Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Black Cat Bistro and the burger as a culinary platform


Over the years, I've eaten five times at the Black Cat Bistro, in two of the locations it has called home. I remember having exquisite Vietnamese-inspired food in the old yellow house on Murray Street that Navarra occupies now. My friends and family have all had great experiences there as the kitchen has evolved and chefs have changed. Owner Richard Urquhart has gently shepherded this Ottawa staple through the years with class and a great eye for trend. This is in many ways the Doctor Who of Ottawa restaurants; it reincarnates to keep fresh, has a dedicated fanbase, is quirky enough to be original but is firmly prime time. BCB's current incarnation on 428 Preston at Norman is of neighbourhood bistro, where the service is friendly and the food is playful. 

Every Tuesday, chef Patricia Larkin designs a burger. To some, this would be like Da Vinci doing Etch-a-Sketch, but to the Ottawa burgerati, this is clearly someone who admires the burger a platform of possibility rather than just another humble dish with a formula. Previous burger creations include the pastrami burger (smoked burger patty with pastrami spice, rye spread, mustard, pickles, cabbage), the breakfast burger (sausage patty and fried egg), shawarma burger, etc.

This night's special burger was the "curry burger," which included curry paste, fried onions, mango chutney, cucumber, lettuce, and a cilantro, mint and cumin mayo.

It might seem unfair to review a burger that may never leave those kitchen doors again, and it is for that reason that my wife graciously decided to order Richard's Angus Burger rather than her usual steak frites. We're all about teamwork for the quality of analysis here at Mike Likes Burgers. Richard's burger includes smoked bacon, sharp cheddar and secret sauce, and is offered on the menu from Tuesday to Thursday.

Reviews after the break

The burgers

When the burgers arrive, they stand tall on a plate only otherwise occupied by a small ceramic mayo shot glass and half of a half-sour pickle. A cone of shoestring fries are served separately.

I ordered my curry burger medium and it was cooked expertly. The patty was around 3cm at its thickest, lean, gently crusted and with a pleasingly substantial grind. Curry and the mango chutney provided spice and sweetness with a nice tang that complemented the meat. They were obviously the boldest flavours of the meal; after the last few burgers where the meat flavour was front and centre having an ensemble cast was a nice change of pace.  I really enjoyed the cucumber slices of all things, particularly because they gave a cooling finish that was very refreshing. This was further amplified by the tremendous mayonnaise that was thick and full of flavour. It was nice to have a burger where fat and salt were not the focus, but instead was sweet and spicy. Moreover, the burger's Subcontinental influences were accurate and complete; there was no other flavour that I was dying for.

The burger is so big, it wants to eat me. It's even drooling chutney,
waiting for me to drop my guard. Challenge accepted, burger.

Amy ordered her burger medium-well and it too arrived exactly to specifications. Richard's Angus Burger is more standard fare: a high-quality bacon cheeseburger with a leaf of Boston lettuce. The bacon was delicious and not overpowering with salt, and the cheddar sharp enough that it rose above other flavours to be counted. Amy's burger was markedly different than mine; as to be expected the rich, umami meat was dominant on the palate. I didn't have enough of it to identify the secret sauce. Overall it was definitely a meat lover's burger, and I really enjoyed it.

Amy's burger was serious business.
Witness the pickle cowering in fear behind the mayo shot glass.

The buns are baked in house and are very good, soft but with structure. When pressed together they formed little bun-globes. Meat:bun ratio is right on and they hold moisture sufficiently.

The burgers are grandiose, so much so that both Amy and I both skipped breakfast the next morning. Their bread and appetizers are delicious, but unless you're hungry like a wolf you will likely not finish the burger and fries if you pre-indulge. Luckily the buns collapse nicely to allow one to actually get the burger nominally in the mouth. I'm not saying that these are obscene 1lb monstrosities, but they do mean business.

The standard burger was a very well-executed example of a traditional burger that doesn't really push the envelope. It was delicious, but not $20 delicious. Even taken the prompt and professional service, I would have gauged the burger closer to $16. That said, the $20 pricing is consistent with the overall pricing of the menu, and I understand that a $16 burger would look peculiar where other dishes are firmly in the $30+ range. I would recommend it if you're at BCB on a Wednesday or Thursday and are in the mood for a burger, but the problem you'll face is that the rest of Patricia's menu deserves your attention.

The curry burger was a great concept well executed, made with the best ingredients and fairly priced at $20. It, and I suspect many of the Burger Tuesday entries, are a celebration of the burger as a culinary opportunity and I eagerly recommend that you attend in the future. Each week the topping selections are well-designed and plentiful without being too busy. It gets one of my top recommendations.

The sides

Haute shoestring, no skins, firm, (too?) well salted. More fast food inspired than chip truck. We paired with a bottle of 2009 "Frank" Cabernet Franc from Megalomaniac (VQA Niagara Peninsula). It worked nicely with mine, but if you're sticking to Richard's original than I'd go bigger, probably the zinfandel from Paso Robles on offer. A beer would work too, but your belt might explode.


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