The Designer Burger

When culinary icon Wolfgang Puck opened Spago at Caesar’s Forum in 1992, he set the trend in hotel/casino fine dining. Since then, countless leading chefs from around the world have targeted Las Vegas to take their culinary mastery to the masses. 

Re-inventing familiar dishes has always driven chef creativity. Now, many prominent chefs are using American comfort food as their source of inspiration. Lately, the most unlikely of dishes appearing on several master chef menus is the everyday hamburger.   

Of course, there’s nothing typical about a master chef composed burger. Gold value ingredients such as Kobe beef, foie gras, and truffles are no longer strangers to this dish.

The upscale burger is not entirely a new concept. In fact, it was during the 1950s when the famous 21 Club, in New York City, first introduced the upscale burger. Several other New York restaurants followed the trend thereafter.

The upscale burger really gained momentum in 2001, when the celebrated French Chef Daniel Boulud introduced his ‘Original db Burger’ to his Manhattan db Bistro Moderne menu. This unique, and pricey, upscale burger consists of ground sirloin filled with red wine-braised, and deboned short ribs, foie gras, black truffle mirepoix, horseradish mayonnaise, tomato confit, red onions, and frisee on a Parmesan bun. On the side, the dish comes with a choice of fries or pommes soufflés.

In 2005, with the popularity of Chef Boulud’s restaurant in New York, he opened db Brasserie at the ultra luxurious Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, where he featured his signature Original db Burger on the menu. Unfortunately, the Las Vegas location closed in July of 2010.

Since Celebrity Chef Hubert Keller, owner of the Fleur de Lys restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas, opened the Burger Bar at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in 2004, Keller has been credited for bringing the upscale burger phenomenon to Las Vegas. The Burger Bar’s wide offering of traditional and gourmet toppings such as prosciutto, grilled lobster or shrimp, and rich Fleur de Lys sauces has made Chef Keller’s venture into comfort food increasingly popular.

The most talked about innovation by Chef Keller is his world famous Fleur Burger. Called the most expensive burger anywhere, The Fleur Burger consists of Kobe beef topped with rich black Perigord truffles, pan-seared foie gras, and truffle sauce on a brioche truffle bun. Anyone with a spare $5K can taste the Alsatian chef’s signature take on the ultimate burger experience.  Even better, if you bring a guest during your ultimate splurge, they too will receive their very own Fleur Burger. To round off the meal, and help substantiate the expense, Keller has paired a luxurious Chateau Petrus Bordeaux with the Fleur Burger and included a special gift: an authentic Italian Ichendorf Brunello stemware set -- a memento of the most expensive burger you’ve ever had.  

Chef John Pascob of Le Burger Brasserie at the Paris Hotel offers a signature upscale burger called the $777 Burger. The triple seven is comprised of Kobe beef with Maine lobster, imported Brie, caramelized onions, prosciutto, 100-year-old balsamic vinegar, and a bottle of Dom Pérignon Rosé.

Conversely, numerous prominent Vegas chefs are trying their hand at creating an upscale burger that tastes like a million bucks, but doesn’t come with a three or four figure price tag.

Chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Burger restaurant at the Mirage Hotel is well-known for its Kobe beef burgers; and Chef Michael Mina’s Nobhill Tavern at the MGM Grand offers an American Kobe Burger with balsamic onions and a secret sauce, on a house baked bun.

What makes Kobe beef such a star ingredient? Kobe is considered the best beef in the world for its rich taste that comes from the dense marbling and the meticulous meat tenderizing process. Recent studies have shown that Kobe beef is healthier than domestically raised beef since it contains unsaturated fat and a kind of fatty acid that helps reduce the amount of cholesterol in the meat. Scientists also claim Kobe beef helps prevent the onset of some life threatening diseases.

Though Kobe beef is proven exceptional, there are plenty of fabulous upscale burgers prepared with quality USDA prime beef. Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio restaurant at the Venetian Hotel offers a mesquite Grilled Prime Burger with Vermont cheddar, red onion marmalade, garlic aioli, and crispy French fries. From the Restaurant Guy Savoy’s “Small Bites” menu at Caesar’s Palace, he offers a Burger “a la Française,” made up of tenderloin sliders with mushrooms over mashed potatoes, and a side of parsnip chips. 

Bradley Ogden’s restaurant, also at Caesar’s, offers a House Ground Steak Burger on the Prix-Fix lounge menu. This dish is served with hand-cut fries, your choice of the Farmer’s Market Green Salad or Bradley’s Caesar Salad, and Butterscotch Pudding & Snickerdoodle Cookies. Similarly, The Food Network’s “Iron Chef” Bobby Flay (owner of Mesa Grill at Caesar’s) serves a Mesa Burger with double cheddar cheese, grilled Vadalia onion, horseradish mustard, and Southwestern fries. 

Though the upscale burger has been called a trend over the years, truly good burgers will never go out of style. As long as these master chefs continue to up the ante with high end and unusual ingredients in their designer burgers, avid burger aficionados will be ready for the continuation of this upscale burger adventure. 

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