My first Michelin Star dining experience was eating a burger. Admittedly, this wasn’t in a fast food joint, but at The Spotted Pig, a very popular gastropub in New York’s West Village.
It was the most expensive burger I’ve ever had, but presumably, it will be my cheapest Michelin meal.
I only have a handful of photos from this evening, and most of them make my eyes bleed, but I’ve included the least offensive, blurry iPhone photos that I could find. Sometimes it’s important to step away from the DSLR and even from taking the time to document every moment perfectly on an iPhone (especially every dish and every cocktail). Bear with me!
There is no shortage of critically-acclaimed restaurants in New York, including Eleven Madison Park, which is the #1 restaurant in the USA and #5 in the world. I’m a dedicated foodie AND listmaker, which is evidently a dangerous combination, but I draw the line at spending hundreds of dollars on a meal, at the tender age of twenty-two. I just haven’t earned it. If you raise the bar that high in your early twenties, are you still going to appreciate an expensive meal at a wonderful, if not Michelin-starred restaurant at home? Lifestyle inflation, people.
We had a couple of splurge meals in New York, at Balthazar and Buddakan, but we normally ate so much during the day we weren’t all that excited for dinner anyway. I read rave reviews about the burgers at The Spotted Pig before I knew it had a Michelin star, but I was definitely not going to pass up the chance to eat a Michelin-starred burger for a fraction of the price of its peers (um, it’s Michelin peers, not its burger peers).
It doesn’t look like a Michelin starred restaurant, which is one of the things I liked the most. No white table clothes, no stiff-lipped waiters. It felt like a small town pub, crowded with eager patrons. The walls are decked out with knick knacks, many of them celebrating pigs. The tin ceiling reflects the glow of the warm red lighting. Instead of giving off red light district vibes, it gives you the subconscious impression that somewhere in this cosy pub, there’s a fire roaring.
Unfortunately, it was so busy that the only two free seats at the bar were right on the end. David’s stool was squeezed on the end of the bar, in front of a giant pastry cabinet, so he had to awkwardly twist around and lean over my part of the bench to eat. It didn’t encourage us to linger over our food, but it wasn’t a problem when we were having a glass of wine. The service wasn’t amazing, unfortunately, but I was there for the burgers.
So. The $22 question. Was it worth the hype? Was it worth paying $22 USD for a burger? (With a tip, that’s about $36 AUD!)
I’m no Michelin reviewer, but I did eat a lot of burgers in New York, which probably makes me more qualified to rate a burger, don’t you think? I was surprised by how bare-bones the burger looked after I unearthed it from a mountain of shoestring fries. It wasn’t oozing with superfluous toppings or sauces competing for attention. It was simple and it was fresh. Rather than a layer of “plastic” yellow (or disturbingly orange) cheese, the patty had a layer of soft, runny Roquefort cheese. It was totally unexpected, giving the burger a pungent, sharp bite. I think you need a sharp flavour when you’re eating fatty burger with fries, and this cheese perfectly filled the usual role of pickles.
After dinner we met his colleagues at Employees Only, a much-hyped cocktail bar hiding behind a psychic’s room. The cocktails were marvellous, but the narrow bar was overcrowded. It made me appreciate the strict door policy at Death & Co in East Village, which was a similar size (and designed to a similar brief), but had a much better ambiance. We were there on a Saturday, try it on a weeknight.
Afterwards, we walked through the quiet back streets of West Village. Softly-lit by 19th-century street lamps, the well-maintained brownstones and miniature front gardens behind wrought iron gates made me forget that I was in Manhattan. It was walks like this that are my favourite memories from New York. The streets were quiet, a welcome change from the norm in New York. Even more rare, is that we had nowhere to be. If I went back to New York with David, this is how I’d spend our first night back in town.