Daniel Boulud's DBGB Would Like to Pork You
"It tastes like a fast-food hamburger," said my companion, as he opened wide to accommodate the sesame-seeded roll. He meant it in the best possible sense, enjoying that familiar synergy of white bun, onion, iceberg, and tomato that comprises DBGB's Yankee burger—a self-aware incarnation of the über-American classic, with a patty fashioned out of wonderfully mineral, coarsely ground beef.
DBGB, Daniel Boulud's take on a semi-affordable sausage and beer joint, offers many fine, fleshy pleasures, though with fine dining's usual chilly receptionists who insist they've got nothing until 10:30. The extremely savvy concept reflects the current faux-homey culinary zeitgeist. Add a scattering of offal, and you've got yourself the restaurant of the moment.
In a recent Salon article, writer Sarah Karnasiewicz pointed out that the renewed interest in canning, pickling, and DIY food—collectively and annoyingly dubbed "urban homesteading"—may be fun and result in good food, but really has nothing to do with the past era it evokes. Traipsing out to the greenmarket to buy pristine vegetables to can or pickle is not a thrifty, grandmotherly endeavor, but a luxury hipster hobby. Not that there's anything wrong with that (really).
Likewise, Boulud's DBGB evokes a homespun bistro or tavern, but, of course, it's a smart facsimile. It aims to make you feel like an astute diner—you got past the maître d'! You're eating in a Boulud restaurant!—and also a person of suitably humble tastes: The recession lingers on; it's time for a high-end hot dog. Even the name "DBGB" references a time gone by, playing on CBGB, the legendary venue that was once on the same block. (A lawyer for CBGB successfully forced DBGB to cease and desist the use of the CBGB font.)
Although reservations are hard to come by, the front bar section is set aside for walk-ins and is pleasantly casual, if way too loud. The only catch: You'll have to choose from an abridged menu instead of the full one teasingly painted on the bar's walls. So don't get too attached to the enticing boudin Basque; it can only be ordered in the real dining room. But wherever you're seated, DBGB feels convivial, with a view to the open kitchen, and copper pots used by famous chefs lining the walls. The restaurant also manages to be relatively affordable (not to be confused with a good value—one burger costs $19), and some of the dishes, especially the sausages, are utterly satisfying.
One night—seated, fortunately, in the dining room—we sampled dishes from all over the menu and discovered that the mains, such as the forgettable leg of lamb and several unsustainable fish plates, are skippable. Instead, order the sharable sausages, charcuterie, and offal. These three are really the heart of DBGB—foods for which Boulud, a native of the pork-happy city of Lyon, has great love. If you've tried Gilles Verot's stellar charcuterie at Bar Boulud, you already know that the headcheese is a quivering wonder, and that the pâté de campagne deploys a deliciously coarse mix of pork and chicken liver.
Boulud is clever to bring these crowd pleasers to a second restaurant. Of the offal dishes, labeled "tête à pied" on the menu, choose the crisp Lyonnaise-style tripe, a Boulud hometown favorite. You can probably get a finicky five-year-old to try it: two crunchy, deep-fried tablets harboring chewy tripe so mild it made me think of fried calamari, sided by a small heap of more sliced stomach—this time, in a cold tomato salad. If you don't mind tastebud-pimpled skin, try the tongue (tender and meaty) in sauce gribiche, a mayonnaise-style sauce made with eggs and oil, livened with chopped capers and a sprinkle of diced, hardboiled eggs.
But the homemade sausages are the most compelling reasons to eat at DBGB. Find a long list under "links, bangers, and saucisses," which signal their globe-trotting character. If you can only try one—hell, if you are about to go vegetarian and want a final, gorgeous, carnivorous blowout—go for the boudin Basque, crafted from pork blood and pig's head and stuffed in a wide casing. Forming a black, sticky round on the plate, its humble looks belie the utter marvelousness of its deeply meaty/sweet/funky flavor. The scallion mashed potatoes that come with it are at least half butter—and taste it, too.
I suppose not everyone wants to dine on blood and butter. For a less overwhelming sausage, try the Parisiennes—pale, plump links of coarsely ground veal and aromatic spices, with brilliant carrots Vichy on the side (traditionally cooked in butter and the effervescent water from Vichy, France). The Parisiennes are simple, but nothing to scoff at—a friend and I ended up jousting with forks for bites of the sausage. Also well worth ordering: the Tunisienne, a thin coil of lamb merguez sausage served with harissa (the brick-red purée of chilies and caraway hailing from Morocco), and a spinach purée that reminded me of Indian saag. The lone loser from the compendium of sausages turns out to be the DBGB Dog, a sickly pink beef wiener, flaccid and without a snappy casing. It tastes like a stick of government-issued bologna.
One night, a friend and I ordered "The Piggy," a burger that should probably come with a side of Lipitor. It combines a beef patty, slaw, jalapeño mayo, and a heaping portion of pulled pork from Daisy May's BBQ, all on a cornbread-cheddar bun. We were prepared to be mildly grossed out—that's basically an entire meat dinner heaped atop an entire meat dinner—but found ourselves munching on it compulsively. Overkill? Absolutely, and the flavor of the pork overwhelms the burger itself. But it does taste really good, almost transgressively so. The skinny fries, however, which come with the burgers and the hot dog, are limp.
We sampled several wines by the glass before realizing that they're nearly uniformly mediocre. Instead, take a gander at the fantastic beer list, which offers nine lagers and 15 ales by the glass, and many, many more than that by the bottle. The brews hail from all over the world, and range from the familiar—Sixpoint, Jever—to the rare, like Birreria le Baladin, an Italian triple ale. You'll also find plenty of sweet and hoppy high-alcohol Belgian ales, which will get you drunk before you know it. And DBGB is the sort of restaurant best enjoyed slightly tipsy—liquid courage to order fried tripe, blood sausage, and, most terrifying of all, that maniacal Piggy.
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