This is another of what I hope will be frequent departures from my usual review of barbecue joints throughout New England and New York. My first love was and always will be the burger, in all its forms.
On High Street in the more walkable than driveable Financial District, posh Radius is the flagship of Michael Schlow's interstate restaurant empire. Its name is derived from the shape of the surprisingly small room. To the left of the entry is a roomy bar with a few comfy chairs and couches. Known primarily as a high end and high priced French restaiurant, Radius has also achieved notoriety (and best of the South Beach Burger Festival honors in 2009) for "The Burger" ($19).
This was a rare solo visit during lunchtime, when I figured ordering a mere burger wouldn't be as awkward as at night. The host, straight out of Central Casting as an English butler, was a bit intimidating, and there were suits and bowties in the dining room. But with plenty of room in the bar, there wasn't any room to be anything less than hospitable; the friendly bartender quickly put me at ease.
A thick, doughy, sturdy-but-not-stiff model similar to (if not identical to) the Back Bay Social Club burger was a nice choice that supplied pliability, flavor, texture and a worthy vessel to soak up the thick burger's juices.
The bartender's description of the burger "cured in olive oil for 24 hours" built great anticipation, but its stated composition (80/20 ground chuck) seemed ordinary in an era when more exotic blends are the norm for a burger at this price point. The thick patty was not lost in a monstrous construction of bun, meat and toppings that was at least 5 inches tall; its volume that may well have exceeded the promised 9 ounces. Ordered medium rare, the beef boasted a pink interior and supplied a steady trickle of pink juices that got absorbed by the trusty bun.
Although juicy and nominally beefy, the patty brought no surface personality and no oomph. I later learned that the burger is grilled, then cooked in an oven, which greatly minimizes the searing and crusting. That olive oil bath did contribute a noticeable gentleness to the bite. but the cost of that delicate interior was a bland, lackluster exterior.
"The Burger" at Radius is probably the most topping-driven of any premium ($15+) burger I've had to date. Usually I'm not a fan of this approach, preferring instead that the beef sing loudest. Yet somehow this worked, which I'm not sure whether to attribute to Schlow's brilliance or my being fooled (I'm guessing a bit of both).
I'm reminded a little of former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette's line about Jose Offerman replacing Mo Vaughn's on-base ability: in this burger, the crisp onion strings bring texture and salt that the beef lacks; the silky horsradish cream (think dressing, and milder than you'd expect) provides the moistness and the funkiness that a more exotic cut would offer. The cheese is nice and gloppy
Served in a mini sauce pan, the fries were a slightly thicker, slightly droopier (though still crispy), slightly greasier version of the classic fast food model, only perked up with an assortment of finely chopped herbs.
The Bottom Line
It's too reliant on toppings for such an expensive burger, but the toppings are of high quality and work well together. Do I love this burger? No, but I like it. I'm just wondering if this burger were designed by a no-name cook instead of chef Michael
Schlow, would I dismiss it? Would it get the accolades it's received? Or
if it were $12 instead of $19, would this burger be lumped in with Bartley's and
RF O'Sullivan's as favorites of the masses? For a burger I don't love, I'm thinking about it a lot, even weeks later. There's no rush, but there's no question I'm having this burger again.
Boston Burger Blog review of "The Burger" at Radius
Burger Sutra review of "The Burger" at Radius
Yelp reviews of Radius
Urbanspoon reviews of Radius