Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Five Napkin Burger

We've wanted to try this boldly named NYC burger joint since we passed it on our journey to Island Burgers & Shakes. In Hell's Kitchen lies this upscale version of a burger bar, and they deliver a big juicy burger that lives up to the name. But is it that much better than Island? Let's see.

For one thing, they have fries at Five Napkin, and a lot more tables. They serve your burger with a nice little mess of shoestring fries done crispy with lots of flavor. They also have cornmeal-dusted onion rings, but at $7.25 for a "tower" of 7 or so rings, they sting the wallet. The rings are very good, nice and crispy, and if you could get half rings/half fries like at the Burger Shoppe, it would be ideal. They also have a stellar beer menu, with everything from big bottles of Chimay and stout to a fine selection of bottled micros, and their own nut brown ale on tap. They also had Abita Light, but who wants a light beer when you're getting a big-ass burger?

And what a burger. 10 ounces of fresh ground chuck. I ordered the standard Five Napkin, which comes with comte cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aoili. I had mine cooked medium and that made a big difference compared to the girls who got the cheddar bacon variety medium-well. Mine was thick and juicy, and for the burger alone I must say it nudges Island for second place, but still stands below the ground-to-order burger at downtown Les Halles. But for overall burger experience- the buttery bun that holds the ten ouncer with aplomb, the dollop of rich aoili atop a blanket of stringy comte cheese- makes for a challenging rival to Bourdain's more pure burger. It's pretty close. Every bite is a luxurious, decadent mouthful of flavor, with the beef not overwhelmed by the toppings.
But is it worth $15? Sure, you get fries. But you can get a similar burger for almost half that at Island, which tastes nearly as good. So it's up to you- if you like an upscale diner atmosphere with a stellar drink menu, a deep-fried pastrami-wrapped pickle appetizer, and a menu with a half-dozen sushi rolls available (at a burger joint? wtf?)-- Five Napkin Burger is your choice. Plus you can get reservations at Open Table (we had to wait a half hour, after changing our table from 2 to 6). But if you'd rather stroll in to a cozy spot with an enormous amount of toppings- but chips instead of fries- Island Burger & Shakes is for you. I know if I come back here I'll try the Lamb Kofta burger and the pastrami fried pickle. But if someone else orders the 5 Napkin* burger, I'll beg for a bite. It's damn good.

* five napkins are not supplied, to our great dismay. You get one (1) cloth napkin. A marketing gimmick failure.

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