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Events & Festivals 4

A belated Espetus Festival-of-Meat Chowdown report (12/11)

Bryan Loofbourrow | Dec 30, 200301:03 PM

Mea culpa. I was the designated official reporter for this event, and here I am, weeks later, finally getting around to posting the report.

I offer no excuses. But I do offer a theory -- it's a lot more inspiring to write up a report on a meal that you liked. This one, unfortunately, did not fall into that category.

Nothing against the concept. What fun -- get a group of people together, and chatter in happy anticipation while waiters show up every few minutes with a new skewer of meat, which they hold vertically, resting on the table, and carve off hunks of for each person. Sometimes the knife is in operation inches from your nose, and you bless the skill of the carvers. It's all quite festive.

In addition, there was a buffet. Being on Atkins, I couldn't sample most of it, but the look, and the flavor of what I did sample, does not lead me to believe that I suffered any great loss by the omission. I'd go to sample a dish that looked promising, and find myself whisked off to a memory of cafeteria food. Nothing I tasted had a sense of focus, of seasoning that had a purpose and a coherent message.

While the meat was a better experience, the same problem existed. If you told me that every meat was marinated the same and brushed with the same liquid before the same cooking process, I would not be shocked.

In some ways, the best part was the wines that Melanie and Derek brought, neither of which seemed likely to be in my style, but both of which offered something unexpected and nice.

Derek's 1989 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon, which I thought would be generic-industrial, was instead an excellent example of well-aged Cab, showing aromas of lively cassis fruit, old-wine complexity, and Spanish-wine-like pickle barrel, indicating, I thought, aging in old barrels. Forward cassis on the palate, with fullness through the midpalate and a very decent finish with resolved tannins completed an extremely pleasant wine experience. VERY GOOD

Melanie's 1994 Torre Muga Rioja, which I thought would be massively oaky, was classy and closed, but later opened into something...for which I have to dredge my memory, because I don't see any notes here...but lively and classy and full-fruited, with some vanilla/raw board but not enough to overwhelm the meat.

I also got to taste something quite nice from the Languedoc (and from Melanie), but do not have notes.

The wines were good, but the match with the meats didn't really work all that well. I don't know what would work, but, surprisingly, it was the oak that was most of the problem I experienced. Usually one expects meats like this to soak up oak instead of highlighting it. One of the meats seemed to taste exactly like the Rioja, but nevertheless they did not seem to go together well.

Onward to the meats. There was a parade of them, but in looking back on the meal, two things stand out:

(1) I often could not tell whether I was eating beef, pork, or lamb. Really.

(2) I stopped eating, not because I was sick of meat or full of meat, but because I was sick of salt and full of salt.

There was a dipping sauce for the meats, but I didn't like it. It tasted like salad dressing, and the practice of flavoring or marinating meats in what is essentially salad dressing is not at all to my taste.

Stuff I liked:

Sausage. Crisp outside and dark-toned. Soy-like umami, and both (a little) chili and (lots of) black peppery hotness made for a nice combination of flavors that lingered in the mouth. Not exactly art, but I liked it. VERY GOOD MINUS

Chicken leg (?). Nicely caramelized and dried-out-crunchified on the outside. Full marinated flavor. GOOD PLUS.

Sirloin (I think). Nicely caramelized outer layer, nicely bloody inside. VERY GOOD MINUS, but it sometimes seemed random whether things would arrive rare enough that you could get some flavored outer layer and some bloody inside. When you got both, the best results obtained.

Chicken Hearts. Now this one was really good, in part because they're sturdy enough to stand up to the intense cooking, and dense enough that they don't suck up too much of the salty dull marinade. Unlike most of the meats, their original, pure flavor is retained. Bravo. EXCELLENT MINUS

There were more, many more, but I don't see the point in writing about them here, and I came to the same conclusion during the meal. Lump them all in as overmarinated salty meat of no distinctive character.

So, chicken hearts aside, no recommendation from me here. It's a festive-feeling place, and if it were mine, I'd turn it into a upscale-rowdy bar with colorful drinks and serve the chicken hearts as a bar snack.

-- Bryan

1686 Market At Gough
San Francisco

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