Is God vegetarian?
Dressed in a black blazer, black jeans and black shirt, unofficial U.S. foodie czar Anthony Bourdain clunked about in cowboy boots and went through the motions of last Friday’s Sacramento appearance with the tedious exactitude of someone removing veins from prawns. His shtick was scripted, a recipe. He sapped nearly an hour cracking stockpile Food Network gags before ending the routine with a spree of rehashed Lonely Planet travel tips that essentially boiled down to “When in Rome” refrains. Even during the audience Q-and-A, he sometimes cringed at what surely were questions he’d been asked hundreds of times before.
I was Bourdained to death. Yet, the two-thirds full Memorial Auditorium crowd of mostly 40-something women ate it up. Thousands shelled out some 50 clams for this guy’s quickie excuse for a lecture—and he didn’t even buy them dinner first. They hooted when Bourdain condemned TV chef Rachael Ray and applauded when he decreed that Sacramento needs more food trucks.
But what drew the most resounding approval was when Bourdain flat out dismissed vegetarianism and veganism. The audience exploded. And its full-bellied endorsement got me thinking: As a conflicted but I-still-come-home-when-the-bars-close vegetarian, perhaps I’m missing out on the best meat Sacto has to offer.
Days later at Asian Café, tucked away in a decrepit strip mall in Sacto’s Noralto neighborhood, fate intervened. Bourdain praised Vietnamese pho as his ideal breakfast, so I ordered a bowl. But what arrives at the table? Vegetarian chow fun.
No fun. Is God an herbivore?
If so, then I’m going to hell: On Monday night at chef Kelly McCown and Randall Selland’s chic and contemporary Ella Dining Room and Bar, I sucked down bone marrow.
Bourdain lost the Memorial crowd only once last week, when he dismissed the suggestions that he dine in Sacto with the excuse that he was too busy. Although he’d heard the bone marrow at Ella was tops.
I won’t disagree. In fact, the only bone to pick with Ella’s marrow is that it’s sparked some kind unstoppable bone-marrow craze in the 916.
The dish at Ella—a split beef shank served on a hot-iron skilled blanketed with rock salt, dressed with capers, parsley, shallots and tarragon butter and topped with a pile of toasted croquettes—looks at once prehistoric and modern. The marrow itself, essentially bubbling, liquid fat, scoops from the bone and ends up slathered atop toast. The smell is more overpowering than the taste, which is basically the most artery-clogging butter you’ve never made sandwiches with.
Bourdain likens marrow to butter of the gods. But eat sparingly, lest ye worship porcelain gods the next day; the stuff is gut-churning rich.
I was impressed—but I’ll repent with hummus or carrot sticks until death.