First of all, thanks to all who wrote in with great advice about the culture/strategy of italian beef tasting. Try as I might I couldnt unearth the beef tasting thread, but you all gave me more than enough grist for the mill as I anticipated our own beef tasting last night.
The Ponzu family just returned from our sortie to little italy. Heeding the advice of the board, we hit the more traditional Patio before trying the legendary and controversial Al's.
At Patio we had a simple beef, wet with sweet and hot on the side. At first impression, the beef didnt blow my socks off. the thin slices were swimming in a spiced broth, but the meat itself was dry and flaky. It seemed to have surrendered most of its flavor to the broth. The dipped soft roll was hot and squishy, with a pleasing elasticity. at first I tried the sammy with the sweet peppers. these were bland and did not bring a lot to the table. When however i poured the gardiniera over the meat, the ensemble took on a new life. the oil returned moisture and richness to the beef, and the acid of the olives and peppers breathed life into each bite. Finally the gentle heat of the pepper flakes added another dimension to the party.
At Als we had a combo, wet with hot, and fries. First the meat; this beef had such complexity when compared to patio's. It was stewed but not cooked out, with a rich, beefy taste, and an intrinsic acidity. The spices were pungent with the trio of oregano, salt, and garlic singing an playful italian libretto above the commanding symphony of beef. The sausage itself was exellent, with a smokey char that absorbed the surrounding gravy. The only thing is that this beef really didnt need the strong salty, fatty presence of the sausage (though the patios version sure would have benefitted from its gravity.) The gardiniera was spicy and oily and really brought out the beefy flavor of the meat. The roll was almost identical to patios.
Im not a big fry guy usually. But Als were wonderful. they use a skin on version of the potato. these bendy, starchy fries are pleasingly soft without losing their spine. the inside was waxy, not granular and a touch sweet. And the outside had an assertive crispy layer of saltiness. These were more frites than fries, and I am tempted to make a sandwiche grec of my next beef by stuffing the sandwich with them.
all in all a great lunch (and education.)