Barbara Zaragoza 9:30 a.m., Jan. 30
I've checked out the Tractor Room a few times based on recommendations from an Argentine guy I know. His verdict is that the place makes "the best burger he has ever eaten in his life." Since the man basically lives on a diet of beef, I take his recommendation pretty seriously.
The inside of the place is much smaller than it looks from without. "Intimate" would be an ideal word. Probably half the restaurant's seating is on the patio, which is going to be great when the temperature rises a little bit, but right now it's pretty tough to get a seat inside when the mercury is low. The decor is a sort of homage to hunting and game cookery, with antlers strewn about the place and a big, velvet curtain draped across the doorway to make sure that no light penetrates the inner sanctum. It's a bit on the dark side because of that.
The Tractor Room is right in the mix of cocktail culture and the specialty drinks are pretty excellent. As with other places that are doing the cool thing with mixers, nothing's overly cheap. It's excusable since the drinks are good and pretty large.
The house Manhattan ($8) is one of the cheaper cocktails on the menu, even though it uses brand name bourbon instead of the stuff in a plastic bottle in the well. With a few macerated cherries at the bottom and a generous splash of vermouth and bitters, the drink was very good and fit the ambience of the restaurant perfectly. On the other end of the spectrum, a Prohibition Punch ($8) based on rum and fruit juice was lively and the kind of drink that leads to another, and then maybe another one after that.
The burger, as prophesied, was ultimately pretty exceptional. At $15, it's not the cheapest burger in town; and it's the cheapest entree on the menu, too. The kitchen managed to get a deep char on the outside of the burger, despite the fact that I ordered it rare, which is a big plus. Also, being able to substitute on of the other side dishes endeared the burger to me greatly. Baked beans were a uge improvement over french fries and the other potential options (like corn on the cob or acorn squash with maple butter, to name a few) looked equally enticing.
The kitchen did commit the crime of needless garnish in the form of the long chives that covered every plate. Also, the ketchup could have been a much more exciting sauce for my $15. Nevertheless, I found the burger excellent.
The burger was a bit more reserved than the pulled buffalo smothered fries that I've had there in the past, which was a good thing. The fries were good in theory, but just a little over the top. I suspect they would have been great shared between five people, but a twosome trying to put the whole plate away became a chore instead of a pleasure.
The rest of the menu featured lots of interesting game foods such as buffalo, pheasant, rabbit, and boar. That, along with the strong and well-mixed cocktails, makes dinner at the Tractor Room a pretty intense, and potentially satisfying, experience.
3687 5th Avenue
Call for hours and reservations (recommended)
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