Danilo Birch, the 32-year-old head chef at Clavichord on East 86th Street, watched in dismay as the burger wars got ever pricier-and with it, less burger-y: the $41 foie-gras-and-truffles-stuffed Kobe patty at the Old Homestead begat the $50 version at DB Bistro Moderne, which begat the $55 caviar-and-truffle burger at Rive Droit, which begat the ill-fated $75 fugu-and-Wagyu burger at Yakuza Grille. When Talleyrand unveiled its $125 burger-featuring a whole ortolan, the aromatic and endangered French songbird, grilled inside it-Mr. Birch had seen enough.
“I have a friend who’s in rare books,” Mr. Birch said the other day. “This is true. He got a call from a certain midtown restaurant, asking about what preservatives monks used to use on lambskin vellum manuscripts. The chef was thinking about rehydrating strips of medieval manuscripts in eau de vie , chopping them up and laying them on a bun.”
That, Mr. Birch said with a shudder, is not a hamburger. “Hamburgers are made with meat,” he declared. ” Meat . Behold!” He slapped a chunk of steak on the counter emphatically. The meat was an angry-looking olive-tinged purple, with a visible grain to it. It came, Mr. Birch explained, from a bull from a small herd of feral longhorn cattle living in a rugged South Dakota canyon. “They’ve been living wild, feeding on scrub, since the 19th century,” he said. “They’ve killed men who tried to round them up. To get one now, we send in a sniper with a G.P.S. He’s got to take one down, field-dress the carcass and call in a helicopter before the wolves get wind of the kill.
“After we fly it out, we dry-age it,” he continued. By the time it’s done, he said, the flavor “makes Kobe taste like cream of wheat. The only drawback is, you could pound nails with this stuff.”
So, to soften it, Mr. Birch grinds it together in a 60/40 ratio with veal from an upstate farm that raises albino calves-fed on cream and kept in a sterile “clean room” under low lighting. The meat is almost ivory-colored and has the consistency of rose petals. “It gives an incredible … roundness to the burger,” Mr. Birch said.
The resulting patty, with fleur de sel and Malabar peppercorns ground in, is a Hegelian bright red. Mr. Birch fries it in an iron skillet, greased with what he called “Acadia ghee”: the clarified fat of Maine lobsters. On top goes a slice of aged raw-sheep’s-milk cheese, produced on a tiny island in the westernmost Azores. “It tastes of the Atlantic wind, of iodine and desolation,” Mr. Birch said. A Shaker commune supplies Clavichord with heirloom red onions, Cotsfield Rubies, which are sliced translucently thin. The bun is washed with plover eggs, sprinkled with poppy seeds and lightly toasted. “I can’t even tell you about the poppy seeds,” Mr. Birch said. “Let’s just say they have a complicated provenance.”
On the side are fries, cut from hybrid Yukon Gold potatoes. Each shoestring has been carefully hollowed out and stuffed with a mince of duck confit and white asparagus before being deep-fried in goose fat. “The fries ….” Mr. Birch shrugged. “Maybe I got carried away a little on the fries.
“But the burger-the burger is a simple thing.”
Lathering Up With Rene Risque
He gets compared to Hedwig, but the lounge-lizard lothario Rene Risque-a.k.a. New York’s Andy Boose-is Hedwig if Hedwig had a bigger bass, a badder stash of pharmaceuticals and about eight more angry inches. With his tight trousers and tighter band, the Art Lovers, the gangly, floppy-banged Risque swivels his ample pelvis as he celebrates and satirizes rock’s consumption generation. The plan is to turn Rene and the Lovers into an Off Broadway show; for now, they play Joe’s Pub on Lafayette Street on Jan. 28. We threw him 10 questions the other day as he soaked in his tub:
First up: How often do you make love?
I have advanced proclivity toward extreme promiscuity.
Where is your favorite place in New York to make love?
The locker room at Spence.
Does everyone, before they die, need to make love in the back of a New York City taxi cab?
It’s not life without experience.
If you could travel back in time, what New Yorker would you most like to sleep with?
A 1977 Debbie Harry.
What do you think of Michael Bloomberg’s plan to untangle the bureaucracy in the Department of Education by increasing the schools chancellor’s power?
I am all for benevolent dictators, and I like a man who knows what he wants.
If you could have either one … Britney or Christina?
MacNeil or Lehrer?
I never liked that “Mrs. Robinson” folky drivel.
Where did it go wrong for Michael Jackson?
What’s wrong with Michael Jackson?
What’s the last thing you say before shutting off the lights?
Are you a top or a bottom?
Is love really all we need?
No. We also need cocktails, cocaine and cash.
10 Super Bowl Predictions Made by 10 New York Guys Named Bob Anderson
Bob Anderson, Marble Hill, the Bronx
I think the Oakland Raiders. They might have a better team, a stronger team. They’re not a great team-they’re a good team. From day to day, they could beat each other. It’s not a back-to-back win with them. I still think they’ll win. What I’m saying here is, either one of them can beat each other.
Bob Anderson, Springfield Gardens, Queens
I haven’t really even thought about it. I just got up. But it’s Oakland all the way. I think they’re a better team. Their players are better. I just think they’re gonna win. I don’t dislike the Buccaneers. No-I don’t like them.
Bob Anderson , Upper West Side, Manhattan
I’d say the Raiders. But I don’t know. I’m just pissed the Eagles aren’t playing.
Bob Anderson, Throgs Neck, the Bronx
Super Bowl? I don’t know nothing about it. I guess the Raiders. I just like them. I just like to see them play.
Bob Anderson, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
The Buccaneers. Why not? They’re the upstarts. Aren’t they the underdog, the Cinderella team? I’m not a big sports fan.
Bob Anderson, Melrose, the Bronx
Oakland Raiders. It’s just a feeling.
Bob Anderson, Howard Beach , Brooklyn
I’d like to see the Buccaneers win ’cause they haven’t won any yet. I just enjoy them when I watch.
Bob Anderson , Wakefield, the Bronx
Oakland. They have a stronger offense. I gotta go. I don’t have time for this.
Bob Anderson, Upper West Side, Manhattan
Buccaneers, I suppose.
Bob Anderson, Flatbush, Brooklyn
I don’t know. I play soccer. I’m from the West Indies.