Wednesday, July 8, 2009

La Tendance Dangereuse: DBGB

New York may or may not be the trendiest city in the U.S., but it’s certainly the most trended. Trends on this island spread like syphilis in Chelsea. Among the most rampant is the advent of the budget bistro, recently discussed in my review of Bar Boulud and Frank Bruni’s review of Bar Artisanal. In an eerie foreshadowing of the current recession, New York has seen numerous culinary titans taking their high cuisine lowbrow over the past few years. We have Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar, David Bruke’s David Burke at Bloomingdales, and Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Burger, to name a few others. The best of these may swap out more expensive ingredients only to prove that they can turn the common into the divine; the worst of them let quality and consistency sag in the name of a lower price point.

I recently joined a group of friends at Daniel Boulud’s new ultra-budget bistro, DBGB, which stands for Daniel Boulud Good Burger. Yes, Daniel Boulud, the Lyonnais luminary is now in the burger business. While this may seem like a depressing “sell-out” moment for Boulud, he did make a splash with his short rib and fois gras burger at his DB Bistro Moderne, so I held out hope for greatness. As we walked down the ramp of the glass-encrusted entryway, I spotted the gorgeous welcoming committee behind the host stand and I knew we were in for something flashy if nothing else.

As we fanned ourselves in the balmy dining room, we scanned the floor for our seemingly nonexistent waiter. By the time our drink menus arrived, we were more excited to have something sturdier to fan ourselves with, than the actual drink list itself. I won’t harp on the service except to say that this set the pace for our evening. I quickly ordered up something cold and strong, DBGB’s take on a Manhattan made with rye whiskey. I ordered mine straight up and one of my dinner companions got the same on the rocks, the rest of the table ordered Caipirinhas – a Brazilian cocktail similar to a Mojito sans mint. I won with a delicious and smooth Manhattan that filled my standard-sized martini glass and kicked the ass of my typical Maker’s Mark Manhattan. The Caipirinhas were superb, with a vibrant tangy lime taste that rose just above the sweet pure cane sugar; however, the Dixiesque rocks glasses were a bit laughable for these double digit cocktails.

Taking into consideration both Boulud’s reputation as a sausage master and my table’s juvenile gay humor, we had no choice but to order an array of sausages for the table, with a smirk, of course. The sausages are truly appetizer-sized and most people would need three to safely serve as an entrée. The Toulouse was a pork, duck gizzard and garlic link, served in a small cast-iron pan atop a bed of cassoulet beans. While the link was light, delicate and pleasant, it was out shown by the buttery and rich cassoulet. The dish leaves you pushing bits of sausage out of the way, as you wonder why the cassoulet wasn’t granted the honor of standing alone on the Sides section of the menu.

The Tunisienne was a merguez comprised of spicy lamb and mint with lemon braised spinach and chickpeas. The merguez was fine, but typical and if anything, bland. It became quite apparent that the heat in this dish came oddly from a dollop of compote that wasn’t listed in the description. While some of my fellow diners found this a calming option to avoid the heat of the Moroccan sun, I found any bite without the compote was pointless.

Our table’s favorite was the Viennoise, a pork and emmenthaler cheese kaiserkrainer (Austrian cheese sausage) with housemade sauerkraut. This was finally the balance and flavor for which I had been looking. The sausage itself was full of cheesy goodness, foiled by the sour tang of the sauerkraut. To even out our hors d’oeuvres we had the Rillette de Jamboneau Provençal – pulled ham hock with tomato, zucchini eggplant, basil and olive oil. The dish was well executed and clean, but boring and unmemorable.

As our Francophile chops were just getting warmed up, our burgers arrived and brought us right back to the American dream. The French-style burger, with the gag-worthy cutesy name, Frenchie, is a 6 oz beef patty with grilled pork belly, arugula, tomato-onion compote and & morbier cheese on a peppered brioche bun with cornichon, mustard and fries. With that laundry list of French delicacies, you’d think my mouth would be atwitter with flavor; however, I thought I was eating a mustard sandwich. A completely gauche pop of the pork belly into my mouth revealed that it was a crispy morsel of fatty pig heaven. I know the French love their mustard and this, of course, was top notch mustard, I just couldn’t get past the horseradishy bouquet to enjoy the gestalt of La Frenchie.

The equally poor-named Piggie was the successful mélange of ingredients that the Frenchie wasn’t. The Piggie’s 6 oz beef patty is topped with Daisy May’s BBQ pulled pork, jalapeno mayonnaise and Boston lettuce on a cheddar-cornbread bun with mustard-vinegar slaw and fries. To be honest, the jalapeno mayonnaise was a bit lost and the cheddar-cornbread bun wasn’t the mutant corn muffin top I had imagined, but the pulled pork was strong enough to stand up to the beef without overpowering it. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t point out that the pork is brought in from Adam Perry Lang’s famed Daisy May’s and isn’t a DB original. Needless to say, the fries were true French frites and almost impossible to resist.

After prolonged waits between each course we were now running late; however, some glowing tweets by Gael Greene the week before told me that I must squeeze in dessert. Ever watching our waists, the five of us shared one sundae. The apricot-pistachio sundae with marshmallows, vanilla cookies, caramel sauce, apricot coulis and whipped cream was transcendent. The pistachio ice cream brought me right back to the Sicilian coast, while the apricot ice cream was the perfect balance to the nutty and almost savory pistachio. In this dish, balance was supreme. It was difficult to detect most of the ingredients, but only because they all work so well together.

A moment of excitement came when I noticed that Daniel Boulud himself was pacing through the dining room for almost our entire meal. While I have yet to love any of his restaurants, my heart was a bit aflutter and I’ll hold final judgment on his food until I dine at the flagship Daniel.

The bar at DBGB is separated from the dining room by a large pseudo-wall that looks like a giant backless bookshelf. Adorned with knickknacks and catechesis, the top shelf boasts a massive collection of copper cookware donated by some of the most prestigious chefs from around the world from their personal kitchens. As I glanced from label to label on this Culinary Walk of Fame, I couldn’t help but wish I could have dined on something from any of those pans instead.

DBGB – 2 Sparkles **
299 Bowery
(Between Houston and 1st Street)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 933 - 5300

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