Where Celebs Eat: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brian Williams, Betty White

Maggie Gyllenhaal @ the Fresh Air Fund gala: Al di La and Il Buco: anything there! ● Maggie Rizer: At Nobu I get everything. I like the sea bass and the lettuce leaves, the tuna sashimi salad, the shishito peppers, and the Kobe beef. ● Brian Williams: I’m laughing because my wife and I go to the same two places all the time! There’s a little French place on Lexington; there’s a pasta place on 49th, Alfredo’s, because it’s right next to NBC.

Betty White at the Time100 Gala: Shun Lee Palace. ● Mark Feuerstein at the Royal Pains premiere party at the Lacoste store Fifth Avenue: Anywhere from The Waverly Inn to Smith & Wollensky. The most delicious chocolate souffle I’ve ever had was at the Four Seasons restaurant. In LA, Mastro’s or Boa. ● Henry Winkler: The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien is unbelievable! ● Amy Landecker: I just had lunch at Blue Water Grill, and it was fantastic. Union Square Cafe has a tuna steak that is just absolutely to die for. And Momofuku in the East Village is unbelievably excellent. ● Jill Flint: There’s one restaurant in Brooklyn that I’m absolutely loving called Prime Meats. My favorite dish is meat with a side of bacon and a little bit more meat. ● John Legend at the Sesame Workshop’s gala: Le Bernardin. I just love the whole tasting menu.

New York Burger Smackdown: Corner Bistro Edges Burger Joint By a Nose

Over the weekend I hosted an old friend who I knew back when I lived in Riga, Latvia years ago. (He took over my apartment and adopted my cat, Smaka, when I moved to New York.) Jad is originally from Beirut and now lives in Abu Dhabi, and had never stepped foot in America until he strode onto the carpeted jetway at JFK Friday afternoon. Naturally, he craved the quintessential New York experience, but had a mere weekend before continuing on to a conference in Washington, D.C. Tough decisions had to be made. I decided on a tourist/local hybrid. First stop: the Empire State Building. Nice views! Art Deco designs! Pudgy tourists! So tiring! Next stop: the Village. It was a warm summer evening as we strode down West 4th and wound up at the Corner Bistro. Before we had even gotten our first round of beers, he said the words I needed to hear: “This is exactly the kind of place I had hoped you’d take me.”

Better still, we got a plum corner booth in the front room, and were quaffing McSorley’s ales and chowing down on Bistro Burgers within minutes. The burgers were as good as I remembered, moist, tender, flavorful, and perfectly balanced by the sharp slice of white onion. Jad noted that the service was rather brusque – the dude barely grunted at us, and essentially dropped the food on our table when it was ready. But we both agreed that it was also perfect, and perfectly New York: everything we wanted, fast. None of this “have a nice day” nonsense. The place was packed, and everybody knew how to act. Success.

The next day began with a walk through Times Square. Here’s the Conde Nast building, here’s TKTS, here’s where the ball drops on New Year’s, actual New Yorkers avoid this area like the plague, etc. Before hitting Central Park and Rockefeller Center, we made another food stop, this time at the “secret” Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien Hotel. That’s right, we’d have another round of burgers within 14 hours of the last.

It was the right decision. The Burger Joint is a weird, rare, and wonderful thing: an authentic dive located inside one of Midtown’s poshest hotels. Maybe that’s why everybody who walks in the door looks so happy. It was 11:50 a.m., and the staff apologized profusely for making us wait ten minutes before they could sell us beers. Again, the timing was excellent, and the plastic cups of Sam Adams arrived just as we were digging in to a gorgeous pair of cheeseburgers with the works. And again, Jad said that we’d found what he was looking for. Me too, man. Me too.

So, which burger was better? It’s a tough call. In my 15 years of city living, I’d actually flip-flopped from the Bistro to the Joint, mostly because my old office was on 57th and the Burger Joint is the best business lunch in Manhattan. But in a head-to-head, burgers-to-burgers comparison, the Bistro has the edge. Maybe it’s the grill seasoned by a century of burger grease. Maybe it’s the texture of the raw onion. Maybe it’s the old New York barroom atmosphere, which feels smoky even though it’s not. But Corner Bistro makes the best burger in New York. Burger Joint makes the second best. And they’re both fantastic.

My Lebanese friend from Latvia by way of the U.A.E. agreed. The Bistro Burger is a taste to travel across the globe for. Jad had even snapped a photo of the red neon Corner Bistro sign on our way out. You know how tourists are.

New York: Top 10 Meals for Nursing a Hangover

Nice Green Bo (Chinatown) – Bright, clanging interior may not be the most sympathetic thing for your aching head, but salty Shanghainese specialties are what your body craves. Yellow fish with dry seaweed infinitely better than it sounds. Crispy, golden-skin scallion pancakes for a warm up. Much more fun than two Alka-Seltzers in a tumbler of warm water. ● Stone Park Café (Park Slope) Make up for that overlong night of Commonwealth, Great Lakes, and Gate-hopping with a standout brunch here. The Gold Rush-era Hangtown Fry sounds like the ideal hangover antidote that it is. Eggs, oysters, bacon, cheddar. Get back to blogging about the baby later. ● The Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien Hotel (Midtown West) – Classic, super-satisfying burger with a side of fries will get all your comfort-food-craving synapses firing at once. Stomach in need of further soppage? There’s milkshakes after 1:30pm. Stumble in past the lunch rush and you might even be able to enjoy it at a table.

Ramen Setagaya (East Village) – What’s a better hangover helper than a bowlful of salt and pork? The ramen here is homier than Ippudo’s and more authentic than Momofuku’s. Broth is made fresh daily with clams, scallops, lemon peel, other random shit. Hearty, flavorful, and addictive. ● Molly’s Pub and Shebeen (Gramercy) – Approximates a cozy, firelit night spent in county Meath or Monaghan (where the owners hail from), which will soothe your saturated brain. Pub classic fish and chips with top-grade cod dipped in ale butter will have you back up on that Guinness horse in no time. ● The Redhead (East Village) – A low-maintenance redhead? Really? We kid, we kid. Laidback bar starts you off with bacon-tinged peanuts, helps clear your head with super-crispy fried chicken. Seasoned with peppercorns, thyme, and brown sugar, it’ll displace those DTs in a jiffy. ● Shorty’s (Midtown West) – Grease and fat, that’s all that hangover wants. Take a lesson from the Sixth Borough and enjoy a classic cheesesteak in Hell’s Kitchen. Hoagie rolls shipped in daily, twenty beers on tap to get you going on your next hangover. ● Cho Dang Gol (Garment District) Seoul food satisfaction in zenned out space. Amazing tofu porridges guaranteed to rejuvenate. Mainline shredded beef with salted shrimp sauce in the Jun-Ju “Hangover” Soup. Trust them — they’ve been fixing hangovers this way for millennia. ● Permanent Brunch (East Village) – Sometimes it’s best to rely on a specialist. Just like the name says, all brunch all the time. Sophisticated fare like wine-braised mushrooms, baked eggs with short rib ragu, and duck fat spuds will put the kibosh on your crapulence, ASAP. ● Prune (East Village) – Sometimes there’s nothing else for it but the hair of the dog. When you finally snag that brunch table, luxuriate over your choice of a dozen Bloody Marys, served with a Red Stripe chaser. A Bullshot with beef bouillon should fix things right up. Deep-fried, triple-decker Monte Cristo sandwich if it doesn’t.

The Benjamin Steakhouse Burger Challenge

Believe or not, sometimes, people working at magazines get treated differently than normal people because companies want stuff in magazines or on websites. Such was the case with the Benjamin Steakhouse, who recently decided that their burger could take on some of New York City’s most infamous gangsters in the burger slingin’ game. So much so, in fact, that they offered to bring their burger — along with their competition’s burgers — into our office for us to try out. And hell yeah, we bit. Literally.

The four burgers they brought to us were from BLT Burger, Burger Joint, JG Melon, and their own. The infamous Corner Bistro burger was also supposed to show up, but they told us the wait was too long. We compassionately accepted this as true (as opposed to a cheat), if only because various BlackBook staffers are still banned from the premises (a result of the Corner Bistro being full of motherless bastards). Anyway: a few things you have to understand before the judging of this little “contest”:

1. None of us are burger experts by any measure. Just broke, hungry magazine staffers taking the bait on a PR promotion. 2. The Benjamin Steakhouse is handicapped by a theoretical four-point spread. It’s their burger, and PR flacks are ruthless in their efforts for their clients (we did not, however, bite into any of the competitors’ burgers to find glass). But we just assumed it would be the most well presented, the most precisely cooked, and possibly, the warmest. For it to win, it would have to succeed these factors. 3. We can’t judge it on “Best Burger” — because we’re not eating these burgers the way God/line cooks meant for them to be eaten, i.e. in the restaurant — so we’re judging it as “Best Burger We Got Delivered to Us by the Benjamin Steakhouse PR People.” Or simply: “Best Burger You Could Get Delivered To Your Office.” 4. If your company ever wants to give us anything for free, hit us up. We’re shameless.

And off we went.

BLT Burger ($17) – Our first burger sampled. Came with a pile of soggy, stringy fries that Senior Editor Nick Haramis thoroughly enjoyed, but the rest of us thought were mediocre at best. That didn’t stop us from eating them. It also came with this strange hunk of hard-crusted, hollow, fluffy, flaky bread that we all really enjoyed — a strange if not bizarre touch. Comptroller Joe Friedman noted that the bun was “lookin’ serious,” and indeed it was: a sesame-seed topped starch, fluffy enough to sleep on (assuming you had 20 of them, and don’t mind haircrumbs). Assistant Editor Cayte Grieve noted that she liked the “smokey, grilled flavor.” I thought it was a little dry, but also thoroughly enjoyed the flavor. Account Executive (but notably: “not a suit”) Brian Kantor used the words “thick and beefy” to describe his experience with the BLT Burger. “But the fries: suck,” he added.

image Assistant Editor Cayte Grieve. Doin’ it for journalism.

JG Melon ($9) – Imported all the way from the Upper East Side to our offices, this burger definitely traveled the furthest. Maybe that’s why it tasted like ass. “Charred,” Assistant Editor Ben Barna noted. “It tastes … not burnt? No. Not so great.” Kantor had the same reaction: “Meat’s flavorless. This needs to be drowned in condiments. Also, did they use an old McDonald’s bun? Jesus.” To me, the JG Melon burger tasted like most of the Upper East Side feels to me: classic, old, at one time really rich, but now, mostly lacking in taste. Sans fries.

Burger Joint ($6.50) – I always thought the novelty of this burger — its only strength — was going behind the giant, Oz-like curtain covering the place at the Parker Meridian to order it from a relatively rude, take-no-shit staff. I was right. Ms. Grieve? “It takes like it’s been frozen at one point. This meat can’t be fresh.” Ben Barna: “Tastes just like the second one.” Also ordered without fries, but I can attest their fries are really good hot. Don’t hold up to being cold, probably.

Benjamin Steakhouse ($15.95) – The contender came with four different sauces (a Luger-esque steaksauce, a fry sauce, ketchup, mayo), bread-and-butter pickles on the fixings, and pretty great fries that actually did hold up in taste and texture (despite being the same temperature as the others). We were lectured on the kind of meat that went into it (some kind of brisket-sirloin-blend, but we’re hungry, LET US EAT) and it sounded fancy and we all bit in. Again, Cayte Grieve had the first opinion: “Textured.” I have no idea what that means, though I can attest: it was certainly the “softest” of the bunch, but it didn’t feel spongy. Senior Editor Nick Haramis — still picking at the BLT Burger fries, which he’d developed a great affection for — noted that it was his favorite. Kantor the Condiment King responded: “No ketchup needed.” I asked him to clarify. “That’s the quote.” So it goes.

image Tilda Swinton has to wait in line, like everyone else.

Final results:

Ben Barna: Benjamin Steakhouse. Cayte Grieve: BLT Burger. Nick Haramis: Benjamin Steakhouse. Brian Kantor: Benjamin Steakhouse (“But I would go with wherever’s closer if faced against BLT.”). Me: Benjamin Steakhouse, but those fries are what pushed it over BLT. Goddamn, those fries are good.

And there you have it. The PR people at the Benjamin proved a point: When delivered by a team of publicists, their burger tastes better than some of the city’s competitors (though BlackBook neighbor Shake Shack was notably absent). If I’m ever stuck at Grand Central, yeah, there’s definitely a chance I’d stop by the bar for a burger there. It’s pretty good. And there’s your press line.

[Also, most interesting thing learned during this: apparently, Feedbag blogger/former Grub Street writer Josh “I Got Gout” Orzersky has also taken the challenge. “He was really hardcore about it,” one of our sources notes. “He was opening up the burgers, smelling them, trying each condiment and each fixing on each bite. It was intense.” Go get ’em, Cutty.]

Architecture in Helsinki’s Cameron Bird: “NYC Is Like a Slayer Song”

Cameron Bird, Kellie Sutherland, Gus Franklin, Sam Perry, and Jamie Mildren form the cartoon-pop quintet known as Architecture in Helsinki. The Australian natives are known for cracked-out orchestral jams, often bouncing between an eclectic arsenal of instruments like the glockenspiel and the tuba. Their latest EP is That Beep, a repackaging of their popular single of the same name with an additional three remixes. We spoke to lead singer Cameron Bird about his musical inspirations, losing band members to crocodiles, and his favorite places in New York.

Who are your greatest musical inspirations? Who would you aspire to collaborate/tour with? This question never gets any easier. Greatest Inspirations? Lindsey Buckingham, JDilla, Ennio Morricone, Barry Gibb, Prince, David Byrne, Girorgio Moroder, Brian Eno, Os Mutantes, Timbaland, Frank Zappa, Dolly Parton, Cluster, Wu-Tang Clan, Curtis Mayfield Bryan Ferry, Grace Jones, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Daft Punk, and John Farnham’s You’re the Voice. To collaborate with? The Avalanches, The-Dream, Radioclit, Senor Coconut, The Veronicas, El Guincho, Hot Chip, Sizzla, Switch, Yacht, Johnny Jewel, James Murphy, Santi White, and about 75 more.

I heard that your band name derives from the changing architecture in Finland. Is that true? What do you think of American architecture? No way! When did I ever say that? Our name was never anything more than a magnetic poetry accident! That said, I love buildings, I can’t lie. But one of my favorite people studies architecture at Cooper Union in Manhattan, so she keeps me up to date with buildings in your fine land. So, I have to say I am really feeling them on a deep level.

Are you tired of people asking about your band name? No comment

How would your sound differ if you were called Architecture in New York? Refer to previous answer.

How about Architecture in Antarctica? Refer to previous answer. How do you spend your time when you aren’t making music or thinking about making music? I have done a lot of research at my local cinema and seat E5 is the sweet spot there. So, I spend many nights catching the latest blockbusters. I also have a season membership with the Essendon Bombers, my Australian Rules Football team of choice. Sadly, dreaming about sport and action films takes up most of my waking hours.

What is one thing you can’t live without? Avocado.

What are some regrets that you have about previous albums? Every album comes with a whole bunch of regrets. I always liken it to looking at old photographs of yourself and being like “fuck, did I really have that haircut.”

The band used to be a group of nine. What happened to the other four? We were never more than eight. Two got eaten by crocodiles, and one wanted to have puppies.

You resided in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for a while. How did being a Brooklynite compare to living/working in Australia? Brooklyn in many ways remains my spiritual home … I think about it every day. In fact, I still have a bunch of crap piled up in a storage space on 8th Street! I was really thriving on that to the point that I was totally reliant on it to make music. And then all of a sudden, it’s like nothing else in the world matters but NEW YORK CITY. So, I got scared and ran back to Australia with my tail between my legs. It’s so easy to be here. Which is a problem when you’re trying to get shit done. So comparing the two? Well … New York is a Slayer song and Melbourne is more like Enya.

So is it true that you all met at a hot dog stand and someone was arguing over condiments? What kind of condiments? Ha ha ha! That sounds a load of horse shit made up by someone cornered in a bad interview! Did I say that? If this really was the case, it would be all about the merits of sauerkraut. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given? When I was like 16, I read an interview with Bob Nastonovich from Pavement where he was asked what advice he would give to kids starting out in music. He said “don’t read sheet music”. A few years later when I first started playing, I promised myself I would always adhere to that.

What are your favorite restaurants in New York City? I love the steak at Peter Luger, the coffee at Abraco, the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien, the hippie treats at Souen, the cream cheese and lox bagels at Russ and Daughters, and the Union Square Farmer’s Market.