Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ecstatic rotations

Unearthly American delights at Bunsen Burgers

Posted on Wed, Apr 7, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2010-04-07

It hurts so good — a sensation I had nearly forgotten, it had been so long. The pain starts centrally then spreads out in waves until almost the entire face is consumed. But it’s impossible to stop, impossible to deny the burn that comes from the cold … 

I lead a sheltered life. But in fact it had been years since a super-thick and ultra-cold milkshake had passed these lips. A long-handled spoon was supplied for those too eager to wait for the meltdown that would make it easier to suck through a straw. Besides, the vanilla Milky Way arrived before the burger did. 

Gotta say that it was first the name of the place and then the names on the menu that drew me to Bunsen Burgers. Sci-Fries? Perfect. Frito Pi? Even better. With all the atomic allusions, there was bound to be a Big Bang Burger, and of course there is: a pound-size celestial collision of two cheeses and three toppings. Considering the extent of the nerdish nomenclature going on, I expected an out-of-this-world visual environment, too.  

And there I was disappointed. Everything is painted an unrepentant turquoise (thankfully not Soylent Green, the name of the veggie burger) as if to efface a previous tenant, and a few period posters (Forbidden Planet, for example) accompany a fuzzy image of Einstein and a collection of curious artifacts such as a dentist’s chair and a salon-scale hair dryer. On one visit, Horrors of Spider Island flickered away in black and white on a smallish TV. I’ve got some great suggestions for zoomy light fixtures, a frieze of lava lights … but maybe that will have to wait until the crowds pick up. 

The place was far from full on two visits, and that’s a shame, for when my Roswell burger arrived it provided the gasp I had hoped for in the décor. This is, hands-down, the best-looking burger I’ve seen in a half-life, starting with a handsomely glazed bun strewn with sesame seeds and continuing through to the extremely green lettuce and the robustly red tomatoes. The burger comes with unstinting amounts of roasted green chile (it seemed like poblano, or at very least a New Mexico chile with roots outside of Alamogordo) and just enough Monterey Jack cheese. The bun was grilled and serious. And the patty? Just fine, but only a factor in the whole equation. I give the burger a 9 Roentgen rating. (Exposure to 500 R over the course of five hours is a dose of radiation lethal to humans, so let’s say that 10 is tops on the good side of things — a jolt but not a flame-out.) 

An accompanying order of sweet-potato Sci-Fries complemented the burger like electrons in orderly orbit around a dense nucleus. They’re coated in cornstarch, a page taken from the Asian culinary playbook, and they are sensational, the best I’ve had. (The Asian touch is not surprising, as Kevin Cacy, whom many will remember from his parents’ previous place, Korean BBQ House, is at the helm of this Frankenfoodish operation.) Don’t even bother with ketchup; it only gets in the way.  

Ketchup could be employed with the Saturn Rings. Yes, onion. They seem handmade and are nicely seasoned but just lack the wow! factor of the fries. (The standard fries I leave to you to taste.) But they are perfectly fine as an accompaniment to the Atomic Chili, a made-from-scratch original that puts many local examples to shame. Some may find the inclusion of roasted chiles and chorizo heretical — and that’s before we get to the beans, both black and red. There are unapologetic cloves of garlic, too. But I suggest you try it. It’s time for a chili revival, and this just might start it. 

Desserts consist primarily of a few offerings from NBL (Nibble) Bakery. The brownie is too cakey for my taste, but it might be just fine for yours. And in any event, atomic or otherwise, it goes great with the slurpy noises at the end of a shake. Why I waited so long I’ll never know. •

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