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Bistro Vivant's Ed Hardy Waxes Philosophical on Burgers

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Missy Frederick is the Cities Director for Eater.

Welcome to On The House, a guest column written by a member of DC's restaurant industry, sharing behind the scenes info, insider knowledge and more. Here, Bistro Vivant chef Ed Hardy offers his own musings on what makes a good burger.

edhardysquare.jpgI'll always love burgers, and burgers will always love me back. I'll never worry about unrequited love. Years from now, when my doctor tells me to cut back, it'll just mean that I'll hold the fries. Dishes come and go in the American culinary lexicon, but the humble burger remains. In fact, it's the one truly American dish that has gone global. I don't pretend to know what fine dining and bistro food will look like 30 years from now, but I do know that hamburgers will be on the menu. So with each bite I can reflect on the past and think about the future? a future where my wife (@francoise_v) is sound asleep and I can continue my late-night experiments with replicating White Castle sliders.

I think a true test of a chef and his kitchen is a hamburger. I wasn't able to define that thought until very recently, but it helps explain why there's always a burger in front of me when I dine out. It doesn't make a difference if it's a Michelin-starred restaurant or a sleepy diner. My friends and family always look at me funny when I pass over seemingly tempting menu items and head straight for the burger. "Aren't you a chef?" they ask, "don't you want to try the sea urchin foam with the quail's eggs? Or the terrine of local squirrel?" Nope! I know what those taste like. What I don't know is if there is a subtle surprise waiting for me in a dish that I know will, at the very least, be satisfying.

And, as I mentioned, that burger will tell me more about that chef and his kitchen than any gastronomic flight of fancy. Burgers are hard to get exactly right and easy to get wrong. The bun could be off or be the wrong size; the grind on the meat could be off; there could be too much or too little char on the meat; the seasoning could be off; the toppings could be ridiculous and/or distracting and so forth.

A perfect burger has every element and culinary decision that led to its creation in balance. For me, it doesn't matter so much what style of burger (A Hamburger Today has a great burger style guide) I'm chowing down on, just that the burger is true to itself. If I'm eating a roadside burger, then it better not have artisan bacon and microgreens. If I'm eating a steakhouse burger, then you'd better believe I'm looking at the texture of the grind. Interesting toppings? Yeah, I'm game, but just don't go crazy. A little sriracha and ginger-pickled veg? Why not? Pretzel roll with sauerkraut? I'll strap on my lederhosen and give it a try. Smashed burgers? Wisconsin butter burgers? Patty melts? Down the hatch!

Rules? There are no rules! Just as long as everything is in delicate balance. The topping should complement the beef, the bun should hold everything together but not get in the way. If there's a special flavor profile that you're trying to achieve (earthy, spicy, cheesy, smoky, etc.) then get to the point and don't disappoint with weak flavors. Most importantly, consistent execution matters. There's nothing more heart-breaking than a burger that was a good idea that has been allowed to backslide into blandness.

I know I said "there are no rules" — I may have spoken a bit hastily. It occurs to me that there are a couple actually worth following:

1. The bun must not be brioche. A true brioche bun will have a high component of butterfat which will inevitably cause the bun to go all squishy and eventually dissolve into a wet mess. No. Brioche. Buns.

2. Waygu burgers are always a terrible idea. If a patty is made with ground Waygu it will be like eating dripping mush. Not a pleasant burger experience. At this point I imagine there are some folks out there in Eater-dom saying "Not true! I had a delicious non-mushy Waygu burger the other day!" To you I say: "Congratulations! You just overpaid for a regular 80/20 blend that wasn't Waygu!."

3. Sliders are not mini-burgers. Learn the difference.

4. Don't attempt to define the undefinable. Heston Blumenthal and Nathan Myhrvold have recently attempted to create "perfect" burgers. There is no such thing. It's the Schroedinger's Cat of Hamburger Theory. The mere act of trying means you've already lost.

Grab a Bistro Burger with dry aged beef, onion chutney, aged cheddar, truffle mayo, Nueske's Bacon and foie gras at Bistro Vivant.
—Ed Hardy
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Bistro Vivant

1394 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, VA 22101 703-356-1700