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Bistro Burger

Oct 9, 2009
by Christopher St Cavish

Area: Less than a year ago, the most interesting thing at the tangled intersection of Fumin Lu, Changle Lu, Xinle Lu, and Donghu Lu was a tiny triangle of a park with some brass busts and the occasional hobo. Now, it's hordes of white people munching burritos at Cantina Agave, late-night Chinese yuppies drinking wine outside of Dolce Vita, a flashy version of Hong Kong's old-guard cha canting, Tsui Wah, and the launching grounds of Noodle Bull, who discovered that people like polished concrete with their Taiwanese beef noodles. Oh, and then you've got provincial mutant Club 88 chewing up Shanghai's moneyed youth and spitting their inebriated carcasses down a sweeping wooden staircase.

It's a goddamn circus out there. There's a regular beggar with a trained monkey on a leash these days.

Bistro Burger is with all of that, pulling the madness around the corner and on to the Changle Lu side of the Mansion complex.

What it is: Gourmet burgers, and casual American stuff, from populist restaurateur Eduardo Vargas. There's also some milkshakes, some milkshakes with booze, and a craft-y beer selection. It's a simple formula.

Chef Eric Brown is consulting on the menu, which is a good thing. He does a great burger. Used to do it at Pinnacle Peak
when he was cooking there. He's moved on and taken his burger with him, to Bistro Burger. Vargas knocked the price down, and the result is Brown's burger -- The Classic, on Bistro's menu -- for 45rmb; 50rmb, with fries and a Coke, in an all-day combo that'll be available any day now (they're running at about 80% this week).

What else is on this menu? Let's see.... A Hawaiian tuna burger -- for the ladies; the "My Big Fat Greco Style Gyros Burger", a tasty lamb-beef patty in pita, with all the gyros trimmings; Caesar salad; BBQ shrimp -- not the most obvious thing to order at a burger joint, but a good one nonetheless; the whole spectrum of fried potato: standard fries, twister fries, waffle fries, potato wedges, chili cheese waffle fries; and the kicker, fried pickles with ranch dressing. That's a Brown favorite. And, of course, lots of burgers.

The burgers themselves come in about ten variations, and then you've got a choice of cheeses and toppings to add, for 8rmb a pop. Say, for example, it's Friday, and the beginning of the month, and you've got some money to burn. You want to try something new, something really on the edge -- maybe a heart attack. But The Classic just isn't going to get you there. That's when you start chucking on the brie (+8rmb), the bacon (+8rmb), the sliced avocado (+8rmb), and maybe some more bacon (+8rmb) -- a 77rmb Emergency Room adventure.

Are we in the early stages of an emerging Shanghai burger trend? The bar for trend-namers is three of anything. Two and it could just be a coincidence; three, and it's a trend. Count 'em: Carl's Jr., Gourmet Cafe's play for the big-time at Shanghai Center, and now Bistro Burger. Granted, Carl's Jr. is corporate fast-food, but it's a step-up from Burger Wang and McDills, and it's not that much cheaper than a Bistro combo. And Gourmet Cafe isn't new, just newly ambitious. I guess we can call it two-and-a-half.

Atmosphere: Smart casual, if you're still allowed to say that. Adult. The space is basically an elongated shoebox, like those tribal longhouses they build in Borneo. Banquettes and low tables run along one side; elevated cocktail tables with high chairs fill up the other. It dead-ends on a bar at the back. It's got that general, urban bistro feel -- some low panelling on the walls, Kraft paper on the tables, Stella Artois on draft, high ceiling, nice hanging ice-cube lighting fixtures -- that's everywhere and nowhere at the same time: New York, London, San Fran, Melbourne. Pretty comfortable. You could come in your nice clothes before you go out for the night, the shorts you've been wearing for a couple of days, or your nice clothes, after you been out until three in the morning, and no one's going to look twice.

Damage: Controlled. Burgers start at 45rmb; extra toppings are 8rmb each. Starters are above 35rmb, desserts are below. Draft Tsingdao is 20 & 35rmb for 300ml and 500ml respectively; draft Stella Artois is 30 & 45rmb. Newcastle, Coopers, VB, Brooklyn IPA, and Blue Star beers are 30-35rmb -- cheaper than what they sell for in the bars.

Burgers don't automatically come with fries, an arrangement I take personal offense to, but The Classic is part of a combo that includes fries and a Coke for 50rmb, fries and a milkshake for 65rmb, or fries and a Hoegaarden for 75rmb. As I mentioned, the combo isn't available at this very moment -- its unveiling is imminent, however.

Who's Going: Everyone who likes burgers and beer; the Vargas Crowd, who follow the big man around from place to place; you, when you're up at 2am, hungry but unable to face another bowl of la mian; maybe the bum with the monkey-on-a-leash?
October 3

1/F, Mansion,
291 Fumin Lu,
near Changle Lu

6170 1315

Daily, noon-11pm

(Eventually expanding to 10am-4am)

Burgers from 45rmb, salads from 40rmb, combos from 50rmb
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