Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Carnivore's Dilemma

One of my more recent decisions regarding what I eat involves cutting meat from my diet. It would be a lie to say that I don't eat meat at all; in fact, I live in a culture where meat is everywhere and where avoiding it, especially at restaurants, is almost a full-time job. I'm not one of those crunchy vegans, who thinks that killing animals is wrong. I do not, for the record, have any real ethical problem with killing animals for food. I do, however, have a problem with the food system as it currently exists. I don't want to eat Purdue chickens that are buckling under the weight of their own breasts, dying in droves, and picked up and tossed by low-paid workers in middle-of-the-night raids. I don't think that commercial beef cattle, for the short time they spend on this planet, should be standing knee-deep in their own waste, eating corn, which the bovine stomach simply isn't biologically engineered to digest. When I know the provenance of my meat--when I know, for instance, that my cows had access to real pastures, that my chickens saw actual sunlight--I feel much better about being an omnivore. But when I think about the compromised ethos of the meat industry, a calculated strategy of animal-torture designed to bring this country more protein that it will ever really need, I feel safe in my decision to eat mostly vegetables.

My local grocery stores do not carry local or organic meat, so, at home, I don't eat it. The restaurants I choose to eat at usually list the farms their cuts come from. On Sunday, I went to Minetta Tavern. Even though they don't list it, I know their beef purveyor, Pat Lafrieda, takes great pride in his meat. Most of the cows are pasture-bred and fed. These days, that's the best you can hope for.

I went to Minetta Tavern because I was able to score a last-minute reservation, yes, but also because I was dying for steak, weak from iron deficiency. My friend was in the mood for bone marrow, an item featured on a handful of city restaurants. We called, they had a table, and that was that. We began with cocktails, mine a crisp cucumber number without too much sweet stuff going on. It was supposed to have rhubarb in it, but if it did, it eluded me. Three large prawns arrived atop a cocktail sauce/mayonnaise and with three delicate artichokes. When it was gone, we had time to concentrate on our 1982 Prieure-Lichine, a steal for $300. According to the wine director, (who's attention we caught after having ordered a 60 ounce steak for two and an ancient bottle of Bordeaux), auction wines are practically free these days. Three-hundred is way out of my personal budget, but dinner was on my friend, just this one time.

The cote d' boeuf was glorious, and made me glad that I still eat beef once in a while. It had a solid, crunchy crust, born of heat and butter. The meat was cool and red in the center and the steak was flanked by three long bones, cut lengthwise so we could spoon the marrow onto our steaks. The dickle was so rich, I couldn't finish even my share. We managed to complete the steak, aside from that last bit of dickle and the rib bone itself, which, in hungrier moments, I would gladly have lifted to my mouth and gnawed on, even in a fine restaurant.

For dessert, we ate coconut layer cake and a chocolate "bomb" that didn't resonate. It didn't matter, anyway. The steak was the point and it absolutely delivered, needing no sauce, but only a hefty appetite. And perhaps our crowning achievement, having impressed the old boys at "impossible-to-get-into" Minetta, was the issue of two business cards with the restaurant's private phone number on it. Our names and telephone numbers were taken at meal's end, and we were added to a list of elite who can actually get a table on a normal night. They'll be disappointed to know, at my next visit, that $300 bottles of wine usually ain't my bag.

So, the rest of the week had to be cleaner. I had a lunch date with my cousin yesterday and I was thinking comfort food, meat-free. We met at Keste, where everyone I know had been telling me to go for a good Neapolitan pie. If you're a fan of a small, doughy pie, with fresh ingredients, a slightly soggy middle (that's how they do it in Naples), and a charred crust, go here. You won't be disappointed. I could have taken down two or three margheritas. The buffalo mozzarella practically disappeared, it was so light. I love a good, crispy New York slice, but this pie, on flavor alone, outdid half the artisanal pies in NYC. I'll be going back for another meat-free adventure.

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Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012
212.475.3850

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Keste' Pizza and Vino
271 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10014
212.243.1500