The first thing that you might notice about SF chef Hubert Keller's new Burger Bar, situated directly below the Cheesecake Factory in Macy's, is the merchandise. There, behind the bar, a headless, legless, busty mannequin sports a tank top and bikini underwear, both emblazoned with a sparkly martini glass and the Burger Bar logo. Upon seeing that, I remembered that the first—the original—Burger Bar is located at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (there's a second in St. Louis).
The concept of Burger Bar is solid enough. Open a big restaurant in Union Square that serves any kind of burger you can imagine, along with cocktails and milkshakes. The dining room is decorated with granite tabletops and neon beer logos. The menus are those oversized laminated tri-fold numbers. But whether or not I like this might not matter: the target demographic here is likely not locals.
The food is perfectly satisfactory and very American in it's freedom of choice. You can choose the protein for your "burger"—beef, buffalo, salmon, chicken or a housemade, and surprisingly delicious, vegetarian patty. You can choose the bun for your burger. You can choose from a laundry list of toppings—foie gras, guacamole, half a lobster (!), button mushrooms. I shudder to think of some of the combinations that will be forced upon the kitchen. You can select your fries—skinny, fat, sweet potato, zucchini. If you don't end up liking your meal, it seems, you have only yourself to blame. It's not a cheap lunch; the signature Hubert Keller burger—buffalo with blue cheese, spinach and caramelized onion on ciabatta—is $22 and fries are extra. But unlike your average mall restaurant, the ingredients here are quality and they make most things in-house.
But somehow the fact that Keller is behind this restaurant makes eating at Burger Bar a real disconnect. Keller, who made a name for himself with his refined French food at stalwart Fleur de Lys, located just down the street, shouldn't be begrudged for creating a franchise that targets the mainstream (and likely making some good money doing it), but it's hard not to think that maybe he should have kept Burger Bar in Las Vegas where it wouldn't be as directly attached to his very well respected reputation in San Francisco. As the wise saying goes, What happens in Las Vegas ….