Decemburger: Bess Bistro

 
First came 50 Burgers, 50 Days. Then Novemburger. 2011 wraps up with a burger a day for Decemburger.
 
Day 4: Bess Bistro
500 W. Sixth St. 477-2377, www.bessbistro.com.
 
2016 UPDATE: Bess Bistro has closed
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 12.04.11
 
The burger: The beauty of the hamburger is alchemy, the ability to turn plain old 80-20 ground chuck into gold with nothing more than a toasted bun and a few vegetables. So the point of taking beef that costs upwards of $50 a pound and using it for hamburger eludes me. But there it is on the menu at Bess: a Wagyu burger. The upgrade seems to fit with the French-influenced bistro in the basement of the Stratford Arms building owned by actress Sandra Bullock. It’s $14 with fries.
 
That seemed like a good entry-level point for a Wagyu experience. I might have added an egg for $2, but I wanted to see what that high-tone beef — a Japanese breed famous for its marbling and fine singing voice — could do on its own. And it does fine, full of deep beef flavor notes and a healthy sheen from that high fat quotient. Because fat is what marbling is, no matter what you call it or what you charge for it. Did it make for a better finished product than the same amount of Black Angus or beef without a proper name? Not necessarily, but what you get at Bess is good lettuce, tomatoes and cheese on an extraordinary sweet challah bun baked across the street at Walton’s Fancy and Staple, the bakery/florist/sandwich shop opened by Bullock in 2009. They’re all building blocks for a better burger, and the beef holds up its end of the bargain, even if it’s not exactly a bargain.
 
Fries or rings? Bistro-quality fries have hallmark qualities of their own. They’re generally thin, with the skins left on and fried firm if not exactly crisp, because frying a handcut potato into the ideal french fry is an art practiced best by restaurants that order potatoes by the truckload. Bess follows the bistro format, and I have no problem with that. Onion rings aren’t an option, but mac and cheese has become my fallback position, and Bess does a baking dish full of elbow macaroni for $6 thick with white cheese and topped with toasted bread crumbs.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
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