Adsum: a motion picture by Wes Anderson

Editor's Note: This article refers to an establishment that, sadly, has closed. It's sad because it was an awesome burger. RIP.

After the heartbreak that was Le Bec-Fin, I was wary of Adsum and it's chef, Georges Perrier protégé Matt Levin. I was betrayed, I was hurt, and I was scared. I didn't know if I was ready to love again. But then the quirky new bar on the block with all the obscure books and pretentious Latin name showed me the meaning of trust and awkwardly stilted romantic conversation and Bill Murray, and we walked off into the moonlight in bemused silence while music played from a soundtrack available on Matador Records.

Adsum is the artsy, black-clad younger sibling of Levin's other restaurant, Lacroix, with all of the latter's talent in the kitchen (because, as movies have taught us, learned skills run in the family) but eschewing the snobby wealthy pretense in favor of snobby indie pretense. Still, its pedigree remains obvious, between its fixation with molecular gastronomy (how many tater tots have you had that were covered in emulsified whiskey?) and some of its plebby oversights, such as having no draft beer and thinking it's reasonable to charge $10 for a La Fin du Monde.

The bar looks like a cross between your crotchetiest college professor's office and Ed Wood's idea of a laboratory. Which is to say it's actually pretty cool, and like its neighbors Beaumonde and Southwark, doesn't belong anywhere near South Street. So naturally, in three years it will be turned into a Unica or a Dr. Denim or another Unica or a store specializing in tutus and dildos, because apparently Philly dresses like The Wire's Omar at Burning Man.

The Burger: For $12, the Adsum burger comes loaded with lettuce, tomato, farmhouse cheddar, a pancetta-onion fondue and duck fat fries. For $9 more you can add sautéed foie gras, and for $120,000 more you can add a Ph.D in Susquehannock sign language.

Burger at Adsum

Kyle: Let me get this out of the way: fat tastes good. America's fixation with quick health fixes has caused most restaurants to use leaner, blander ground beef in their massive meals (here's a quick health fix for you: eat less), so it's an eye-opener when a chef opts to put flavor in front of fad. Adsum gets this, and does it right.

When it came out, my first thought was that this was the largest 8 oz. patty I've ever seen, most likely because it was delicately cooked. And by "delicately cooked," I mean biting into it was like the elevator scene in The Shining. It was the rarest medium I've ever seen, but it wasn't undercooked, and if anything made me question the standard by which most restaurants call their meat medium. This bloody behemoth was outstanding. When you hear the phrase "chewing the fat," it's referring to this burger. Made from thick and fatty ground chuck, you'll spend whole minutes grazing on each bite of the beef, which has an unbelievably soft and buttery flavor.

Matching this sweetness were the caramelized onions, an indulgent French onion soup-like broth even better than the one at Rembrandt's, both in terms of taste and for the genius addition of pancetta to the mix. This pork was so soft and so thoroughly seeped in the onion that it felt like a delicate cube of fat in my mouth, melting into my tongue. Speaking of soft and sweet, the grilled brioche bun? Like buttah. Basically, this meal is like eating a lard sandwich on lardbread and washing it down with a lardshake. But good.

The only disappointing aspect of the entire meal were the french fries. They were substantial and perfectly serviceable, but fairly bland next to the overwhelming flavors of the burger. Nothing would have told me they were prepared in duck fat. In a meal like this, french fries serve the same function as a side salad: it offers a change in texture and flavor from the main course without drawing attention away from it. I'd like them to have more character but they aren't a deal-breaker.

Adsum blew me away. The blend of ground chuck and sweet seasoning, along with the other sweet flavors, was perfection. I love the decor, I love the burger, and I love that they aren't afraid to make completely fatty, unhealthy food that tastes amazing rather than surrendering to the obesity ochlocracy. While most of the menu was priced a little higher than I would have liked, the burger is a bargain. I'm hesitant to say it of such a new restaurant, but this is one of the best burgers in Philadelphia. Lose some weight, then come here and put it back on. It's worth it. Rating: 9/10.

Burget at Adsum

Laurence: I'm going to break character here to do something rarely done on these pages, which is to describe a little bit of my actual feelings and personal philosophy. Don't fret, we won't get too emotional and I promise not to cry at the end.

What made me think of this was the English translation of the Latin-named restaurant Adsum. It means "I am present." You could interpret this many ways, but for me the thing that first comes to mind is a very eastern understanding of here and now. If you've played sports, or music or even video games enough, you know of the "zone." The place where your brain becomes focused on a task, where other concerns disappear, and the gap between sensory input, thought and physical reaction shrinks to the infinitesimal. Suddenly, you're perceiving, thinking about and interacting with singular intention simultaneously. You are in the moment. Generally some mastery is required to get to this point and that is why nearly every process that requires a degree of skill and complexity can be turned into an art form.

It's no different with cooking. To really make an amazing meal, time and attention are required. A good chef has a relationship with the food he's cooking. A searing burger on a grill informs him when it has finished cooking. There is a dialog.

Tater tots at AdsumThis finally brings me to Adsum. It's clear that someone was present in the kitchen when this burger was prepared. The meat is simply spectacular. I ordered mine medium well but it came a bit closer to medium than to well and I couldn't have been happier. It was tender, beautifully cooked and juicy, and I don't think it would have been as good if it had not been cooked just so. I may be giving them too much credit back there but I have the impression that they just cooked it how they thought it would be best. And for that I applaud them. It's the total opposite of the experience we had at Le Bec-Fin, and I couldn't be more happy about that.

The meat rested on top of a bed of onions so soft and brightly flavored that I seriously questioned their physical possibility. Add the pancetta to that and we're talking about a flavor that has few rivals anywhere let alone Philadelphia. I have no recollection of the vegetable garnishes, but I'm sure they were there and probably very good.

Lastly there were the fries. They weren't superb considering some of the competing potatoes we've encountered but they're probably top 10 anyway. They didn't have the duck fat knock out taste of Village Whiskey or the seasoning genius of Belgian Cafe or Sketch, but they were fresh and delicious.

Finally, there is the atmosphere, which I was instantly in love with. The scientific apparatuses, terrariums, and various other academic oddities, combined with the availability of bottled beer made up for the lack of draft beer. Again, it's all these details I appreciate so much, the shaping of an experience, and the thought spent creating an ambiance. Many restaurants work toward this but Adsum finds a blend of design and friendliness that I find infinitely appealing. In other words, it's just cool.

I've agonized over this rating because Adsum is new, and because I want to rate it honestly, and because  I worry about overrating a burger, and because the fries aren't the best, but if I am honest and stop to consider the experience of eating that burger, if I boil it all down to a moment in time, then Adsum gets what it deserves. Rating: 9/10.