Contests and games. I’m really not very good at them. Just ask my sisters (Robin and Jodi). While they were busy playing Monopoly, Go Fish or Scrabble, I was – according to them – off in some museum. I was equally uninterested in playing competitive sports. There’s just something about losing I guess I don’t like. I’d just rather not compete. But I also don’t like seeing other people lose. It’s just no fun.
Which is also why I’ve never really considered myself a reviewer. When I first started out my writing career, I wrote about art exhibitions. But rather than review them, I just described and analyzed them. I thought it went without saying that if I was writing about them, that was positive enough. And the bad shows? They got no ink.
Same goes for restaurants. I HATE saying anything bad about a place. I’d much rather stay silent about a restaurant I don’t like, rather than say anything negative. If a place is in Eat Italy, Eat Italy or on my blog, that means I like it. If not, well…..I either haven’t been there. Or I have, and am going to keep my mouth shut.
Which now leads me a position I rarely find myself in: judging food. As you know I was asked to be one of the ‘experts’ in a hamburger contest that has just finished in Rome. Four restaurants participated: Urbana 47, Tricolore, Pastificcio San Lorenzo and Roscioli. Along with the public, I went and tried all four.
And along with the public, and my fellow ‘experts’ Luciana Squadrilli and Stefano Magini I went online and anonymously cast my vote. (I was the token American I guess. )
But I think the deal was that I’m also supposed to let you all know which burger I thought came out on top.
Well, ok. Here I go.
And just remember, no one is a loser. I like all the burgers. Each had it’s strong points. Everyone goes home a winner.
Then again…. as Gabriele Bonci (who chose not to participate with his burgers at Open Baladin) just told me, “It’s not about being in the contest. It’s just about being the winner.”
4th place prize goes to…..Pastificcio San Lorenzo. And this may be partly my fault (see, the whole guilt thing kicking in). Pastificcio has two burgers on it’s menu, and I decided to try the more adventurous one: Amatriciana Burger. While in theory the idea of a pork burger, covered with pancetta flecked amatrciana sauce sounds good on paper. in reality it’s a bit overkill. Made with ground pork, rather than beef, it was just a bit too tough/hard for my taste. Also, points off for slightly oily bun, and ketchup and mayo out of a jar. Maybe, to even out the playing field, I should have chosen their beef burger? Maybe you did. Let me know how it is.
3rd place prize goes to…..Roscioli. Fantastic meat, Fassona. Cooked perfectly. And if they had left it at that, it coulda been a contender. But they took a creative spin, and topped it with a bit too much cheese (farmhouse cheddar) and pancetta that was a just on this side of flabby/under cooked. And again, the condiments were flat. The menu says that the mayo is made to order and the ‘ketchup’ was ‘salsa di bloody mary’, but I’m not so convinced. I’m also not so sure about the whole slightly burnt, brioche-on-the-side thing. If it doesn’t have a bun, is it still a burger? (Such existential issues) But, like I said, the beef tasted absolutely great. It was a good burger. But it’s just not what I would go in and order at Roscioli.
And the second place prize goes to ….Urbana 47. I actually can’t say anything bad about this burger. It was really really really good. The quality of the meat (from Tenuta dell’Argento in Civitavecchia) was superb, and cooked just right. I love the fact that the burger is on the small side, and I didn’t feel like a total mess/pig while eating it. The bun (baked by Tricolore) was perfect and the toppings chosen and executed just right. A few leaves of super fresh, crisp spinach, melted Fiocco della Tuscia Chiodetti and a two small slices of crispy bacon. Urbana 47 also gets extra points for the condiments: delicious home made mayo and pickled cipolle di tropea. And thank you very very much for the crispy home made potato chips, which I didn’t ask for, were a total surprise and that I want more of right now.
And the winner is…..Tricolore. As with everything Tricolore does, the secret of this hamburger’s success is in the simplicity, perfection and amazing (obsessive?) attention to quality of every ingredient. It goes without saying that bun was absolutely right: big enough and strong enough to support the burger, but light and airy so it didn’t add to the bulk. The beef (sottofileto La Granda) was the perfect ratio of fat to lean, and cooked medium rare. The patty was thin enough so that not only was it cooked consistently all the way through, I didn’t need a jaw extension to bite into it. A handful of organic lettuce so fresh it seemed like it had been just picked. And then…the secret weapon. While all the other burgers in town somehow insist on adding some form of pork, Veronica ladles on the most luscious, eggy, almost hollaindaisical home made mayonnaise I’ve ever tasted. (made of course with Paolo Parisi eggs) All four parts – beef, bread, lettuce and mayonnaise – played harmoniously together, resulting in a perfect burger symphony.
To find out the ‘official’ results, and to read what my fellow ‘experts’ and the public thought, visit the Urbana 47 website. If you didn’t get a chance to play along, you can still visit all four restaurants, and try their burgers. One excuse could be that you’re American and feeling nostalgic? Or maybe you’re Italian but want to sample this ‘exotic’ American delicacy?