The recent opening of Villard Michel Richard, tucked inside Manhattan’s Palace Hotel, marked not only its namesake chef’s return to New York after a 40-year absence. It also foisted another gussied-up slab of ground beef onto the city’s escalating up-market burger scene. Behold, the Villard Burger, Richard’s fussy French take on the classic American sandwich.
Listed at $26, the burger is a far cry from, say, the outrageous Le Burger Extravagant at Serendipity 3 — that $295 Wagyu-flavored, diamond-toothpick-skewered publicity stunt on a bun which claims to be the world’s most expensive burger. Richard seems to expect real people to actually order his burger. A comparatively affordable option, the Villard Burger falls into the same gourmet category as the popular Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern ($28) and the original short rib-and-foie gras-stuffed burger at Daniel Boulud’s db bistro moderne ($32).
It’s also essentially the same burger that Richard serves at his Central restaurants in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. Same olive oil brioche bun, baked in-house. Same tomato confit and homemade garlic mayo. Same crunchy potato tuile on top — a fancy chip that has become one of the chef’s signature ingredients.
Only at Villard, Richard’s burger costs $8 more. (D.C. and Vegas versions start at $18.) Karim Lakhani, the hotel’s executive vice president of food and beverage, explains the substantial markup as a simple matter of Big Apple economics. “New York overheads are far greater than D.C. overheads, from the cost of the product to the cost of labor to the cost of just doing business in New York — period,” says Lakhani. “We try to keep it as low as possible, but we couldn’t go down to $18.” Richard was unavailable for comment.
Undoubtedly, a big bite out of every burger helps to subsidize the sandwich’s glitzy surroundings. This is the Palace Hotel, after all, where one should expect an appropriately palatial level of service and décor. This means, among other things, having your server twist the cap on your individually sized 2.25-ounce Heinz ketchup bottle (as mine did, unsolicited) so you don’t have to struggle with breaking that pesky seal yourself.
Of course, there is an additional cost to this upper-eschelon style of hospitality beyond the burger’s already lofty price tag; an automatic 15-percent service charge is also added to your bill.
Yet, despite the differences in setting, hotel brass had no intention of further elevating Richard’s standard burger recipe. “Consistency is key,” says Lakhani, “especially when Michel has such a following. We do get quite a few people coming in who’ve been to Michel’s restaurants.”
The only significant variation (beyond price) in the New York version of Richard’s burger, Lakhani notes, is the beef. High-end New York butcher DeBragga supplies the meat — a blend of dry-aged brisket, chuck eye roll and tri-tip, which Lakhani says that Richard insisted upon after a personal visit to the purveyor’s coolers.
Ordered medium rare, the decadent, ultra-fatty quality of the patty is evident in the way the juices run mostly clear, interspersed with only tiny specks of pink, as they drizzle across the stark white plate. Palace guests, anyway, should appreciate the richness. “It’s amazing, all the comments we get on the burger,” says Lakhani.
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