Walk into RARE and you are immediately greeted by happy twenty-something servers with smiles and cordial quips. The Chelsea RARE location is coupled with the Hilton Hotel on 26th between Sixth and Seventh. On this brisk fall day, the heat from the burger grill was on. In the dining room, plates of juicy burgers were hovering around this multi-plex type dining room, the wafting beef smells were tantalizing, and you couldn't anticipate the impending slaughter of a good burger. The décor was somewhat barbaric, but cool. Sharp sticks protruding from the walls, a weird cast-iron compass-like structure dangling over the stairs, barbed wire motifs hanging over your head on the lamps and the columns that are strategically studded around the vast dining area — this is for sure the stage for a RARE burger experience.
The setting emulates the act — like tearing into a meaty, fleshy burger, the room feels somewhat dungenous, or even masochistic; a feeling like a carnivorous caveman eating and eating until all is extinct. The players of this restaurant are the staff — they make you feel warm and unembarrassed that your hands and cheeks are covered in burger juices while you attack the beast. Your eyes are forward, elbows are bent — you’ll adapt these techniques whether you realize it or not while eating a RARE burger. Your focus, disturbingly, bite after bite, may be zeroed in on a cauldron-like figure piece in the downstairs area. It’s a daunting site. Not knowing what it was, I asked the server. “It's hiding the server’s station” he replied.
Contrastingly, the upstairs experience is riddled with beautiful latticed wood and subtle overhead lighting. A vast bevy of amber sets the scene, downed by seasoned day drinkers and neighboring hotel guests. One message for diners is savagely but appropriately etched into the wall — a series of sharp steak knives buried into the wall spelling the word "EAT"... and that’s just what you’ll do here.
RARE is the brainchild of Douglas Boxer, a classic hamburger aficionado who understands the true history of this humble American sandwich. Boxer believes you can’t live on burgers alone. That’s why RARE has the most gigantic mound of fries (sweet potato and waffle) ever known to man to pair with your meaty treat. There’s even a vegetarian version; it’s an earthy slab of portobello mushroom stuffed with creamy goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, and if that’s not enough? It’s flambéed in the most upper echelon of brown waters — Maker's Mark.
I settle into this burger-dom of excess and love and anxiously await the arrival of a decadent burger experience. There’s so much to choose from here. Should I go classic or M&M or an homage to the first burger in America, Louis' Lunch, a secret blend of patty plunked on crispy white toast and smeared with sharp Cheddar? And just like the New Haven original, don’t even think of asking for ketchup.
As much as I thought of recreating my Louis' Lunch experience, I opted for some of RARE’S original offerings. I got the classic, a goliath of beef from Dakota Organic Beef farms — it’s married with your typical toppings, save for the substitution of a delicious yellow tomato slice. The first bite was moist; those seasonings and freshness really came out in the meat. It was stacked with flavor, as was the patty and toppings — a definite hand sprain. Next up I had to incorporate the mother of all condiments... can you guess? Yes, bacon. The M&M, like its vegetarian counterpart, is doused in Maker's Mark and served up with sweet caramelized onions, sharp Cheddar cheese, and thick blanket-sized slabs of Applewood smoked bacon — Porkalicious!
Can we talk about fries? Boxer (as I mentioned before) felt the need to smother his customers with that crispy potato side dish. Except, this is more like a meal than a side. A tower of all sorts of fries comes tableside with three great sauces for dipping. If all this is not enough flavor, try some of the burger toppings, like truffle butter, fried jalapeños, Candaian bacon, prosciutto, and a fried egg to name a few. RARE is a rare find in New York — I was skeptical at first, but the burger definitely delivered, and I must say, was one of my favorites I’ve had in my quest for the best burger.