The languid melt of beef tallow over tongue is ample evidence not only of the existence of a divine being, but that it wants us to eat animals. Either that, or Satan is tempting us with something awesome. Usually, there's little question in my mind that beef is the best of all possible meats. In the context of a burger, the answer seems clear.
But last week, my pantheon of flesh was turned on its head. Tasting my way through a series of burgers at Houston's first Hopdoddy Burger Bar in River Oaks District (a location of the Austin chain will open in Rice Village early next year, followed in the spring by one in Vintage Park), I had a clear favorite. The indulgent Prime Time and its base of Akaushi beef was just fine; the festive flavors of the current special, Thanksgiving on a Bun, made perfect sense. But the one I couldn't stop eating was the far less colorfully named ahi tuna burger.
I tend to dread the chopped tuna contained in spicy maki. But with a bit of a sear (I definitely wouldn't have minded darker caramelization), what I anticipated would be mealy was unexpectedly juicy. Sticky teriyaki sauce blended with mayo to combat the mild burn of wasabi sweetened with honey. Tempura-fried nori lent a fun crispness and more briny notes that gave the burger an undeniably Japanese personality. The fact that this was all stuffed into a sweet, egg-washed bun with sprouts, lettuce and tomato hardly seemed to matter. Or rather, the western ingredients were polite enough to let the Asian influences emote at full volume.
Really, the burger would have been perfectly satisfying standing alone. But it would have been a tragedy to miss the crisp-outside, pillowy-inside truffle fries. The tarted up fries are not usually among my first picks, but these are something special. Rather than relying on a dousing of synthetic truffle oil, they get their sought-after earthiness from a mayonnaise filled with the finely chopped fungus. Parmesan wasn't really necessary, but added a pleasantly salty extra dash of umami.
Was it a mistake to order the Nutella & Chocolate Pretzel shake? My friend and I divided it in half and I drank it as appetizer, entrée and dessert, but in the end, it still left me defeated. But I do not regret the smooth waves of double chocolate with tantalizing pockets of crunch and salt. I may be enticed to order it again, with a bit of emotional preparation. But ahi tuna burger, you and I have a standing date.