A tale of two burgers

Pub date May 7, 2008

The road goes ever on and on, often past fast-food stands. A two-hour toddle from LAX to the Coachella Valley took us across the belly of the beast, South Central Los Angeles, where traffic is as horrible as rumor has it despite the $4-per-gallon gasoline prices thoughtfully delivered by Bush & Co. When gas is $40 a gallon, I wondered (by Labor Day?), will it make a difference? The consensus view in the cabin of Zippy, our Wonder Dodge, was No. When I gunned Zippy’s brave little four-cylinder engine, I heard the sound of someone with a hand mixer whipping egg whites into a meringue under the hood.

Fast food may be a distinctively American evil, but I retain an affection for the southland’s Del Taco chain nonetheless, mostly because of the fish tacos, which are excellent. Why, then, did I order a cheeseburger when we pulled over for a spell to let a surge of road fatigue (perhaps tending toward rage) subside? Was the 99-cent price a factor? Even in fast-food places, you get what you pay for; the Del Taco burger is about 95 percent bun — the Bun Burger! — with a layer of grim gray beef, about the thickness of bresaolo, tucked deep inside, cowering under a slice of pickle.

You get what you pay for, I should say, except if you are eating at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne in midtown Manhattan, as we were a few weeks ago. There, the burger costs $32 — that’s dollars, not cents — and is made from ground sirloin and presented on a parmesan bun with some foie gras. Notwithstanding all this splendor, the burger was dry. We consoled ourselves with an ice cream sundae, which turned out to be $16. New York has plainly identified dollar-bearers as losers and is casting its lot with visitors from euro-land. To people whose currency is actually worth something, Manhattan prices wouldn’t seem too out of the ordinary.

If the Boulud-burger was a bust, the restaurant’s choucroute was marvelous. (DB Bistro Moderne’s chef is Alsatian and gets to put on a small show Monday evenings.) Choucroute — let alone good choucroute — is a dish you rarely see on restaurant menus, and at $34 it gives incomparably better value than the burger. I am not, however, hoping that a 99-cent version shows up at Del Taco.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com