When cleopatra drank a pearl dissolved in vinegar, she did so, wrote Pliny, to impress Marc Antony. Some of the extravagant restaurant dishes that have emerged recently seem to appeal to that same impulse. Consider, for example, the $1,000 frittata served by Norma’s, a breakfast eatery at Le Parker Meridien in New York, or the $100 cheesesteak with which Philadelphia steak house Barclay Prime promoted its 2004 opening. Harry’s Steak & Café, a New York restaurant (also known as Harry’s at Hanover Square) that reopened in May, tempts stockbrokers with $14.50 Kobe beef hot dogs. The British also have succumbed to offering dishes perhaps better served as headlines than as meals: Last year, a month after Gordon Ramsay debuted a $185 white truffle pizza at his London restaurant Maze, chef Spencer Burge added to the menu at Fence Gate Inn in Burnley, Lancashire, England, a $15,000 steak-and-mushroom pie that contained a sauce made from 1982 Château Mouton-Rothschild.
While the chefs’ goals with these dishes might be to cook up publicity for their establishments, and to appeal more to diners’ egos than to their palates, I nevertheless was curious about the tastes of the Norma’s frittata and Daniel Boulud’s DB Burger—in lieu of the truffle-enhanced Royale, which is offered at Manhattan’s DB Bistro Moderne from December through March only. The $100 version of the frittata features an ounce of Kazakhstan sevruga, and the G-note special contains 10 ounces of the caviar; therein lies the problem with the dishes, or at least with the humbler version, which I sampled. It proved disappointing because the frittata transmitted unwelcome heat to the caviar.
Boulud’s burger, on the other hand, is a treat. The $29 sandwich—which showcases a patty stuffed with black truffles, foie gras, and beef short rib meat that has been marinated in red wine for 18 hours—is a best seller. The Royale burger, which Boulud introduced three years ago, includes seven additional grams of sliced black truffles, which increase the price to as much as $70. The Super Royale, which first appeared in 2004, contains 15 grams of black truffles and costs as much as $120. “I wanted black truffles for the earthy flavor. And there’s no better partner for red wine than truffles,” says Boulud. “This is not a burger that you want to drink beer with. It’s not compatible. And Coke is out of the question.”
Six years ago, Boulud was asked to comment on a French antiglobalization riot that damaged a McDonald’s. “The French are just jealous they did not invent hamburgers themselves,” he replied. If the French and Americans had co-created hamburgers, they might have looked and tasted like the Royale. Boulud’s burger is served with French fries that arrive in a paper cone tucked within a silver cup. And despite Boulud’s protestations, the waitstaff will pair the Royale with a Coca-Cola if requested.
Should you seek an appropriate nightcap after dining on a Royale, the lobby lounge of the Algonquin Hotel next door serves a $10,000 martini, which is poured into a glass that contains a diamond. Cleopatra would approve.
DB Bistro Moderne
Harry’s Steak & Café