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The 2009 Burger Bonanza: Absinthe's Soul

Welcome to the 2009 Burger Bonanza wherein two girls eat 20 of the city's best burgers, on the path to burger enlightenment. The 10 best will then be chosen to be featured—in ranking order—in 7x7's September magazine issue. Burgers must fit our "fancy burger" parameter: made with beef and available as part of the regular dinner menu at upscale restaurants in SF. Beyond that, we're open to suggestions, which we hope you will leave in the comment box below!

ABSINTHE

Price: $12.50
Beef: Grass-fed Estancia chuck, with the addition of fatty trim
Bun: Acme brioche
Fixings: Red onion, red leaf lettuce and a slice of house-made pickle
Condiments: Housemade aioli
Cooked over: A gas flame
Extras: For $1.50 extra per item, you can top it with sautéed mushrooms with garlic; Gorgonzola; Gruyère; smoked gouda; spicy caramelized onions; heirloom tomatoes (when in season); fried egg. Hand-cut Kennebec fries are $6 extra.

If I had ordered Absinthe’s burger for just an every-night kind of dinner rather than a part of our ongoing, critical, Nobel-Prize worthy Burger Bonanza research, I would have left Absinthe content. But when you take a microscope to your dinner—when you’re trying to do an honorable service for your fellow foodist community—good isn’t always good enough. The competition is stiff in this town.

To begin (and maybe end) with, Absinthe’s ready-to-wear burger is pretty basic: The Estancia beef patty, between a nice Acme brioche bun, is good but not memorable; the burger comes with a pile of raw red onions; plus, some pretty, but not crunchy, red leaf lettuce and a slice of slightly limp, housemade pickle that had good flavor but not enough snap (the pickle is key, as Jessica recently wrote). Also, the burger costs $12.50 and fries are $6 extra—which when you’re comparing it to Nopa’s burger (which costs 50 cents extra and includes delicious Kennebec French fries)—is one of those things that makes you go hmmm.

In order to keep our eyes on the prize, Jessica and I have been ordering our burgers as they come, skipping the siren call of additions like cheese, fried eggs and caramelized onions—all of which Absinthe offers, and from which its burger would benefit.

But maybe it’s not completely the burger’s fault for appearing proletarian. In a moment of weakness (under the guise of future hot dog research), I made the big mistake of diverting my attention and also ordering chef Jamie Lauren’s housemade hot dog with chili-ketchup, Guiness mustard, sauerkraut and housemade yogurt-dill potato chips. Lauren has made it well-known that she’s a hot dog fanatic, and it’s clear that she’s put some extra-tender care into her dog, which is delicious, savory, and just plain exciting.

All of the sudden, I found myself comparing the burger and the dog, using that intangible thing—what some call soul (and others call attention-to-detail). And Lauren's hot dog's soul dances circles around her burger. There's no doubt about it.

Delicious factor: Nothing wrong with it, but nothing momentous about it either.

Up next! Jessica on Mission Beach Cafe's burger, this Friday.