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Restaurants & Bars

Bistro Jeanty & Overcoming My Fear of Steak Tartare

Jennie Sheeks | Jul 8, 200204:12 PM     12

It is a secret agenda of mine to overcome my distrust of certain foods. Randomly I get the urge to sample something outside my realm of accepted foods, to test the waters of my taste so to speak. I’ve come to love tongue tacos, sweetbreads, raw ahi & salmon, carpaccio and chicken livers (as long as someone else prepares them). I doubt I’ll ever try calves liver or kidneys again. I will eat plain, raw oysters but I never crave them.

I remember Mom making meatloaf when I was a child, incorporating the ingredients gradually and tasting the raw meat as she went. I was utterly disgusted, and perhaps to capitalize on that disgust, my younger brother would ask Mom to try it and then say loudly, “Mmmm, nice and slimy good!” At that point I would run from the room making gagging noises.

In December I visited Babo in New York and relished the lamb tartare with a quail egg and mint chutney. But I’d decided the time had come to tackle the real thing, steak tartare. And strangely, over the last few weeks I’ve been craving it, or at least craving my expectation of what it could be. A strange thing to crave something you’ve never had.

Trusting Bistro Jeanty (knowing steak tartare is a fixture on the menu), and since I was long overdue for a visit (being a former regular), I decided to head to the bar and just do it. Borys was bartending, who I’d never met before despite his tenure of a few months. After a few other staff members greeted me and asked where I’d been, I explained I’d been getting sidetracked exploring ethnic foods. Borys’ eyes lit up and immediately we began comparing notes on the taco trucks in Napa, and the conversation ran from there. Sadly for me but lucky for you SF hounds, Borys moved to SF next week and will be working at Jeanty at Jacks. He’s the youngish guy, perhaps 30 or so with black hair and a quick smile. Mention dim sum, or great tacos and if his eyes light up, that’s him. We have far too few chowhounds in this valley of “fabulous food”. To find one and lose one in the course of 10 minutes is just a drag.

If tips on dim sum from Borys weren’t enough, they had one of my favorite seasonal special appetizers, chilled radishes with coarse salt and bread and sweet butter. I first had this dish in Paris at an empty restaurant where my Mom, our friend and I were the only customers. The contrast of the iced radishes, the roughness of the coarse salt on the tongue, the crunch of the radish, and the slow build of heat, the utter simplicity of this dish made it a legendary favorite of mine. At Jeanty, the selection of heirloom radishes ranged from traditional round red ones, tall slender white ones to stubby purple ones. In the center was the dish of coarse salt, balanced on the side was the baguette slice with sweet butter and coarsely ground pepper. A marvelous appetizer or palette cleanser.

The steak tartare arrived in the traditional preparation. Eraser sized chunks of chopped steak, diced red onion, capers crowned with a raw egg in a half egg shell with golden croutons on the side. I dutifully incorporated the raw egg without cringing. This is a very toothsome dish, as a meat lover the texture was satisfying in a way that’s hard to explain. Chewy but tender and flavorful. Moist but not gooey or slimey. Still I found it hard to eat all of it, which I find strange since I’m starting to crave it again as I write. So, I guess that means I like it, however in the future I’d rather have it as an appetizer than a main course.

Now the trick is to decide what nasty food is next on the list to be conquered. Incidentally, when I told my younger brother that I’d tried Steak Tartare recently and liked it, he just shook his head and said, “You’re disgusting.” (g)

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