What’s Wrong With This Burger?

Bar Code Burger Bar has been getting a lot of buzz recently.
So we decided to try one (actually, two).
The one pictured above is called the “Bar Code Burger” — which signifies to us that it’s the standard bearer for the operation.
The other one was called the “Green Chile Cheese Burger”, and it signaled that the owner might know a thing or two about green chile cheeseburgers.
That flagship burger claims to made with a “proprietary blend” of short rib, brisket and chuck  — the former contributing fatty, richness (it was hoped), with the latter two ingredients supposedly bringing exquisite beefiness to the party. Don’t take my word for it, let’s read the menu description:
BAR CODE BURGER $11.95 — Proprietary short rib, brisket and chuck, Newcastle onion jam, smoked bacon aioli, blue cheese, arugula, pickled red onions & peppers.
Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
And it is…right up until your teeth pierce (and your palate wraps around) the juicy-but-too-tightly-packed meat.
That’s when you discover there’s too much and not enough going on at the same time. Shall we outline our bill of particulars? Oh yes we shall.
> The patty is too thick. 2+ inches by our estimation — which makes it at least 1/2 inch too much to get your mouth around.
> That patty is barely seasoned. If there was but a wisp of salt and pepper present, I’d be surprised. All of which makes for a very thick, very bland burger.
> All that promised beefiness was also AWOL.
> It was also overcooked and none-too tender, which is something you can get away with a thinner burger, but a sin with a big boy like this.
> The onion jam (sweet) and the pickled onions (sour) didn’t exactly fight each other, but they hardly did a one-two taste tango on the meat. Together they stood for the unpardonable (and all-too-common) offense of burger overload.
> As for the blue cheese, well, it was present in name only. There appeared to be a thin schmear of a white, sticky substance on my hamburger that bore a passing resemblance to some sort of cheese product, but the sharp, strong tang of actual blue cheese was harder to find than a high school diploma at a Trump rally. (A cheap, tasteless Sysco product masquerading as the real thing? YOU BET!)
> The arugula was unnecessary (it always is), and the primary flavor was provided by the smoky mayonnaise. (Somewhere, David Chang is beaming with pride.)
Too thick, unseasoned, overloaded, and none-too-beefy….and this is the burger everyone is raving about these days?
And don’t get me started about the highly-confused green chile cheeseburger — another example of how addition by subtraction could help a recipe. (No, I don’t need fried onion rings – even good ones – falling out of my burger bun.)
The owner also needs to use some Anaheim-New Mexican chiles with real kick, not these gringo-friendly poblanos. (Any New Mexican worth his salt knows you don’t put jalopy peppers on top of good New Mexican greens.)
They also commit another felony by placing the roasted peppers underneath the burger. THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT, PEOPLE!
To be fair, there is a lot to like about what they’re doing here. The buns are super fresh, as is the meat, everything is cooked to order, and the fries and sauces are fantastic. And having a home-grown burger bar as dedicated to quality as this is a real feather in our culinary cap.
But these burgers need work, and someone had to say it.
Zeus hath spoken.
1590 E. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119


When Bruce and Eric Bromberg (pictured above) shuttered Blue Ribbon last year (after six years at The Cosmopolitan), few shed a tear for its demise. It was an attractive, if disjointed restaurant that always seemed in the throes of an identity crisis. Was it a lounge? A sushi bar? Two different sushi bars? Who knew and who cared? By trying to combine their two iconic New York City restaurants (their gutsy American bistro, and the separate Blue Ribbon Fish), the Brombergs achieved the confusing result of making the whole lesser than the sum of its parts. Not that it wasn’t good (the Brom-boys don’t know how to do “not good”), it just wasn’t focused.

Now they’ve re-opened, ditched the fish, and gotten back to what they do best – which is cooking the most ethereal, eclectic, American comfort food on the planet.

Blue Ribbon started twenty-five years ago in lower Manhattan. It practically invented the whole upscale American food thing (popularizing everything from bone marrow to fried catfish) and was known for the best burger in the business until Daniel Boulud came along with his foie gras-stuffed version, and got everyone on the burger bandwagon. Elevating simple food has always been the mission statement here, and artistic cooking for unfussy gourmands is what has made BR a critic’s (and chef’s) darling since Bill Clinton was President. Now, with its re-boot, BR has gotten back to basics, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Gone is the sushi, the dark lounge-y bar has been replaced with a bright, front-and-center friendly one, and the menu is back where it’s supposed to be: chock full of the specialties that made the Bromberg’s famous.

No one disdains something-for-everyone menus more than yours truly, but in these hands you can just close your eyes and point. Mazoh ball soup? They’ve got you covered? Fried oysters? Leeks vinaigrette? You won’t find better versions anywhere on Las Vegas Boulevard. Duroc pork ribs come sweetly glazed with their own mini-hibachi, the clam soup would make a Mainer proud, and the country pâté deserves to be in the charcuterie hall of fame.

The red (sea) trout with spätzle is also a thing of beauty, and the burger (pictured at top) is every bit as good as I remembered it….from 1993. We only tried one dessert, but they had us at “chocolate chip bread pudding.”

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American bistro cooking is everywhere these days, but the Brombergs did it first and they still do it better than anyone. There are certain restaurants that just belong in Las Vegas, and the new Blue Ribbon – which is really the old Blue Ribbon I’ve known and loved – is one of them.


The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino



Odds, Ends and Veal Parmigiana

(No one can beat Enzo’s meat)

A few things as we head into the stretch run of this holiday season:

1) O-Face Doughnuts announced it’s closing at the end of the month, leading our staff to ask: If downtown can’t support a freaking doughnut shop, what gastronomic chances does it have? Answer: We haven’t a clue. Every time we were in O-Face (and that was dozens of times) it always seemed to have customers. Not wrapping-around-the-block numbers mind you, but a fair amount of folks ready to make their own O-face after biting into the pastries. Were they the best doughnuts we’ve ever had? No, but they were a damn sight better than any others in town. And the coffee was superb. Pity all around, and a real head-scratcher when it comes to predicting what, if anything, this signals for the future of downtown dining. Speaking of which…

2) The Smashed Pig is now open, on East Fremont Street, right across from the failed experiment that was Radio City Pizza. It’s another Downtown Project-funded operation, but initial visits have been very positive, with chef/owner Martin Smith firmly in control of a tight, controlled menu of the English pub food he has in his veins. Don’t miss his fish and chips:

…served with superior mushy peas, or his steak and ale pie, or the sticky toffee pudding:


The burger and beers are also top notch, and only the noise level gives us pause. (Tip: eat at the bar if you want to hear yourself think.) All and all though, TSP is a flat out winner, and a nice addition to your downtown dining options. Eating Las Vegas loves restaurants that are so much better than they have to be.

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