Flavor of the month
King of Burgers
I had almost abandoned my quest to find a “real” hamburger after a series of crushing disappointments.
After spending almost five years in Beijing and being disappointed on countless occasions by poorly imitated “western cuisines” disguised by fancy names and elaborate presentation, my search for a taste of home in an authentic hamburger had begun to look like a desperate enterprise, until one crisp November morning I stepped into the discreet environments of MRL.萌, the in-house restaurant of the Millennium Residences Beijing and home to local celebrities and wealthy expats, and ordered a “King Burger.”
My previous frustrations, combined with the realization of the mammoth challenges faced by a Chinese restaurant catering to both high-end local and American clients, made me a little uneasy as I waited for my order. Having personally attempted to market blue cheese, kippers and meringues to Chinese palates, I have experienced first-hand the pitfalls faced by any chef wishing to be true to a particular food’s roots while also compromising more outlandish flavors in favor of the tastes of his or her clientele. Yet as a hardcore gastronome myself, I demand that nothing but the best enters my mouth. In a hamburger, no amount of cracked, flour-dusted artisanal bread or salad shaped into a swan can disguise the fact that the meat maketh the meal and only prime cuts of marbled grass-fed beef can truly deliver the satisfying, juicy and flavorful punch of a really world-class burger. A little more fat would make it chow like a stick of butter and little less would give you a mouthful of seasoned cardboard. Every chef hoping to satisfy this particular client has to play Goldilocks – not too much, not too little – everything has to be just right.
When the plate was served, my anxiety was immediately eased by its presentation – the dish looked perfectly to my liking, only better. The mouth-watering hamburger was accompanied by a mish-mash of roasted and raw vegetables and deep-fried sweet potatoes pont-neuf, encouraging the diner to open their mind – red-blooded American trepidation at the sight of anything but French fries somewhat reduced at the sight of a towering burger that would look perfectly at home in a Vegas-era picture of Elvis at table, while the Chinese would see familiar staples such as eggplant and sweet potato presented in an unmistakably international manner.
Quickly I sunk my teeth into the deepest and most luscious prime beef I had ever tasted outside of my mom’s kitchen. Seasoned delicately with black pepper and, unless I am much mistaken, a smidgen of oyster sauce, the perfectly-marbled prime Angus beef was at once succulent and substantial, oozing delicious juices and just on the right side of medium rare. At that moment, all my misgivings melted away and I was left with all I’d ever asked for – the perfect beef patty, seasoned and cooked to my exact request. Everything else on the plate melted away, and no impression remained beyond the toothsome satisfaction of that first bite.
As a longtime expat locked into a passionate affair with Chinese cuisine, dining out on Western food has become a risk I’m increasingly less inclined to take. I had almost abandoned my quest to find a “real” hamburger after a series of crushing disappointments. Yet the discovery of the King Burger at MRL.萌 in Beijing’s CBD on that gently sunlit morning has once again awakened me to the new lease of life that the local chefs are injecting into their American fare. While MRL.萌 may not have a western origin, they’re no doubt the best when it comes to hamburgers.
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Badeling Pass | Beijing
Sep 2011 | Submitted by Brian Snelson
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