Thursday, August 12, 2010

Overpriced at Romer's Burger Bar

Romer's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Yesterday I popped over to Romer's Burger Bar on West 4th at 5:30pm, hoping to beat any sort of dinner rush. The place was bare, as most restaurants typically are at that hour. When you go that early, you get prompt and attentive service, and, hopefully, nice window seats if you're inclined to watch the world go by or get a cool breeze in on a hot day -- and I got the latter when I asked for "someplace cool".

Big screen TVs are positioned to occupy the single diner, so between waiting for summer-clad hotties to go by and watching the latest adverts on high def TV, waiting for my burger wasn't so tedious at all.

There are so many restaurants to go to in Vancouver, and I wasn't sure when I'd be back, so I went for the "Gold" package -- fruity drink of pomegranate, cranberry, ginger beer splash ($5), "drunken donuts" ($5), and their most prestigious burger, the Ultimate Kobe Classic.

The drink was okay. It was basically a fruit juice mix, and there weren't any fruity bits, so it seemed a bit suspicious to me as to whether they were, as advertised, "non-alcoholic drinks are made from only the finest ingredients", or simply poured from Ocean Spray or other factory-prepped juices. There did, however, appear to be some bits (of ginger?) at the bottom. If you do get this, I recommend stirring it first as the ginger taste somehow sank to the bottom and for me and didn't appear strongly for that extra "kick" until later. It was fine for $5, which, I suppose isn't entirely overpriced as drinks in restaurants go. A Coors Light would have set you back the same.

I was told the donuts were deep-fried minis in a serving of 10, with 3 dips. No half order for the single diner wanting a lighter meal, alas. I got it for take-out, and it came in a brown box, plastic lined on the inside so there was no oil seepage.
They were very generously crusted with a sweet vanilla-coloured powder (was it sugar touched with frying oil?!), and there were three dipping sauces -- A milky chocolate (Nutella), a sour white cream liquid (limoncello?), and a khaki coloured watery sauce that was sweet with less bite than the white stuff (maple whisky?). The menu reads, "decadently fried, powdered sugar, Kahlua, Nutella, limoncello, maple whisky".
There was more than enough dipping sauce to completely coat each donut (i.e., you dunk the whole thing in and swirl it around to coat it entirely, rather than do it the movie-cop way and delicately tip one end and take a bite).
In any case, it was pretty tasty, but a bit heavy-feeling after a meal. Best if you had a tangy drink to wash it down with and clear your palate.

On to the burger! Here, I ought to preface my disappointment by saying that Romer's claims to do up their burgers with "all-natural Heritage Farms range-fed Angus beef, natural Fraser Valley pork, turkey, free-range chicken or wild salmon flat-top seared for succulent flavour and juiciness". Okay. Burgers are typically $9-12, mostly about $10. Okay.
If you go, pay attention to this as you're paying for more than taste -- You're paying to support a different style of farming.

That said, The Ultimate Kobe Classic is made with Kobe beef, and that's an entirely different animal. These alcoholic bovines drunk on sake are definitely not from around here as to bear the Kobe trademark, Kobe beef must be born in Japan, fed in Japan, castrated in Japan, and killed in Japan for starters.
(It's possible that the menu really meant "Kobe-style" beef, which is a knock-off of the real thing and with theoretically little difference in taste.)
The Kobe beef burger weighs in at TWENTY-FOUR DOLLARS ($24), with NO SIDE DISH. Not even a half order of cheap-ass fries. (Although, granted, some waist-conscious people might not have wanted a side with their burger at all). That totally set up my expectation. Glowbal has Kobe beef steaks at $18 per OUNCE, so cost-wise, it's probably in line with flying dead cow meat over from Japan. But can a burger be so delicious that all on its own, it was worth $24?!

The ad copy reads, "Delectable, mind-blowing: premium Kobe beef, foie gras paté, chanterelle mushrooms, onion strings, truffle mayo, garlic mustard, robust red wine demi-glaze on the side, because it’s that special."
When it came on the plate, it *looked* big, but that was because of the crispy fried onion strings. Once you squashed it down to fit in your mouth, it was little bigger than a McDonald's Big Mac. And I'm taking points off for a patty that was smaller than the cross-section of your bun.

As mentioned, it came with a (small) amount of demi-glaze. Unlike a French Dip Sandwich where you are expected to dip-and-eat (sort of like a donut with coffee), and are therefore provided with a lot of dip, there's very little sauce here. You're not meant to drown your burger, just moisten it a bit.

And you'll probably need it because, if your burger is anything like mine, the meat was dry. Foie gras? Truffle? Didn't taste it. There as probably enough meat to cover up all the taste. And when I used the demi-glaze to moisten it, the "robust red wine" taste overpowered everything. On the up side, the bun and the porous burger drank up the sauce nicely, with no huge dripping mess.
It's not what you've got, it's how you use it. I really think they blew it here. Premium ingredients for sure, but nothing properly brought out in taste or experience.

Was it worth it for $24? You have a couple of options:
(a) Go to White Spot where you'll get unlimited fries on the side if you're up for that, plus you can treat a friend to the same. And the TWO platters combined would still weigh in at LESS than the single Kobe Beef Burger with no side dish. No all-natural anything obviously, so if you can't taste the difference anyway, go to White Spot or anywhere else instead.

(b) If you absolutely have to have Kobe Beef, it's a bit tricky to find apparently. It doesn't look like you can get it from the obvious choice, Kobe Restaurant on Alberni as their menu doesn't actually list Kobe Beef at all, curiously enough. Glowbal has an Australian Kobe steak at $18/ounce (a moderate 10 ounce steak would therefore cost you about five times what a typical Canadian or US beef steak order would set you back); they do, however, have a $2 Kobe Meatball. Either way, hopefully you'll get the straight-up Kobe beef and get to experience what the phenomenon is all about. Hopefully, it'll be worth $18 a bite.


  1. Enjoyed your post. =) I actually went to Romer's burger just days ago and really enjoyed the experience.

    For Kobe beef, your best bet is to make your own to truly make every penny worthy! Never ever order any Kobe burger or Kobe meatball because it's a total waste of the luxurious meat. =D

    Feel free to visit my site for our recipe to make wicked Kobe beef at home!


  2. @Priscilla - Yes, you're probably right about the Kobe Beef. I'm glad you enjoyed your experience -- and great pics on your blog! Funny how small they look in the pictures. Maybe it's the camera angle or the lack of nearby references for size comparison?