Matt Adler is Back on the D.C. Scene…And He Has a New Burger
When we asked Matt Adler his goal in creating his latest burger, he smiled and said three words: “A delicious burger.”
After a six-month hiatus from the D.C. restaurant scene, the former Osteria Morini executive chef and — most importantly — 2015 Burger of the Year award winner, has returned and he’s all about bringing the delicious, beefy-and-greasy good stuff back to the mix.
Returning from a 10-week European vacation with his wife, Adler (who informs us he ate four burgers on his trip. Solid. ) is now executive chef for all of Michael Schlow’s Italian restaurants. The lineup includes D.C.’s Casolare and Alta Strada, two Alta Stradas in New England and, the spot where he will debut his new burger this weekend, the brand new Alta Strada in Mosaic District.
“It’s a new restaurant so I get to reset all the rules,” Adler says.
Scrapping the award-winning makeup of his Morini burger, the chef went back to the drawing board for his latest beef-and-bun creation. After several different versions (“About 10,” he tells us) — adding a topping here and adjusting an ingredient there — Adler has finalized the construction of what he hopes is his latest burger masterpiece.
“I wanted to make an Amatriciana burger,” Adler says, referring to the traditional Italian pasta sauce. From the town of Amatrice, an Amatriciana has three main components: tomato, pecorino cheese and guanciale (cured pork jowl). But rather than just spoon some sauce on the beef, Adler goes the creative route when incorporating each of the elements into his burger – with a few tweaks.
Since pecorino isn’t the best melter, Adler mixes it in with fontina before blasting it with heat to create an ooey, gooey blanket of cheese atop the beef. The tomato component comes in the form of a spicy tomato aioli which gets generously slathered on both top and bottom buns.
And instead of guanciale, a fattier cut of pork Adler says would be too much for the burger, he opts for pancetta (“It crisps up nice,” he says). He tosses the cured pork belly with some onion and scallions, and then cooks it all down on the stove to create an onion jam-like relish that he then heaps upon the patty. And about that patty…
One of the biggest changes — or resets — from his burgers of years past is an all-new beef blend. At Morini, Adler’s burger was anchored by chef Michael White’s exclusive White Label dry-aged blend from famed New York butcher Pat LaFrieda. Aged for 30 days, the blend of chuck, brisket, short rib and ribeye packed that unmistakable dry-aged funkiness which permeated each bite. But while it was tough to bid farewell to the blend he used for so many years, Adler says it wouldn’t have worked with the Amatriciana.
“That would be too funky for this one,” he admits. “I didn’t want it to overpower the burger.” In its place, Adler is using an 80-20, Seven Hills two-piece chuck grind. But not being able to quit dry age completely, the blend has a little bit of that mixed in there, too.
And finally, the bookends to Alta Strada’s beefy beauty come from the new Junction Bakery in Del Ray (which also just happens to be Adler’s new neighborhood). While searching for a bun that would hold up from beginning to end (“This is not a neat burger,” he warns), Junction baker and head chef Nathan Hatfield (formerly of Le Diplomate and Restaurant Eve) showed him what proved to be the winner, a light but sturdy-and-compact brioche. “It’s great,” says Adler. “It’s brioche but it’s not made with a ton of butter so it holds up.”
Adler’s new Amatriciana burger will debut at Alta Strada Mosaic this Saturday when the restaurant opens its doors for brunch at 11 a.m and eventually at lunch service when it begins in a few weeks. Soon, it will be available at Alta Strada in the District and, ultimately, at both New England locations as well.
“I want a burger that distinct through all the restaurants,” Adler says. “And delicious.”
Well, we think he’s done it.
Alta Strada | 2911 District Avenue | Fairfax | altastradarestaurant.com