Burger Bar, Las Vegas, August 2015

Have you ever wondered what one of those insanely expensive hamburgers ($50—100 or more) is really like? Why do they cost so much? Do they taste 10 or 100 times better than a basic fast food or even gourmet cheeseburger? I’ve seen them featured on food shows and talk shows where they have been discussed with varying degrees of amusement, interest, incredulity and, sometimes, disgust. Well, I finally tried one, and here it is:

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What on earth would make this burger and fries plate worth $65? Let’s take a look.

If you visit Las Vegas and the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, you’ll find a casual pub-style restaurant among the Shoppes at Mandalay Bay that is the brainchild of French Chef Hubert Keller. Chef Keller was born in Alsace, France. He was classically trained and worked with and studied under some of the greatest French Chefs of the 20th century. In 1986 he became Chef/Owner of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. This was a classic French temple of gastronomy with over-the-top interior design and magnificent food. I ate there only once, back in 2008, but I remember it well because Chef Keller himself was there and we chatted for several minutes. In 2004, Chef Keller was invited to open a Fleur de Lys in the Mandalay Bay resort and the first Burger Bar became part of the package. As the food world evolved, the Las Vegas Fleur de Lys was reimagined into Fleur, a more casual space featuring small plates and international cuisines. The original Fleur de Lys in San Francisco was closed in 2014, but Fleur is still going strong and the Burger Bar concept has grown to include restaurants in St. Louis and San Francisco with more in the works.

I suppose you could see these changes as a commentary on how food tastes have changed in the US over the years. Depending on your point of view, it may be a great thing that we have moved away from big, formal meals in fancy restaurants to embrace simpler fare in more casual settings. On the other hand, it may be a sign of the end of civilization as we know it when fine food has been replaced by burgers. I’ll leave that debate to others because I can just as easily enjoy a good burger, a 12-course gastronomic feast in Paris and everything in between.

Chef Keller took a decidedly upscale approach to the burgers at Burger Bar, even while keeping the concept casual. Yes, you can get your basic Bacon Cheeseburger, but there are a lot of options you won’t get at places that say you can “have it your way”. Take a look at the burger menu.

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(If the image is too small to read, check the menu out here.)

I would have loved to try several of the variations, or even build my own from the impressive list of ingredients you can chose from, but I have only one waistline I can give for my readers, so I opted to go with the $65 Rossini Burger.

Some of you may be asking “Who (or what) is a Rossini? Why is a burger named after him (or her)? And why does the burger cost as much as a sack full of Big Macs®?” Well, here’s the scoop.

Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792—1868) was an Italian composer who was wildly popular during his lifetime. He wrote a number of famous operas and other musical works that are still performed today. The Overture to his William Tell opera is familiar to millions, though it is the finale, better known as the Lone Ranger theme song, that most people relate to.

His Barber of Seville opera, or at least some of the music from it, is well known even by people who have no idea it is from an opera. The barber’s name is Figaro, and his aria (solo) in the opera has been used and abused in many ways over the years.

On the other hand, how many operatic pieces have been performed (OK, parodied) by the great Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd?

In addition to being a famous composer, Rossini was also a gourmand and an outstanding amateur chef. There are many dishes that were either invented for him by admiring fans, or invented by him to serve at his popular dinner parties. Some of these recipes are still served in homes and fine restaurants today. The most famous of these, Tournedos Rossini, which created for Rossini (according to some) by no less than the father of classical French cooking, Auguste Escoffier (other chefs have also been credited with inventing this dish). It is relatively simple, although expensive, to make. Start with two rounds of buttered and toasted bread, place two rounds of sautéed filet mignon (steaks cur from the small end of a beef tenderloin, also known as tournedos) on the bread and a slice of sautéed foie gras (duck or goose liver) on the beef. Finish off with shaved truffles and a madeira sauce. You can get a detailed recipe here.

That detour through music and cooking brings up back to the Rossini Burger, which you can now see is a variation on Tournedos Rossini. Instead of toast, we have a toasted hamburger bun. Instead of beef tournedos cut from the tenderloin, we have a hamburger patty made with ground Australian Wagyu beef. Top the hamburger with some beautifully seared foie gras, some shaved black Perigord truffles and a rich Perigord truffle sauce and you have a dish that is even more extravagant in some ways than the original.

Now the name makes sense, but what about the cost? Let’s take a closer look at the ingredient list.

Wagyu beef is  the heavily marbled, meltingly tender meat from certain breeds of Japanese cows. The most famous of these is Kobe beef. True Kobe beef comes from a specific breed of cow, raised in a specific region in Japan and fed a specific diet. In American restaurants, you will see “Wagyu” and even “Kobe” beef on the menu, but it is almost never true Kobe beef. Most often, it is American or Australian raised wagyu cattle, and these have often been cross-bred with other breeds. Having said that, I will add that beef does not have to be 100% pure-bred Wagyu from Japan to be excellent. A lot of truly wonderful beef is being produced in the US and Australia using pure-bred or cross-bred Wagyu varieties. However, it is not cheap. Ground beef from Wagyu cattle can run $10-50 a pound (450gm) Wagyu steaks range $50-900/lb. That means the 8 oz (225 g) of ground meat on this burger may have cost more than all of the raw materials for a regular Bacon Cheeseburger at a gourmet burger shop.

Foie gras is another luxury ingredient, easily costing $50-80/lb. In the US, there are several producers providing high-quality duck and duck liver (foie gras). Admittedly, this is one of those “love it—hate it” ingredients. Any thought of liver of any kind sends many people out of the room, but those of us who love it really love it, and a fine foie is the ultimate liver. Perfectly seared, it added a wonderful richness to this burger.

But, as it turns out, Wagyu beef and foie gras are actually the economy portions of this meal. Truffles are, like mushrooms, a fungus. Mushrooms generally grow above the ground, but truffles grow underground on tree roots. Unlike mushrooms, farmers have had very little success cultivating truffles, so they are still must be found in the wild by specially trained pigs and dogs who can smell them even when they are underground. Once you have experienced, the rich, heady, earthy, chocolatey aroma of a great truffle, you will never forget it.

Black Périgord truffles from France are generally considered to be the best black truffles in the world (the best white truffles are found in Italy). Since it must be hunted in the wild and the size of the crop can vary widely from year to year, it is a very expensive ingredient. The finest fresh Périgord truffles can cost as little as $500/lb if you happen to be at a Farmer’s Market in France in a good year, to as much as $2000 (or more)/lb at retail. The white truffles from northern Italy can be even more expensive. The record price for a single truffle was $330,000 for a 3.3 lb (1.5 kg) truffle from near Pisa, Italy in 2007. They can be much cheaper if preserved in salt water or frozen, but some of the aroma and flavor is lost compared to fresh truffles.

Truffles are served by slicing them very thin using a special truffle slicer. It takes only a few slices—a gram or two, a fraction of an ounce—on a warm piece of meat or a bowl of pasta to get an explosion of aroma and flavor, which is intoxicating.

The Rossini Burger gets a double dose of truffle: slices and a truffle sauce. The truffle aroma and flavor compliment and enhance the aroma and flavor of the Wagyu beef spectacularly.

What about the fries? I have had more than one disappointing hamburger experience when an excellent burger was served with mediocre—or just plain bad—fries. Not so here. The Skinny Fries were perfect—crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and lightly salted. I love fancier fries (Parmesan-Truffle fries can be amazing when done well), but putting over-the-top fries with this over-the-top budget would have been, well, over-the-top. Simple fries next to a very complex burger—perfect.

What about beverages? Well, as I said, Burger Bar is casual, pub-style place. There is a huge selection of beers. The bar is stocked with a wide range of liquor that I would categorize as adequate. The wine selection was abysmal—bad news for a wine guy like me, but most people will be thrilled with the beer selection.

Since I don’t like beer, I had to find an alternative. Why not a milk shake to go with the burger? Better yet, an adult milk shake.

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(If the image is hard to read, check the menu out here.)

I don’t order milk shakes much anymore—calories, waistline and all that—but who wants water or a diet soda with a $65 hamburger? Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream was my favorite as a kid. I also remember a time when I thought the taste of Creme de Menthe Liqueur was quite delicious and exotic (I am past that now, you will be pleased to know). Put the two together and top them with an Oreo® cookie and I am a kid again.

For some reason, however, it took a very long time for the shake to show up on my table and my burger was half gone before it arrived. That worked out OK, as the shake basically became my dessert.

So, can I still settle for a regular burger, or am I now addicted to $65 and up gourmet extravaganzas? Well, the Rossini Burger was fabulous, but I still appreciate more basic burgers. I will definitely return to Burger Bar the next time I get a chance and try some of the other burgers on the menu. Maybe they will upgrade the wine selection by then, too.

Of course, if you really want the ultimate burger and wine experience, you need to go over to Fleur.

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There you can order a Rossini Burger with a bottle of 1996 Petrus for “only” $5,000. In this case, the price of the wine overshadows even the price of the luxury ingredients on the burger. Petrus is one of the most delicious and expensive wine from the famous Bordeaux region of France. I just did a quick online search for the ’96 Petrus at retail, and it is selling for prices ranging from about $1,700 to $3,000. Since restaurant wine prices are usually two or three times retail prices, you are buying the wine and they are basically throwing the burger in for free. ? If you decide to order one, please call. You can have the burger, but I would love a glass of the wine!

Finally, I own several of Chef Keller’s cookbooks, including the one based on recipes from the Burger Bar, and they are very good. He has also done some cooking shows on PBS, but I have not seen them on DVD or Blu-ray.

Burger Bar
Address: 3930 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, NV 89119
Phone: (702) 632-9364
Reservations: opentable.com
Website: www.burger-bar.com/lv

Dress Code:  Casual
Price Range: $30 and under
Lunch: Sunday-Saturday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday: 5:00pm-11:00pm,
Friday-Saturday: 5:00pm-1:00am
AMEX, Diners Club, Discover, JCB MasterCard, Visa

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All images were taken with a Sony Alpha a6000 camera and a Sony-Zeiss SEL1670Z Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm (24-105mm full frame equivalent) F4 ZA OSS lens using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik/Google plugins.

One Comment

  1. Alfred Loomer March 28, 2016 at 10:27 am #

    Dave, awesome review, I can’t wait to try the Rossini at Burger Bar on my next Vegas visit!
    Thank you for sharing

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