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Flip: The $40 A5 Kobe Burger

By • May 6th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Back in August, after Business Week published a “Most Innovative Burgers” list, I kind of pissed in celebrichef Richard Blais’ cornflakes.  The molecular-gastronomist-slash-foodie-rockstar behind Atlanta’s Flip Burger Boutique had an entry on the list, and I was none too impressed.  About his Pate Melt Burger, I scoffed, “…if veal and pork pate topped with lingonberries and cornichons is what he’s pushing, I’m already closer to that line than I need to be.

But then I found myself in that line last Saturday night.

It was date night for me and my wife, and with a babysitter at home racking up $13 an hour, she decided that I had waited long enough to try Flip, still the hottest burger destination in the city, even a year after opening.  My first impression upon entering was that the place is way more pretentious than I need a burger joint to be.

White leather benches in the booths.  Long communal tables.  Industrial-chic lighting fixtures.  Flat-screen TVs behind the bar with ornate picture frames built around them.  A wacky art-deco mural along the entire back wall.  It was like being in a nightclub where every single person was infinitely cooler than I was.

After perusing the menu, I still felt hopelessly out of my league.  I’m no gourmet, but I do know a thing or two about food.  But I didn’t recognize half of the things that Richard Blais has decided are burger toppings.

(Only later did I learn that the fauxhawked Blais, famous for finishing 2nd in Bravo’s 2008 season of “Top Chef,” isn’t the owner of Flip.  Or the head chef.  He’s the “creative director.”  Which made me wonder if the above press shot of him, taken by Rob Culpepper of Portico in Birmingham, Alabama* for the opening of that city’s Flip Burger Boutique, is as close as he comes to actually making a burger in one of “his” places.)

*Birmingham, Alabama?  Really???  Blais and the owner of Flip want to take their concept nationwide.  They started in Atlanta, where Blais has personal ties.  OK, fine.  But for their second location, they choose Birmingham, Alabama?  No disrespect to the 205, but doesn’t that seem like an odd choice?

Back to the menu.  Among the burgers with toppings like American cheese foam, red wine jam, gremolata mayo, green curry coconut sauce, gooseberry relish, and togarashi, I finally saw something that I recognized.

The most expensive burger on the menu is made from imported grade A5 Kobe beef. Kobe is considered the finest beef on earth.  It comes from Wagyu, an ancient stock of black-haired cattle raised in Japan.  “Kobe” is actually just the city that the beef is shipped from; the cattle itself is raised in one specific province of Japan, on about 200 farms that typically pasture fewer than 5 of the animals apiece.  There are legendarily crazy stories about how “Kobe” cows are pampered: bottle-fed expensive beer and hand-massaged with sake. Then the meat is graded on a strict scale, with a letter (A, B, or C) denoting the yield of meat versus fat off the bone, and a number (1-5) measuring the color of the meat.  A5 is the highest grade possible for a piece of Japanese Kobe.  It’s the best of the best of the best. Most experts agree that USDA Prime (the highest grade given in this country) would only score about an A1 or A2.

And here was a hamburger made out of it.  For $39. But wait, there’s more.  For my $39, my A5 Kobe burger would be topped with truffle oil, B&B (bread and butter) pickles, red wine syrup, and… wait for it… seared foie gras.  Yes, fattened goose liver.

There was absolutely nothing about that topping lineup that appealed to me in the least.  But I was irresistibly drawn to the A5 Kobe.  I simply had to know if it was as literally-melt-in-your-mouth phenomenal as I had heard.  I could put up with the other ingredients, right?  I mean, this guy is a genius.  I should just trust his refined palate and culinary wizardry, no?  When else would I ever get to eat a 40-dollar hamburger?

It came to the table looking like a work of art.  But I was already nervous about how it had been cooked.  When I was asked about my doneness preference, I inquired about what the kitchen recommended for A5 Kobe.  I was told that the restaurant “isn’t allowed” to serve it at anything less than medium.  Medium-cooked beef registers about 160 degrees.  Wagyu beef begins to melt at 77 degrees. I think that means, technically speaking, you could cook Kobe to perfection by setting it on your kitchen counter.  It also means, I think, that every A5 Burger leaving Flip’s kitchen is grotesquely overcooked.

I bunned my burger and sized it up.  It was small.  Flip’s burgers aren’t slyders per se, but they are unquestionably on the skimpy side.

“Runny” was the word that came to mind as I bit in.  The foie gras, which was a thick pudding-like consistency to begin with, simply exploded. It leaked everywhere.  I’m sure the truffle oil and red wine syrup helped, giving everything a nice slick texture that allowed the individual ingredients of the burger to shoot off in 8 different directions.  This is how my hamburger (which our babysitter would only be able to afford after 3 hours on duty) looked after ONE BITE:

The rest of the meal consisted of me trying to mop up the crime scene on my plate and get it into my mouth, although I know for a fact that I left several dollars’ worth of foie gras/truffle oil/red wine syrup smoothie smeared all over my fancy cloth napkin.  By the time I hit the last two bites, the meat was all but gone, with roughly half a bun left that I just sent back.

I was stunned.  I, a self-proclaimed cheebiephile of the highest magnitude, had just eaten a $40-dollar hamburger made of the finest beef on the planet… and I thought it sucked. My wife, for the record, absolutely loved her $7.50 Bacon & Cheese Burger.  I, however, needed to drown my sorrows.  Fast.

And that’s where, for me, Flip really shines.  The milkshakes. Richard Blais should get out of the burger business as far as I’m concerned and open up a dedicated milkshake bar.  He does some kooky mad-scientist thing with liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze them, but whatever.  The flavors are incredible.  Coffee and Donut.  Pistachio and White Truffle.  Turtle.  (God, I hope he means the chocolate-covered-nut candy.)  He also offers a foie gras milkshake (Good Lord, dude, lay off already!), but I had already hit my quota of that for a lifetime.  My wife got the Krispy Kreme shake.  I got Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow.

Hers was exceptionally good.  Mine was pure, unadulterated brilliance.  And the crazy thing is, I could probably whip up a comparable copy at home.  Good vanilla ice cream.  A jar of Nutella.  Some mini-marshmallows, and my creme brulee blowtorch.  I’ll be trying it.

But the A5 Kobe Burger? I tried it once.  It pains me to say that was more than enough.

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3 Responses to “Flip: The $40 A5 Kobe Burger”

  1. 1
    Jim Says:

    Great post. It’s unfortunate you had to burn $40 to find out the burger sucked. Give me the Big H at Harold’s any day.

  2. 2
    Joe Says:

    I’ve been to flip 7 times. If your head was on your shoulders instead of up your ass, you’d understand why your burger was cooked to medium. A5 Kobe is half fat or more. If you wanted a burger that was raw with unrendered fat you could go to the other 50 restaurants in Atlanta that can’t cook Wagyu to save their lives. Perhaps if you weren’t such a terse bastard, you’d have more people commenting on your review positively.

  3. 3
    Alex Says:

    Thanks for the write up and I had almost the same experience as you when I purchased a Kobe Burger in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. The briliance of Wagyu meat is simply wasted when the meat is all ground up and put on a griddle. In burgur form it just made the meat squishy and unappetizing. Wagyu is much better when simply cut and prepared as sashimi/carpachio or as a heavenly steak. BTW, don’t fall for truffle oil either. It’s just chemicals to smell like truffles put into Olive Oil… disgusting.

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