Slice and serve
A writer steaks her unique claim on the raw-food craze
Sacramentans in general have timid palates, so you’d be hard-pressed to find adventurous foods like brains or offal on local menus. But one challenging dish does occasionally make the cut: raw meat. A few local restaurants and markets offer a surprising variety when it comes to cow au naturel.
Grange (926 J Street) is one of those establishments that trendily discloses its ingredients’ provenance. This can be useful: Knowing that I was eating Vande Rose Farms carpaccio led to after-dinner Googling and a discovery that the farms’ cows are grain-fed and antibiotic- and hormone-free.
The presentation of Grange’s carpaccio was striking: thinly sliced, deep-red flesh that carpeted the plate, topped with arugula, fried capers and thin sticks of pear and pepato cheese. The portion was generous—overly so for one. The contrast of the crunchy sea salt and the beef elevated the dish, and I enjoyed piling the crimson slices on Acme bread, which was bountiful and served in a basket that the bartender delivered.
The only problem—and it was a big one—was that the chef drizzled truffle oil on the meat, which has a strong, funky flavor. I ordered raw beef because I wanted to taste the meat’s essence, but the truffle oil disguised this.
Still, a delightful and satisfying dish.
I suspect that the Vande Rose beef being grain-fed led to its blandness, because at Lucca Restaurant and Bar (1615 J Street), the grass-fed beef, from the owners’ Lucky Dog Ranch, has a more concentrated cow flavor. Lucca’s carpaccio is off-menu but often is a special. It’s lacily thin and topped with watercress, Parmesan and capers, then drizzled with mild olive oil. And the watercress was the real star: At once sweet and spicy, I longed for a large salad composed of the peppery leaves. Priced at a very reasonable seven bucks, I’ll be back for this dish.
Raw beef is a staple of the Ethiopian diet, usually in the form of kitfo (ground and spiced), gored gored (cubed and spiced) or—more rare—tire siga (unseasoned beef carved directly from the cow and slapped on a plate). Queen Sheba Restaurant (1704 Broadway) serves the first two dishes, though you may have to persuade the waiter into doing so.
He needn’t have worried; the gored gored he brought more or less was cooked. It had been heated in niter kibbeh (spiced, clarified butter that’s ubiquitous in Ethiopian cooking), and was no more rare than any steak. The cubed beef was quite flavorful, but also tough. I’m willing to sacrifice tenderness for flavor, but if you’re not, best steer clear of the gored gored and go for the kitfo.
My search for honest, old-fashioned steak tartare led me to Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen (5001 Franklin Boulevard). Dirk Muller, the proprietor, grinds his tartare fresh and sells it on weekends only. It’s $5.99 a pound, and Muller suggests seasoning it with salt and pepper and a wee grind of nutmeg.
At home, I let the steak warm to room temperature, seasoned it, then heaped it onto a platter topped with chopped white onions with rings of capers and toasted bread. I cradled a raw egg yolk in a center divot, just to make it decadent, like something you would see in Ladies’ Home Journal, circa 1968. I attacked the kitschy mound with glee, its soft beef taste as clean and fresh as a blade of grass, the crunch of the onion, toast, salt and capers’ brine melding perfectly.
Maybe I won’t see bone marrow or calf brains on Sacramento menus any time soon, but when it comes to raw beef, at least some local chefs have guts.