Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Five Napkin Burger: A first look

Okay, I warn everyone in advance that this post will not make much sense. Yes, I'm a vegetarian and I'm a bit too obsessed with Five Napkin Burger. Yes, today was its opening day and I went, by myself (more on that later). Thus, I did not get a burger, nor did I have an opportunity to inspect their burgers up close. So consider this post a preliminary look-- I will be back, with a burger-consuming dining partner in tow, with more of a report.

So-- on to the review, such as it is. I had plans to meet a friend from high school there for dinner, but she got stuck at work and bailed. I then cycled through my entire roster of possible dining companions, and somewhat unsurprisingly nobody was available for a last-minute dinner. So, as the time ticked down to the wire, I finally said, screw it, I'm going on my own. So I did.

I arrived shortly after 6-- the time they opened-- and requested a table for one (sniffle). They didn't bat an eye and led me to a two-top near the back of the restaurant. The place is pretty-- exposed ductwork on the ceiling, bare lightbulbs hanging decoratively. There were two large chalkboards covered with random doodles on the back walls, which was somewhat weird. But the space was certainly appealing and inviting, a little loud but backed up with a nice soundtrack of pop hits verging on "da club" status.

View of the bar area past the tables

Aloe plants (?) lining the windows

The table was set with a condiment caddy (ketchup/mustard), glasses, and flatware-- no salt and pepper, though, which could have come in handy with the bread. The server handed me the menu, and I looked it over. There was a small selection of wines by the glass and a larger selection of beers; I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc for $7 while I perused the rest of the menu. Below is photo documentation of the menu, so you can take a look for yourself:

There are a few things to note about the menu. First of all, I wasn't hugely impressed with their non-burger selection (yes, I know, it's a BURGER joint, and I'm a VEGETARIAN. I get it). Second of all, the place was expensive-- burgers hovered around $15, dinner salads around $18 (why??). Third of all, there was a large selection of maki rolls that they were pushing pretty hard-- the waitress even came to ask if there were "a maki roll I'd like to start with." Um, no. Is this a sushi place or a burger place? It seemed really out of place, frankly.

Wine service. Warm wine, that is.

As I decided what to order, my glass of sauvignon blanc arrived. They brought an empty glass with a small carafe and then poured a bit into the glass- nice touch. The wine was tasty but far too warm-- pretty much room temperature. But I still enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the wine arrived before the water; I had to ask for water to fill my glass, but once I did the waitress brought the pitcher ASAP and the water was kept topped up throughout the dinner.

I placed my order and waited for a few moments for the bread. Soon, a basket with one large slice of bread arrived, along with a dish of a couple hunks of butter. I had just reached for a bit of bread when my entree arrived-- whoops. Opening night timing issues...

Honey-wheat and butter.

I decided to have some bread first. I took a bite and got a very strong note of honey, which mellowed out to a nice wheat flavor. The crust of the slice was chewy but nice, with a good dusting of cornmeal on the bottom crust. The butter was a bit too cold and a bit too tasteless-- it wasn't salted but it wasn't sweet cream, either, so it was basically just industrial butter. Oh well; it served its purpose.

Bread on a bed

After a bit of bread, I tackled my entree: Vietnamese vegetable summer rolls. My first impression upon receiving the dish was that it was small. Very small. My second impression, upon picking up one of the halves, was that the dish was COLD-- clearly straight out of the fridge. I guess that's okay, but they could have let it warm up a bit while pacing the meal a bit better. I dunked the half in the accompanying sauce, which was very salty and tasted mostly of soy sauce. A bite revealed that the rolls consisted of vermicelli, carrots, lettuce, and scallions. Overall, it was okay-- definitely didn't taste bad by any means, but didn't blow me away either. But again: order summer rolls at a burger joint and you get what's coming to you, right?

Summer rolls on silly doily

Interior of roll, with preponderance of carrots

Needless to say, it didn't take long for me to finish this dish. After I was done, the hovering waitstaff cleared the plate; the waitress asked if I wanted more bread, which I declined, and she attempted to clear the butter dish as well, but I asked for that to be left (as I was still tackling the remainder of the huge bread slice with the rest of my wine). About a minute later, a busboy came to clear the butter dish, so I asked him to leave it too. As I munched the rest of my bread and butter, the waitress came back to ask if I wanted to hear the desserts. I was still sort of on dinner, but instead of being an asshole, I said sure, and she rattled off the list of desserts on offer. They seemed to skew very homemade-American: brownie sundae, chocolate blackout cake, cheesecake, rootbeer float, strawberry rhubarb pie. Nothing bowled me over, so I passed, content to snack on bread and finish the rest of my wine.

The waitress brought the bill promptly after I was finished; it came rolled up in a drinking glass, which was a cute touch. In total, my summer rolls and glass of wine came to about $15-- not too bad at all, although not a cheap price for a small amount of food, either, and if I hadn't ordered the cheapest thing on the menu (cringe) it would have been significantly more than that. I was content when I left, pretty full and not too much lighter in the wallet. By the time I gathered up my things, the restaurant was almost full-- pretty good for a first night!

So, my overall impressions? Well, there were certainly service issues to be worked out: the waitress seemed almost painfully unsure of herself, though she was very nice and obliging, and the meal wasn't paced quite right. And in general the food seemed a bit expensive for what it was (again, I ordered VERRRY carefully). But-- and I'll repeat this one more time-- I didn't get a burger. I don't think you can fully evaluate Five Napkin Burger without getting a burger, or at least going with someone who gets one. Therefore, at this point I'll refrain from awarding any spatulas. I'll return shortly with a burger-eater, perhaps try something new, and report back with a full-fledged spatula rating.


Jane said...

Went there with a few of my coworkers for lunch, but they let us know they wouldn't be open until 6 that evening...also it would be a few weeks before they would have lunch options. but the owner (?) chatted with us inside and we got a good look at the interior which i thought looked really good.

i LOVE i should be checking it out soon after work.

Janine said...

Jane, it definitely is a pretty restaurant, although I'm not too sure about the scribbly blackboards...

Let me know what you think when you try the burgers. I did see a few of them and they looked HUGE! One guy sitting near me actually asked for extra napkins--guess they live up to their billing!

Anonymous said...

did you ever think having a drink and app is not dinner?

Janine said...

Anonymous, for most people that's true-- but unfortunately I have a stomach problem that prevents me from eating too much at one time (read the beginning of my blog for more on that). I still love food so I try to eat what I can to get a sense of what restaurants are all about. I'm hoping some of my travels will inspire readers to check out the places I visit and try everything I didn't!

Anonymous said...

Hi Janine,

Just stopped by after seeing your posts on Midtown Lunch. A suggestion: it would be *really* helpful if you included the location of the places you write about in your posts. It is a bit of a pain to have to go to another site to look up locations of places that sound interesting. Not everyone knows where they are!

Janine said...


You are so right. I'm terrible at that. From now on I'll post the addresses!

Thanks for reading,