A marathon session with our company’s annual report last week has the “YES, we’ve seen progress, BUT the following needs to happen” attitude oozing from my pores. In that vein, here’s part two in a three-part “yes, but” series on Beijing (check back here tomorrow for part three: “Yes, but I want a fapiao with my fries.”)
Eddie O: First He Brought The Bird, Then He Brought the Bun
YES, I suppose it’s absolutely fabulous that our city’s high-end eateries offer such fare as Roasted Marjoram-scented Medallions of Black Angus Tenderloin or Lightly Seared Foie Gras with Carmelized Apple and Teardrops of Clarified Chodofu Jus Misted with Essence of Maple Syrup and Dijon Mustard (I made up that tofu part, though chefs of Beijing are free to borrow). BUT, there seems to be a major gap between such lofty fare and your average roadside chuan’r stand. In other words, why is it so hard to find a decent burger?
True, you can find a burger at Kiosk, American Cafe or dozens of other places about town, but how about a spot where they’re made with flair, akin to those plump Beijing ducks cooked over red-hot coals? Imagine sliding a grill into that oven, slapping down a few burgers and cooking them medium rare (with a few duck drippings to boot)? Now, that would be something.
The best Beijing burgers I’ve had were those of ex-Mexican Wave guy Trevor Kuchar, who with his colleague Kenn put on some most excellent BBQs, on the Q Bar deck, last summer. Trevor got his meat from “the German butcher”, marinades it overnight, then cooks up burgers to perfection. Unfortunately, those BBQs are rare.
Given this, sometimes customers need to take matters into their own hands. There was a time when a certain Beijing bar figure named Eddie O liked the live music at Cheers, but loathed the bar’s lack of The Bird (Wild Turkey). This was easily solved — he bought the place a bottle and, when that was empty, another.
Eddie O has turned his attention to food. Last Friday, at high-end Italian joint Capone’s, he proclaimed his desire for a burger, an item absent from the menu. All evidence points to an animated discussion in which he promised to provide the bar, this coming Friday, with a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon in exchange for the chef, Marco, putting aside the squid ink for a few minutes and making a burger. Eddie also offered to bring his own bun.
I called Eddie to investigate and he said, “I’ll be there with the bun at seven. I don’t care if they take steak tartar and turn into a burger, but I want something on that bread.”
Being the diligent sort, I visited Capone’s tonight (last night) and learned that, indeed, “Wild Turkey Man” had raved about burgers. This inspired the staff members to reflect: one noted the dearth of good burgers in Beijing, another drooled as he created an image for us of a patty topped with cheddar cheese slightly melted by fried mushrooms and onions, and yet another said that he makes the best hand-packed, three-quarter-inch-thick patties you could imagine. Given that Capone’s was fairly empty, I imagined the place full of people enjoying 65-kuai “gourmet” burgers and washing them down with plenty of drink.
In any case, on Friday night, Eddie shall appear there with his Knob Creek and his bun, and we shall see if this man, against all odds, can somehow bridge the gap between high-end eateries and that most basic, but nearly impossible to find in Beijing, of foods — the burger.
Note: The reference in the title to “corn-fed songbirds” comes from the “Today’s Special” chapter of David Sedaris’ book, “Me Talk Pretty One Day”:
[New York's SoHo] is where the world’s brightest young talents come to braise carmelized racks of corn-fed songbirds or offer up their famous knuckle of flash-seared crappie served with a collar of chided ginger and cornered by a tribe of kiln-roasted Chilean toadstools, teased with a warm spray of clarified musk oil… What I really want is a cigarette, and I’m always searching the menu in the hope that some courageous chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable. Bake it, steam it, grill it, or stuff it into littleneck clams, I just need something familiar that I can hold on to.