavern. They make a consistently good burger, if you get it medium to medium rare. Sometimes the kitchen overcooks them, but when they get it right they are one of the best around, especially for the price.


In honor of Black History month…

I ate this choucroutes de Royale at Les Halles. That’s blood sausage, it’s always excellent. Their frankfurter is blah- for shame, Tony. I hope Hiram’s Roadstand smacks some sense into you. The salami and smoked bacon are good, the beer-cooked sauerkraut was good. It should have come with house-made mustard, you crumb-bum!

Your restaurant does so well with many things, but it never hits the ball out of the park. The brie & honey appetizer is great, but the crawfish Creole pastry was too peppery and lacked much depth. I was hoping the bacon would be tastier. How do you make bacon boring? I don’t care if that’s how brasseries have done it for ages, boiled bacon is not palatable. Next time I’ll stick to what you do very well: sausages, mussels, burgers and frites, and the grilled meats. The beef bourgogne was well received, but skimpy. You’ve been a go-to place for me way downtown, but I’m thinking the cab ride to DBGB may be worth it.

Don’t let your restaurants fizzle now that you’re a TV celebrity.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Les Halles – Bourdain Burger

Since I already had Tony Bourdain’s sausage, I figured he owed me a burger! You know we love burgers here at Pluck You, Too. I daresay I even love them more than hot dogs. So, when I had a gift certificate to kill at Les Halles, I decided to see how Tony B does a burger. The grapevine whispered that the burger at Les Halles was as top-notch as their frites, so I had to give it a go. We opted for the downtown location on John Street as usual- I’ve been to the Park Ave location and while it’s a little more tony (har de har har) it is harder to get into. Plus Firecracker works in the banker’s ghetto, so it’s convenient.

We ordered appetizers that never showed up- that’s the trade, the service downtown is rather spotty- but she ordered the French Dip, which should just be called the Dip, right? and I the burger with gruyere. A couple of Kronenborgs and we were happy. The Dip was fantastic- tender slices of beef with caramelized onions on a crusty baguette and a rich gravy of dipping sauce. Could a burger stand up to sliced steak?

It sure as hell can, especially when it’s sirloin ground to order. It was amazing, one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Topped only with a lightly grilled onion round, a melted layer of sharp aged Gruyere, it was perfect. The brioche bun was soft and tasty, and the burger needed no condiments. The burger tasted like good gravy, y’all. Fantastic. At $15, it had better taste like a beef bomb exploding on your palate! That’s the same price as the equally worthy burger at The Spotted Pig, minus the monster gorgonzola infusion. That was the last burger that amazed me this much, and Les Halles lets the meat speak for itself. And it says, “EAT ME.

So pop in for a kick-ass burger and some of the best fries in Manhattan. Belgian style frites. The beer selection is acceptable with Kronenborg and Blue Moon on tap, you’ll be seated quick, and while I’ve had an order disappear or go wrong, in the 5 times we’ve been here we’ve never had bad, or even mediocre food. For brasserie-style grilled meats and comfort foods, buckets of tasty mussels and kick-ass mac ‘n cheese, Les Halles is hard to beat. The few places I’ve been that have lower prices, like Les Sans-Cullotes in Turtle Bay, the food is not in the same league. So the punk rock celeb chef from Jersey’s joint is still worth going to.,+nyc&ie=UTF8&cid=40709963,-74009004,2961683213598527480&s=AARTsJqo4E6zOnnVWXc-fysFn6_gayHP8w&ll=40.719811,-74.004765&spn=0.022768,0.036478&z=14&iwloc=A&output=embed
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The Best Mac & Cheese Ever

We went to Les Halles downtown again recently. This time I had the aged Gruyere mac ‘n cheese. As a lover of Gruyere cheese, this was simply amazing. It’s a bit filling, so share it and a bucket of their awesome mussels with someone. One caveat with the menu- the fish ‘n chips. For shame, Tony- they served potato chips. I don’t care if they do that in Paris, but you should be serving your famous fries (er, frites) with it! In Paris, Monsieur Pluque never ordered fish ‘n chips.

A small complaint. The mac ‘n cheese crust was so good that if there was a ribbon of it around the equator, I’d still be eating it like Wimpy following a line of hamburgers, somewhere in Africa. (Making me an equatorial guinea, ha ha!)

Greasy Spoons: Sake Bar Hagi

All the best Japanese places I’ve been to in New York are underground. Sake Bar Hagi is a Japanese gastropub of sorts- Tokyo comfort food and $11 pitchers of Sapporo and Ki-rin is the fare. I’ve wanted to go here since Anthony Bourdain mentioned it on his New York show with Andrew Zimmern. It’s not far from Radio City and Times Square, secreted in a basement hollow near a sushi bar, it’s open till 3am, and serves quick bar food like chicken yakitori for $2 a skewer, a great bargain for sit-down bar food in NYC.

“We sell forbidden objects from places men fear to tread..”

The last time we came, there was a line out the door and up the stairs; this time we got lucky for a Saturday night after a show. We waited about 5 minutes for a corner table, and snugged in. The place is small and cozy and noisy with mostly Japanese patrons watching horse racing on big screen TVs, over platters of fried goodies and drinkin’ foods. It reminded me of my short time in Tokyo and Niigata. I didn’t hit many bars out there, in fact the one I remember was run by a Canadian ex-pat, with poutine served hot ‘n gooey, and many shots of Canadian Club 12-year poured freely.

Belly up to the bar or snug into a table. No frogurt, though.

Here we perused the multi-page menu that had everything from fried slices of beef tongue (better than it sounds!) and spaghetti with ketchup (Japanese drunk food) to more familiar Japanese fare like gyoza dumplings and sashimi. The specials blackboard was thankfully written in Japanese and English, so we started off with a plate of Berkshire Pork dumplings, which were tender and tasty. Berkshire is a rare breed in England; the Japanese-bred pigs were brought over in the 1800’s and are raised like Wagyu (Kobe) beef. It was hard to tell how marbled the pork was from a tiny bit in a dumpling, but they were very good. And only $4.

Yellowtail collar- grilled nummies in there.

It ends up being a lot like Dim Sum; they don’t push carts around, but the menu is mostly appetizer sizes with a few big plates, like the chopped steak. The biggest plate we ordered was the Grilled Yellowtail collar ($7.50), which Bourdain raved about. It was excellent- rich and tender pieces of yellowtail to be plucked out from the bony collar with your chopsticks. Luckily, I picked around inside and found the biggest chunk hiding in there. It had the rich oily flavor of belly meat.

A shrimpstrosity

We sampled a few other appies too- the chicken yakitori meatball skewer ($2), a huge shrimp skewer ($4), and a huge potato croquette ($4) which was a bit bland but otherwise nice and crisp on the outside. The shrimp was flavorful but a little overdone, the meatballs were a great cheap bar snack. There’s so much more on the menu, like okonomiyaki, takoyaki (fried octopus balls), and of course, may different kinds of sake. We had Sapporo, thanks. If they had Suntory Malt, my fave beer from Japan, I would have been thrilled.

Overall this is a great find, a cozy hideaway between Times Square and Radio City. Sort of like the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien for those who love Japanese food. Or anything fried on a stick.

Puka Dog: The Hawaiian Hot Dog

Today the real reason for our trip was fulfilled. Yes, we flew 5500 miles for a hot dog. When we decided to go to Hawaii, Firecracker said things like, “I wanna go horseback riding!” but only one thing came to my mind: Puka Dog, the Hawaiian hot dog joint that Anthony Bourdain went to on his show.

Getting a table is slightly harder than at Bourdain’s… zing!

Bourdain also liked Hiram’s, so I knew his hot dog cred was golden. Puka Dog is nestled in the Waikiki town center, at the mall entrance. They have a huge sign now announcing “as seen on the Travel Channel,” and they sell t-shirts and such. But they still serve up a unique and delicious dog.

Dog rolling off the assembly line

They do things differently here in Hawaii. For one, the pizza comes with pineapple and Canadian bacon on it, but that’s nothing new. The hot dogs at Puka are Polish sausages, and they are cooked well-done on the rolling metal cooker that they use at Nathan’s and cafeterias. The dog gets a crispy shell of burnt skin, like a weller at Rutt’s. Then there’s the bun- a long soft hollowed-out roll that gets toasted on the inside by a special skewer that looks like a violent dildo.

“Steely Dan,” the magical skewer that toasts the inside

Then there’s the choices; you can get a veggie dog if you must, and then you choose the heat level of your garlic sauce, from mild to habañero hot. I chose “spicy,” #2 on a level of 4, and it was still very mild. Next time I’ll try the hottest. Then you choose your relish- pineapple, mango, coconut, guava- I think they also have a sweet pickle relish, but why would you get something mundane if you’ve come all the way to Hawaii? Then finally, you choose your mustard, which is golden and seems mixed with mayo, actually. The lilikoi or passion fruit mustard is a lot like sweet mayo and is the perfect topper. Go hog wild. I went for a pineapple-lilikoi.

More combinations than a Rubik’s Cube

Your dog might take 5 or 10 minutes to cook this way. I had to run and feed the parking meter, since in Waikiki you get ten minutes for a quarter- like a Magic Fingers bed. I mean, come on. But by the time I got back, the dog was done, and so was the fresh lemonade they make. You know, the kind so fresh there’s half a squeezed lemon and a sediment of sugar in your cup. The best kind there is.

Was the hot dog worth the transcontinental flight? You bet your bippy. The gummy roll is the perfect pocket for the crisp and juicy dog. The toasted inside gives it a real crunch, and they squirt the relish and sauces inside. They tend to collect at the bottom, so you get a volcanic eruption of sweet sauces at the end.

Insert gross joke here

The only bad thing about Puka Dog is that the dogs are so big you might only be able to eat one. I had a cheeseburger for breakfast this morning, so I could only manage one Puka Dog. Next time I’ll have a super-hot one with coconut relish or mango. And that just may be Monday… so Mahalo, Hawaiians, for introducing me to a new hot dog unlike any I’ve had before. They may not be as decadent as Crif Dog’s bacon wrapped franks, but they are one of a kind and bursting with tropical flavor. Like my pants.

Viagra in hot dog form.

Anthony Bourdain’s place downtown, Les Halles.

I had to work this weekend doing geeky stuff that I won’t bore you with here, involving IBM servers and stuff your primitive intellect wouldn’t understand, things with alloys and compositions and things with… molecular structures. One of my co-workers from New Orleans came up to assist, and after we finished up we headed into the city for a bite and to kill some time. Firecracker was off horseback riding and dancing at the lesbian bar so I was on my own again… naturally (copyright Gilbert O’Sullivan, please don’t sue me you lousy 2-hit wonder).

Tourists on the bull

The weather was threatening rain, so we didn’t do too much– hopped the train to the Financial district. We didn’t do the Staten Island ferry because we only had an hour before dinner, but we walked down Broadway to Battery Park, saw a tallship sailing across the harbor, and headed back up to Wall Street. We made some stops at Trinity Church where Nicholas Cage found the treasure of the Masons, and the Chapel of St. Paul the Apostle, where George Washington was inaugurated.

WTC memorial in Battery Park

Dinner was at Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain‘s brasserie on John St. He has a tonier place on Park Ave., but I prefer this cozy spot. It has more of a pub feel, and the prices are pretty damn good for New York, especially for a place with a well-known executive chef. Executive chef means the guy who comes up with some dishes and never sets foot in the place again. Bourdain did a show where he worked a night here as a line cook, and he barely survived. I like that he has a sense of humor about his charmed life, and who wouldn’t love to have a job that meant traveling the world eating all sorts of weird delicacies?

Tallship in the harbor

His restaurant may not be stunning- nothing here wowed me more than the tasting menu at One If By Land, Two If By Sea, but it’s very consistent and makes excellent comfort food, what a brasserie is supposed to do. It’s not as cheap as Les Sans Culottes, but it holds its own with any place we ate in Paris (though we did not hit any foodie faves there, due to time and budget). And the food is excellent, especially for the price. Such as $18 for steak frites. We ate like kings and just barely nicked the C-note mark.

Blood sausage, yum!

We started off with fishy appetizers. He had escargot in a pesto broth, and I had mussels in Calvados with lardons (thick bacon) and apples. Delicious and not too filling. The rich broth in each complimented the seafood without overwhelming it, which is easy with mussels. They still had their nutty flavor. I had a few beers over dinner- the selection is decent but not spectacular- Kronenbourg 1664, Blue Moon, and Chimay Rouge. The Chimay was the best of the lot, but almost tastes too good to have with food.

For dinner he had fish and chips, and I had blood sausage with caramelized apples and mashed potatoes. I like organ meats I remember Bourdain saying that blood sausage was one of his favorite dishes, so I figured the stuff at his place would be good. It certainly was. It has a rich flavor like good liver, and while it wasn’t transcendent and thrilling like the liver at The Spotted Pig, it was delicious and had a good texture that wasn’t the turn-off I expected. I’d had black and white pudding in Ireland and while it’s good breakfast fare, it’s a bit grainy to have on its own. The blood sausage here, paired with the mild sweetness of the apples, was a great match. The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery with a nice gravy, that went well with it. Danny liked his fish & chips just fine- I’ve had Bourdain’s frites before and they are pretty damn good.

Dessert was chocolate mousse and I had profiteroles, or as I like to call them, little ice cream cheeseburgers dipped in chocolate sauce. The sauce was as great as the chocolate fondue at Chocolate by the Bald Man, but a tad less rich than Jacques Torres’s stuff. A nice light dessert to top off the rich meal. I recommend downtown Les Halles for late night dining (they’re open until 1am) and for $50 a person plus tip, it’s a moderately priced meal for the city. You can spend nearly that much at Appleby’s, with their $13 hamburgers, which make the incredible Roquefort burger at Spotted Pig seem a bargain. The french onion soup the table next to us had smelled positively intoxicating, with its topping of aged Gruyere; I’ll definitely try that next time. I still haven’t had a simple steak here, and the aged prime rib for 2 has teased me from the menu. I’ll have to bring Firecracker here, she’s still doing the low carb thing and a prime rib for two is the perfect thing for that.

And here’s the bull’s balls, which thankfully are not on the menu.