The list of things I don’t like is long and ever-evolving, but right at the top, perched between “live music” and “all comedy,” is “theme restaurants.” Even as a kid, before I turned into a haggard old crow who only enjoys listening to NPR and watching people trip over sidewalks, the prospect of going to a theme restaurant would send me into a deep, spiralling panic. The last time I stepped foot in one was in 5th grade, when my (ex) best friend decided, against my wishes, to have her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. We soon grew apart, and I have not dined at a theme restaurant since. But that changed on Monday, when I broke my vow in order to try the Impossible Burger, which Seattle diners can currently find at Rhein Haus, a Bavarian-themed funhouse on Capitol Hill.
The Impossible Burger ($15) is not a “burger” in the traditional sense. Instead of meat, it’s made of wheat and potato protein, coconut oil, and heme, a compound found in both animal and plant tissue that Impossible Foods, the burger's maker, extracts from soy. Heme is what makes the Impossible Burger unique, because the Impossible Burger, unlike any veggie burger I’ve ever tried, is supposed to look—and taste—just like real meat. That's why I was willing to brave a theme restaurant with magnum beer steins to try it.
According to the server—who looked like a mix between a boat captain and Where’s Waldo—I wasn’t alone. Nearly half the tables that night, he said, were there for the Impossible Burger, which until recently was only available in real cities like San Francisco and New York.
The chef, according to the server, tried it in San Francisco, and had to have it up here. And I can see why: Rhein Haus is a meaty place. Of course their vegan burger looks like the real thing. It's so meaty that as we ate, an emcee called out over the speakers, “Come on down and get your meat! Spin the meat wheel! We’ve got a double meat winner!” Turned out, we were there on Meat Raffle Monday (not to be confused with Meatless Monday). But we weren’t there to raffle; we were there to feed.
And feed, we did. As this was my first visit to Rhein Haus, my companion and I decided to sample the house-baked pretzel with spicy honey mustard ($5). The pretzel itself, as my companion noted, was “old, cold, and overdone,” but the mustard on the side was remarkable, with so much (unadvertised) horse radish that it cleared up a lingering sinus infection. It wasn’t what I’d expected, but the astringent spice was the one thing that distinguished the dish from the last soft pretzel I had, at Key Arena during a Storm game.
We also tried the bavarian käsespätzle, a plate of gooey, cheese-smothered noodles with grana padano, oven-dried tomatoes, and chives ($17). All cheesy noods are on my admittedly short “like” list, but these were nearly ruined by a smattering of Funyon-like fried onions on top. Still, cheesy noods are cheesy noods, so we pushed the Funyons aside and finished the plate.
Then, it was time for the Impossible. Visually, the burger was stunning. It wasn’t beautiful—it was actually rather flat, like a premade patty from the freezer aisle at Costco—but it was, as advertised, an exact replica of the real thing, topped with lettuce, onion, pickles, and watery, off-season tomato. I’d heard that Impossible Burger actually bleeds, but I guess mine was well-done. There was no blood to be found but it was fleshy, chewy, and, the best part, served with hot and salty fries.
The Impossible Burger tastes, and looks, nothing like its component parts: There is no hint of wheat or potato or vegetable material at all. In that way, I suppose, it really is like a burger: Most of us prefer to not deconstruct hamburger too closely; we don’t think of it as the decomposing body of a once-living being—we just think of it as food. As for the taste of the patty, it's not quite meat but not not meat. It has a synthetic umami flavor. My companion joked that it was what she imagined the insulation in her parents’ attic tasted like. I thought it was more like the flavor packet in Top Ramen. It wasn’t a bad taste, but it did taste like a burger entirely divorced from its source. Which it is.
When Waldo came to clear our plates, he mentioned a couple of facts about the Impossible Burger, which was created by a Silicon Valley startup, manufactured in Oakland, and shipped up here. By replacing a beef burger with an Impossible Burger, you save the amount of water used in a 10-minute shower, 75 feet of land that would otherwise be used for grazing, and 18 driving-miles worth of greenhouse gas. All this may be true, but unless you are vegan and long for real flesh, there are cheaper, greener, and tastier options out there. My advice: Skip the Impossible, and find a great veggie burger instead.