Last week, Knife announced a new lunch menu at the Hotel Palomar. In typical hotel-lunch fashion, the menu promises a number of classic sandwiches dressed up with luxurious, hand-crafted ingredients, presented with precision and care. How else could you persuade a patron to spend $18 on a sandwich you can get just up the Central Expressway at Henk's for $7.50?
I've seen grilled cheese sandwiches made with artisan fromage and a BLTs made with pedigreed bacon, but the burger is the most commonly elevated menu item at restaurants like this. John Tesar created an ode to food writer Josh Ozersky that is an overwhelming and decadent homage to the art form.
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I wasn't as impressed by the burger because it was adorned with two slices of American cheese that masked the charred and juicy beef flavors. I also was less than smitten with the grocery store burger bun that held everything together. The whole point of elevating pedestrian bar food is to take each individual component and squeeze every last possible bit of flavor and texture from it before constructing the final item. Each ingredient should be so good your eyes roll around when you take a bite. That's how you end up in such a stupor your don't care what the check says when lands on your table.
I tried Tesar's Reuben, and it has me on the fence, too. The meat had great flavor, but it was tough and hard to bite through without pulling entire slices from the sandwich. The sauerkraut, cheese and dressing were perfect, but the bread was dry and crumbly. And I have a suspicion my sandwich sat on the pass a while before it was brought to my table. The fries were tepid and the moisture from the meat and other hot ingredients had turned the bottom slice of bread into a soggy mess.
Don't get me wrong: The sandwich disappeared in seconds, and it popped with flavor, but when the check came I felt duped. I remembered a similarly priced sandwich in Washington D.C. that boasted impossibly tender corned beef. Michel Richard, who owns Central, braised the meat over-night at a lazy simmer until it was impossibly tender but just strong enough to hold together in slices. Those slices remind me of the texture of perfectly smoked brisket. It was heaven.
Had my sandwich not sat around for a while before it made it to my seat, it would have likely been more appetizing, but even if it had arrived quickly, I think the Knife Reuben leaves a little on the table. Tesar can coax more from the sandwich, and at $18 he should.