I won’t declare this the best burger in Manila – my taste may not be your taste after all – but if I could eat only one burger, this would definitely be it.
I’m on the phone with Elbert Cuenca, proprietor of Elbert’s Steak Room (see related posts below) when he mentions that he serves a bone marrow burger. (!) My heart quickens by a beat in silent symphony with the strange sound my stomach suddenly makes. I make haste to the restaurant.
Elbert’s Steak Room, a true mecca for meat lovers, began life as a dinner-only establishment in 2007. Guests supped on Super Prime steaks that resulted in an abundance of meat trimmings, giving way to the birth of Elbert’s Cheesesteak and the opening of the Steak Room for lunch service.
Here, the light of day evinces a very different vibe: more casual, palpably more relaxed. The linens have been stripped from the tables and replaced with wide, white paper mats. I take a seat and wait. I can actually feel my eyes aglow in anticipation. Elbert joins me shortly and I immediately begin blabbering like an idiot, unable to contain my overflowing excitement. Our meal begins with what I call “ceremonial starters” – even at lunch, this rite is observed, the serving of bread rolls and a soup or salad. It’s to give the kitchen time to prepare the mains, and for me to prepare myself for the impending meal.
And what of this bone marrow burger? Also called a truffle burger, it’s simply known as the Chef’s Burger at the restaurant. Created and mastered by Elbert’s chef-brother Adrian Cuenca, it’s the product of much research and experimentation. Adrian hand-grinds tenderloin trimmings with the aid of two sharp knives, slicing and “pounding” them rhythmically. “An hour ago, it sounded like there was a drummer in there,” Elbert jokes.
The resultant meat is coarse and chunky, the base of which is then studded with nuggets of bone marrow. Adrian tells me that he soaks the marrow bones in water for over 24 hours to flush out impurities, rendering the mucilaginous matter bone white; it’s what provides the 20% fat ratio that every good burger consists of. A smattering of sea salt follows along with black pepper, tendrils of fresh thyme –and be still my heart – a smear of black truffle paste.
This precious patty weighing in at 200 grams is then carefully hand-packed, and caution is exercised that no nugget of marrow surreptitiously slips out. Salvation arrives when the inch-thick patty meets the searing kiss of a cast iron pan. What seems like eternity for the impatient diner outside (read: me) is really just a cooking time of a minute and a half per side, perfectly medium-rare.
So excited I can’t stand it, I’ve already waylaid my salad, sending it on its way with the server. Soon, the sight of the hallowed burger reduces my vocabulary to “ohmygodohmygod!” and I lose track of my inhalations. To his credit, Elbert doesn’t seem at all disturbed by my reactions. Clearly, he’s seen this type of zealous behavior before.
Bun, burger, leaf of lettuce, and interlocking rings of caramelized onions. It’s heavy in hand, a veritable treasure I hold here before my mouth takes hold. Beef is what I taste first, bold and rich in successive waves of flavor. Then a sprinkling of salt on my tongue – snowflakes in the sun. I look down and see ingots of marrow, vivid jewels of white peeking shyly from their beefy depths. Then the flavors come more quickly – the flavor of fat melting on the tongue mingling with the lingering essence of black truffle, the indefinable hint of herb, pepper, then – breathe, breathe– as each bite embraces the next. Juice. Juice, there’s so much juice. Dripping on my mouth, dribbling down my chin, threatening to chart a path down my arms. In no time at all, my burger’s bottom bun is soaked through, striations of pink on a swathe of white, and impossible to pick up. I reluctantly relinquish control to a fork and knife.
In between bites of beef-induced bliss, I dip the fries into the accompanying Gorgonzola sauce. It’s very liquid, milky almost, its acidity and sharp tang providing relief – but not for too long – from my singular focus, my burger.
Soon, there is nothing left on my plate but a quickly hardening puddle of juice, an errant crumb, and two soiled and crumpled large paper napkins, battle flags proclaiming: This burger rules!
Chef’s Burger at Elbert’s Steak Room
P1,100+. Available for lunch only.
Order a day in advance.
3/F Sagittarius Building III
111 H. V. de la Costa Street, Salcedo Village, Makati