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The best burger that I have ever had

Burger at Goldfinch Tavern  Four Seasons Hotel

The Goldfinch Tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle serves, quite simply, the best burger that I have ever had.

And this praise does not come lightly. I traveled the world as a restaurant critic for one of the largest newspapers in North America for six years to discover the best foods and restaurants.

Regular readers of know that I have written that the best burger in Napa Valley is served at G&G (Goose & Gander), in St. Helena, but I have found a burger that eclipses even this burger's ground greatness.

(To be clear, the G&G burger flirts with perfection and ranks among the most memorable burgers that I have ever had, right up there with the one served to me by Antoine Magnin, owner and chef of Louis L'Ami, in Paris, and the burger prepared from scratch for me by Pierre Franey, chef and food writer for the New York Times, who served it to me in my test kitchen. Both Antoine and Pierre have long departed this plane of existence - but the memory of their burgers burns on brightly.)

I have now had the Goldfinch Tavern Burger five times and it is consistently a perfect dining experience.

If I rated burgers on a scale of 100, the Goldfinch burger would rate 102.

Having the Goldfinch Tavern Burger is like seeing an original Picasso, or Matisse, painting close up – you walk a bit lighter the rest of the day having been graced with artistry that cavorts with angels.

The fact that they also make a killer rye Manhattan at the Goldfinch Tavern adds to the enjoyment factor of this burger.

But I digress.

I now know the secrets of how they make this exceptional burger; I spoke with the talented executive chef, Emmanuel Calderon, who goes by the nickname “Manu,” who has been at the helm here for more than two years.

“As important as making our burger tasty and juicy,” Manu told me, “is the need to make it consistently perfect.”

Manu’s brigade only makes 400 burgers a week post-pandemically so there are only 400 people in Seattle each week lucky enough to be graced by burger greatness.

The ingredients of the best burger in America

Manu starts with ground beef from an Idaho beef supplier with a pedigree -- Double R Ranch.

“I ask for an 80/20 blend (80% lean/20% fat) of short ribs and brisket for flavor. Double R makes up the difference with lean cuts,” Manu says.

The first time that I tasted this burger, I conjectured that there was brisket in it; after three weeks of gum-shoeing for this story, I discovered that this was, indeed, the case. Manu admits that from time to time, the fat ratio even approaches 75/25.

Manu makes hand-pressed, 8-ounce patties from this meat blend and then ages them 24 hours – “this produces a slight oxidation, which adds to the taste,” he says.

I also detected that there was an “umami thing” going on with the Goldfinch Tavern Burger and Manu provided the Big Reveal:

“We splash the patty with Balsamic vinegar when we start to grill it to add that “umami thing” you speak of.”

Burger at Goldfinch Tavern  Four Seasons Hotel (3)

The other ingredients that make this burger exceptional:

In-house made pickles. “We start with English cucumbers, skin them, soak them in a house-made brine flavored with coriander, bay leaves, and black pepper.

Manu also falls back on a recipe for one of the condiments that was created by 3-star Michelin French chef Michel Guerard. I met Gerard in the early 1980s just after he invented Cuisine Minceur. One of his flavorful, low-cal condiments was “Onion Marmalade,” which he made by s-l-o-w-l-y sweating red onions until their natural sugars caramelized over low heat.

Manu makes a version of this cuisine minceur onion marmalade and adds it to the burger. But Manu adds his own signature:

“I hot smoke the onions before we sauté them,” he admits. “It adds another level of complexity.”

He also smears the bun with a stunning fennel aioli that was the brainchild of Ethan Stowell, a partner-chef at the Goldfinch Tavern.

Ethan runs more than a dozen successful restaurants in Seattle, including one of my favorites, How To Cook a Wolf, in the Madison Park neighborhood.

Years ago, before Manu came along, the Four Seasons hired Ethan to consult on the menu and operation side of Goldfinch Tavern and there are still legacy elements of Ethan’s contribution, like fennel aioli.

Burger at Goldfinch Tavern  Four Seasons Hotel (2)

Manu adds lettuce, tomato, and Beecher’s cheese (a Seattle classic) to the burger and layers all this into a bun made by the Macrina Bakery, which I discovered for a Seattle food story that I wrote 25 years ago!

The bun has good chew and good flavor. “I like this particular bun because, in texture and flavor, it is between challah bread and a brioche. I think a straight brioche bun would be too rich, detracting from the burger, so we require something less buttery,” Manu explains.

The result: One of the most delicious, juicy, hamburgers that you will ever have. It’s as close to having angels dance on your palate as you’ll ever get.

The $25 Goldfinch burger comes with sensational fries, but be sure to order them "lightly salted," in order to have just the right amount of salt. Otherwise, it's salt overkill. Also order a few vegetable sides to complete your meal. I always order a side of roasted baby carrots (sometimes glazed handsomely with maple syrup), a side of roasted mushrooms, or a side of roasted broccolini. 

Burger at Goldfinch Tavern  Four Seasons Hotel (1)

Visitors to San Francisco are often lured to what is considered “the quintessential San Francisco experience,” an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe, where the intoxicating drink was first served in this country, in 1952.

It is said that a trip to San Francisco is incomplete without an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café; I would argue, in similar fashion, that a visit to Seattle is incomplete without having the Goldfinch Tavern burger. It is the quintessential Seattle food experience. But, remember, only 400 of these burgers are available each week, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Goldfinch Tavern, Four Seasons Hotel, 99 Union St., Seattle. Tel 206-749-7070.

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