Sunday, September 03, 2006

Favorite food. cheeseburgers. (Palomino).

One day in our conversational Russian class our professor asked us girls if we would prefer our boyfriends to bring us flowers or cheeseburgers (or maybe it was hamburgers; I can't remember). All the other girls immediately said they would prefer bouquets of flowers (preferably roses), while I, the lone holdout, said that of course I would rather have a cheeseburger. All the girls looked at me as if I had completely betrayed our sex. All the guys were like, now THAT'S what I'm talking about. I shrugged. I love cheeseburgers, I said. (In Russian). Anyone who loved me would know to bring me one when I was hungry. You can't eat flowers.

I must confess, cheeseburgers are one of my favorite foods, whether I make my own, head to McDonalds (which I regret five minutes after eating my Quarter Pounder with Cheese), or go to my favorite pub, where they pile beer-braised onions on the burgers. Soft white bun, toasted or untoasted, sprinkled with sesame seeds (or not), layered with melting cheddar (or American) cheese, sharp slices of onion (or not), with (or without) crisp lettuce and oozing with tomatoes (which fall out with every bite), slathered with ketchup, or some mysterious mayonnaise-based sauce. Sometimes I order them with bacon, other times not. Life would be so sad without cheeseburgers.

On weekends I like to go to Palomino for lunch, either alone or with family and friends. It is a chain restaurant, with outposts in several cities, and the menu is solidly Euro-American fare; salads and sandwiches and pizzas and pastas and hearty meat or seafood dishes. They're consistent, and the food is always good. It used to be crowded all the time; the opening of a bigger, fancier mall a few short blocks away drew a lot of business elsewhere and now the atmosphere is quieter, more relaxed. During the week it is full of business people having business lunches or drinks or dinner; on weekends there are shoppers laden with bags. There's no wait today, and almost no other customers. Everyone's out of town, says the waiter, as he seats me at a table overlooking the three-stories-high atrium. Usually I have soup, and pasta. It's Sunday, and only the bar menu is available, so I order a cheeseburger with a salad, and iced tea, and settle back in my chair with a book.

Instead of bread and butter they bring rosemary-studded focaccia with a sort of chunky fresh tomato sauce, with bits of olives and some kind of cheese. The salad arrives, crisp romaine lettuce, creamy, garlic-spiked dressing, fried anchovies, crunchy croutons. And then the cheeseburger lands before me, alone on the plate. It is huge. The waitress has thoughtfully provided a steak knife with which to slice this behemoth of a burger into more manageable halves. There are thick slices of pepper bacon, which crunch delightfully with every bite; the lettuce and tomatoes and onion keep falling out, so I ignore them. The sauce is slightly sweet, faintly tangy, soaking into the bun, which is valiantly struggling to hold everything together. It is perfect.

Really all I need is a cheeseburger to make me happy.

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