Steaks and Birds

Steaks are odd birds, I’d submit. Nice odd birds, but odd nonetheless. The commonly recognized varieties are slices, chunks, strips and other portions of cow muscles. We’re carnivores, don’t get me wrong. I love ’em. I know lots of vegetarians, varying degrees of non beef eaters, chicken only, fish only, or all vegan. I don’t get it. I respect their decision for whatever reason they’ve decided to impose it on themselves, but it’s their decision, good for them.
I have a friend who promptly stopped eating meat “on the fly” at the family dinner table about 20 years ago, because it simply hit her that she didn’t have a taste for meat any longer. Out of the blue, no thought process, just … that’s enough meat for this body. This was much to the dismay of her mother, who was born in Rome and enjoyed all varieties of meat.
Another friend surprised me one day over lunch when she ordered a vegetarian burrito, and specifically and directly had the server check and assure her that there’s no meat products in the burrito, anywhere. I of course had to ask her when she became a vegetarian, to which she replied “since I was six.” Seems my lunch date had grown up on a farm in the Midwest, and her meat eating days came to a brisk end when her mother informed the family that the tasty stew they were enjoying for their Sunday supper, was actually a product of her pet rabbit. So “Fluffy” or “Thumper” or whatever it was formerly known as, had become “dinner.” That was the end of her carnivore days. Finis.
Most of us have neither the dramatic realization that my first friend had, or the traumatic experience of eating a former “loved one” in Sunday night’s stew. Again, we’re carnivores and we generally like a variety of meats. As the chef of the house, and because I eat and cook so many different things, I cook a wide variety of everything, including meat. Beef, pork, lamb, veal, poultry, fish and crustaceans are all fair game in this house.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things I neither cook or eat from any of these categories. I’m generally anti-innard of virtually any type. I don’t eat liver or kidneys, and my paternal grandfather’s affinity for fried brains never made it to my generation. Snails are a delicacy to some, to me they’re bugs with shells and I don’t need to go there. I’ve eaten frogs legs and they’re wonderful. But they truly DO taste just like chicken, so why wouldn’t you just eat chicken?
Sushi is admittedly an acquired taste, and I realize that some people never do acquire it. I love it. Hamachi, maguro, uni, unagi, anagi, toro, sake (salmon, but also the beverage of the same spelling!). Love it all. In rolls, under a layer of rice, as sashimi … yummy. Among the reasons I decided to tackle Japanese at my age was to pronounce it all correctly. I’ve learned enough to be dangerous … Hai!
Steaks are once again, odd birds. And we’re not talking the curiously-named chicken-fried steaks here, I mean real steaks. I’ve had killer ribeyes and fatty funky ones. Filets are generally safe, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. A good T-Bone is awesome, and a killer Porterhouse can be as good as it gets. How hungry are you? What’s your access like? Can you get prime meat? Maybe if you’re in the military or own a restaurant, but for the rest of us, it’s up to the local grocer or meat market and how diligent they are about their level of quality.
Steak a’ la Bruno at Joe’s of Westlake is probably the most consitent steak I’ve experienced for the past 4 decades. The “Bruno” piece refers to the founder of the Joe’s restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, and they are awesome.
Driving over the Siskiyou’s about 25 years ago, my business partner and I saw a sign that read simply “Cowboy-sized steaks, mesquite grilled.” It was on the other side of the highway and required a double-back from a somewhat distant exit, and was well worth the effort. The “medium” Porterhouse was advertised at a ridiculous 28-32 ounces. Yikes. Slid right down. The rest of the meal consisted of a salad bar, which was actually unneccessary.
On a trip to Phoenix, I was treated to a spin out into the backroads, where we pulled off onto an unmarked road, up a gravel driveway, ending up at a restaurant that I don’t believe even had a name. There was an elderly lady tending the large grill outside, smoking cigarettes, packing a six shooter, and flipping steaks. The whole picture was somewhat surrealistic. Couldn’t make this up … trust me, it happened (I have witnesses).
Also in Phoenix and not to be missed (this one is actually accessible) is Rustler’s Roost, which sits on a small rise within the Hilton Point at South Mountain. Try the rattlesnake appetizer if you dare, and don’t miss a dollop of the fresh horseradish, which they grow on the property.
Chuck’s Grill in Redding always had a line down the street. Their menu was essentially steak, a baked potato, and a terrible excuse for a bowl of salad with way too much blue cheese dressing. And they were packed every night. Because it’s about the steak, and they did it right.
We recently moved back to the Bay Area after 3 years in glorious Bend, Oregon. The Tumalo Feed Company is as good as it gets and arguably as good as it can get, in the meat department. Wonderful ribeyes, rarely-seen hanger steaks, killer Porterhouses, filets, and much more. And any restaurant that serves onion rings and salsa in place of the common obligatory “bread” course, and pours their martinis from a Mason Jar … can’t be faulted in my humble opinion.
I miss the Tumalo Feed Company, never found the “Cowboy” place again, haven’t been to Phoenix in years, and Chuck’s is a three hour trek north. But Joe’s will be here forever, and I can still get “a’ la Bruno” in about 20 minutes, 11 AM ’til 2 AM, every day. It’s best with a side of rigatoni, which they produce fresh onsite. So life is beautiful.

Tonight’s steak came from the absolutely first rate Lunardi’s Market down the street. I had a “hall pass,” meaning I got to cook a “Larry meal,” as my lovely wife was at a work dinner. I opted for a market steak, which is a close relative to a ribeye, with a little less fat but plenty of marbling. Choice, but my butchery training would put it very close to prime. And what kind of lavish seasonings do you put on this kind of meat? Salt, pepper, a little garlic powder at the most. Plenty, and why would you want or need any more? Five minutes per side a max-heat BBQ, accompanied by a baked potato, a nice red wine, and there you have it.
As my good friend JB says … “If it gets any better, I don’t want to know about it.”

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