Rosewood Tavern BurgerA day of two inventories passed last Sunday. A long morning session, with a 2:00 AM wake-up call, spanning 13 hours til 3:00 PM, counting floor stock of all things liquid in my retail environment, before moseying over to the restaurant for a second dose of counting bottles. A double-header, I laced up the sneakers, not allowing myself a chance to let a rare Sunday off slip away to make-up sleep, even if that meant more work. The head sommelier was treating me to a burger lunch for allaying his counting woes. My mind’s eye trained on the prize—stories of an epic cheeseburger served on Fairfax Avenue would finally be corroborated or debunked.

Rather than kvetching about the grueling inventory of my primary job, it was actually exciting to finally participate in a restaurant count. The head sommelier and I began a thorough inventory of the cellar lasting about 2 ½ hours, which seemed easier than the 6 ½ hours I’d spent tracking bottles at my retail post, except that the chill of a real cellar put the hazard in the work and started to go through me at the 2 hour mark. Finishing with dessert and sparkling wines—we’d counted everything, and I was ready for lunch at The Rosewood Tavern.

I had heard plenty about this burger before we had arrived—mindful of the many great disappointments with past lunches/dinners where the buzz had fallen short. Regardless, it was going to be fun to have one of my favorite foods with our sommelier outside of dinner service and our regular tasting group contact, and drink a sterling bottle of wine.

2008 Conterno BarberaWe toted a bottle of 2008 Conterno Barbera d’Alba, to lighten our own inventory and sidled up to the bar. It was nearly empty on a Sunday afternoon, a large, dark and spacious décor. We would have two burgers—medium rare—no substitutions—with standard accompaniments. A winning combination.

Between musings on work and occasional glances at the football games we gave scrutiny to the Barbera. The Piemontese red showed a developing nose of black cherry, plums, leather, coffee, smoke and dried herbs. The first sip however, offered something more youthful, with a good core of fruit washing across the palate—indicative of a structured wine with a long road to maturity. The savory flavors reappeared on the finish behind crushed fruits (red but mostly black), carried by a medium plus acidity, and a long and clean finish. It was impressive on its own and would hopefully gather strength with the all-American cheeseburger.

Two massive cheeseburgers arrived after a fifteen-minutes, sharing their burdened plates with a hefty pile of seasoned fries, a picturesque film of cheddar cascading down the half-pound patty, crisp butter lettuce, red onion rings and tomato protruding, and a sturdy looking pretzel bun keeping it together—it was an inviting image.

The first bite suggested a better method would be to eat with utensils. Juice running freely from the medium-rare meat; the first time in a while I could see the evidence of a true medium-rare afforded me in a generous and coarsely ground patty. The fundamentals sound, only one minor flaw emerged—easily ignored—they had over-seasoned the burger. Nothing a little wine couldn’t fix.

A wonderful blend of flavors emerged with each swig of Barbera from the old world producer (the son carrying on the tradition of his father—the late Giovanni Conterno). The acidity waded through the overflow of jus from the grind and tamed down the salty sword of seasoning. A delightful combination of beverage and fare.

For the money—fifteen dollars for burger and fries—it represented great value; the proportions were hearty and fair, but more importantly, the burger was simple and satisfying. Nothing was over-complicated; rather the burger was dialed in and someone in the back of the house understood cooking times! A few pinches less of salt would’ve catapulted Rosewood Tavern to burger fame. A long day of inventorying wine paid dividends as I shared a bottle of one of my favorite Italian cantinas, with a good friend, over one of the finest bar burgers in memory.