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Meat Report #1: Ostrich Grill (Capitola)--very long

Carb Lover | Apr 14, 200507:32 PM

Since meat has been on the brain of late, had to get some in my tummy soon. Waffled btwn. Cafe Cruz and Ostrich Grill both in Capitola. Even though CC's online menu sounded more appealing to me, the mystique of Ostrich Grill was calling, and I wanted to do my houndly investigation and dish out the scoop. So here it is on a platter w/ no BS sauce and garnished w/ more details than you may have ever wanted...

Y and I found the OG tucked into a generic business complex, the kind w/ random doors where you go to see your chiropractor or therapist. Not the best associations to have before dining...After following the signs and winding up some stairs, we entered through their heavy wood doors. Upon entering, I immediately noticed the small angled bar area that was uncozily too close to the door. It seemed to violate several feng shui principles, and I couldn't imagine wanting to drape myself there. Since it was Wed. night, we knew that walking in wouldn't be a problem and were promptly greeted and seated by the hostess at a 4-top booth.

At first glance, I sensed that the proprietors were aiming for a swanky look to go along w/ their meat-heavy menu and martini bar. There were sleek, modern, and masculine touches in the fixtures and color scheme, and I was particularly fascinated by the large, hollowed out ostrich egg lighting fixtures that emitted a warm glow throughout the long dining room. Taken as a whole though, the decor seemed to exude an identity confusion (eg, why Native American portraits everywhere?!) and lack of style that unfortunately was echoed throughout the entire meal.

On to the food...OG's menu is not big but has enough offerings to please your average meat-loving crowd. I was happy to see that their online menu (see link) was nearly identical to what we were handed, and I would describe the cuisine as "New American." Prices aren't on their website--apps average around $10; salads range from $6-12; entrees are around $20; desserts are $6. The 3-course prix fixe is a good deal at $17.50. They had a special martini list w/ about 10 different concoctions. Wines by the glass weren't that exciting, but their bottles looked more interesting, enough to have them tout being a Wine Spectator Award recipient FWTW.

We were promptly given sliced baguette bread (probably from Gayle's down the street) and the usual EVOO w/ balsamic for dipping. Bread was lightly toasted and fresh. One small quibble was that it was sliced too thinly for maximum dipping pleasure.

What we ordered:

Ostrich pate w/ caper berries and crostini ($7): This proved an unfortunate way to start the meal; it was truly terrible. It was not silky smooth as I thought it might be, and the flavor was simply discordant--a cacophany of bitter, sour, sharp, muddy. Never having had ostrich liver before though, we weren't really sure what it was supposed to taste like. Regardless, this wasn't good.

This was the kind of dish where you end up eating half of it merely to decide if you even like it, if it's off, and what could be in it that's not working. I later asked the waitress if there was any cheese in it (adding to the sharp flavor). She returned from the kitchen and said "no, only ostrich and rabbit liver, that's it." Odd...why didn't they advertise it as having rabbit liver too? Why didn't they augment it w/ other things to improve the mouthfeel and cut through some of the strong liver flavor? The caper berries were good, but the crostini were very small, thin, holey whisps of bread. This appetizer was an execution disaster all around...let's move on now...

Local farmer's market salad w/ beets, goat cheese, and pine nuts ($6): The waitress split this for us w/ no extra charge. I was surprised at how large each portion was. Thank god this was better than the pate. Greens were hyper-fresh, pale-pink beets were sweet and delicate, goat cheese balls were tangy and creamy. Flavors were more cohesive in this dish, but two quibbles: it was overdressed and I had a bite on my plate that was chokingly salty, as if the chef threw in a pinch of salt and forgot to mix it a bit.

I got the ostrich tenderloin (4 oz.) w/ mashed potatoes and root vegetables ($15): Figured we should try ostrich meat at a place w/ ostrich in its name. I got the half order, but you can order 8 oz. for $29. I went w/ the restaurant suggestion of medium rare. It came out sliced and fanned out and had the kind of presentation you would expect to be covered in Presentation 101. Meat was cooked beyond medium, but I didn't want to deal w/ sending it back. Flavor was somewhat beefy but gamey. It was very lean and soft but not as tender or juicy as I had hoped.

Now, the second major complaint of the night: It came heavily dressed w/ a dark, burgundy-colored sauce that I somehow wasn't expecting; maybe I missed it on the menu? It was some sort of wine reduction sauce that was very peppery and completely overpowered the ostrich meat, but the kicker was that it tasted burnt. Like someone reduced it too much and then tried to revive it. I just tried to avoid the sauce and must say that I was very pleased w/ the buttery, creamy mashed potatoes.

Y got that night's special, wild boar schnitzel w/ mashed potatoes and an arugula and fennel salad ($19): This dish was absolutely the winner of the night, reinforcing my habit to stick w/ the specials. Meat was pounded thinly, breaded w/ panko, and fried in a luscious oil or butter that lended an exceptional flavor and creaminess to the meat. The small fennel and arugula salad was also very nice, but like our earlier salad, had one bite that was jarringly salty. Y was kind enough to share his plate w/ me and help me poke at mine.

Dessert rolled around and, while I knew we probably wouldn't risk ordering any, I requested to see the menu anyway. Surprisingly, the menu contained about 8-10 different desserts w/ a few that sounded really alluring...saffron panna cotta w/ blood orange sauce, Meyer lemon goat cheescake. I was tempted so asked the waitress a couple of questions which ultimately swayed me to say "no thanks."

We didn't order any drinks (besides a coffee) and all told, the bill came to about $50 before tip. If the food had been consistently good, this would have been a great value. I suppose we could have voiced our complaints about the pate or ostrich dish to see how they handled it, but eh, they never asked and I wasn't in the kind of mood to interrupt the flow of our meal. In the end, I don't think we'll be back for a very long time (if at all). The inconsistency in execution and attention to detail was just too flagrant. Too bad b/c they offer some meats that I don't see elsewhere, and the ostrich burger and steak tartare made w/ Niman Ranch beef drew my attention. But the thought of a bad steak tartare has me wary. While our waitress was well-rehearsed and nice, overall service was spotty and self-conscious.

This was a rather disappointing meal out and, as we were driving home, I was struck by this odd, hollow feeling that I hadn't even eaten...


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