Back on beef

In case you missed it, I’m eating beef again! Here’s my roundup of the best beef bites I’ve tried around town that appeared in last week’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

Ten years ago, I stopped eating beef. But times are a-changing and I'm back on the beef bandwagon!

Ten years ago, I stopped eating red meat. You’re probably wondering why — was I taking a stand against the beef industry? Was I concerned about the well-being of cows? Was it a political statement about agriculture subsidies?

I wish I could say my decision was grounded in some sort of ideology, but nope, the truth is far less glamorous — and actually a bit awkward to admit.

As a broke college student, I didn’t eat out much — I stuck to the college dining halls for most of my meals. After all, I’d paid for these dining privileges in my tuition.

My campus dining halls weren’t exactly a great spot for a gourmet meal. Whenever I ordered beef, I always found myself munching on a plate of tough meat: steaks that resembled leather, burgers charred several notches beyond well done.

Salads, chicken, pasta — these were usually safer choices, so over those four years, I simply lost my appetite for beef.

Whenever I did venture off campus to eat, I usually kept to a budget. Like most college kids, I cut down on food costs so that my spare cash could go to far more important pursuits — cough, cough — booze.

Last year, when it had been 10 years without beef, I was watching “Top Chef” with my friends, drooling over a cheftestant’s plate of succulent beef short ribs. One of my friends asked me for what felt like the thousandth time, “why don’t you eat beef?”

A light bulb went off. I realized it really didn’t make much sense to avoid beef anymore — I’d long outgrown the college dining halls, and I’m now partaking in the culinary delights of the talented chefs here in town.

So I decided as long as the Mayans have predicted this will be our last trip around the sun, why not add beef back to my diet?

(And no, this decision didn’t have anything to do with my work as a food writer — and certainly not the result of pressure from my critics. I firmly stand by my belief that one doesn’t have to eat beef to be qualified to judge good food. In fact, I’ve actually found the vegetarian diet far more telling to the caliber of a chef — the kitchen can’t rely on the tricks of pork belly or duck fat to tease the palate so a chef’s raw skill shines through.)

It was a little daunting to think where I would have my first bite of beef. I toiled for many sleepless nights (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration for dramatic effect) trying to figure out where to reintroduce my palate to red meat.

Three weeks ago, I took the plunge, and this week, I figured it would be fun to take a look back and see which beef dishes were my favorites for the last month.

The true standout came from Bistro Moulin (867 Wave St. in Monterey; 333-1200; www.bistromoulin.com). Chef Didier Dutertre makes simple French dishes, but executes them impeccably.

I ordered the steak bordelaise — a Niman Ranch hanger steak with a shallot-cabernet sauce and pommes frites ($28.50).

The steak bordelaise was at the same time so sophisticated yet so laid back.

It’s a refined take on the traditional French bistro favorite of steak frites. You can think of this like the French equivalent of a burger and fries — a simple plate of meat and fried potatoes to grab at a street-side bistro.

The steak was perfectly tender, cooked exactly medium-rare, with just a hint of pretty pink inside. I alternated between bites of beef and the crispy pommes frites, dabbling both the meat and the fries in spicy Dijon mustard.

The sauce was incredible — so rich and flavorful, with hints of Cabernet and pepper. I didn’t want any of that sauce to go to waste, so I used my fries to sop up what remained on the plate.

Once I had this first bite of beef, I became a beef maniac, leaping at any opportunity to try more.

Another one of my favorites has been the carpaccio — air-dried beef, arugula and blood oranges ($10.50) — at Mundaka (San Carlos Street, between Ocean and Seventh in Carmel; 624-7400; www.mundakacarmel.com).

The carpaccio at Mundaka has quickly become a "must-order" for me!

I first tried this dish when my friends and I went out for a lively singles-only Valentine’s Day dinner. That carpaccio was so good, I came back for another bite two days later!

The blood oranges really give that extra pizzazz to this dish.

The dried beef was cut paper thin, presented as a beautiful plate like a work of art. Pairing the savory beef with bitter arugula and tart blood oranges was quite inspired. The blood oranges popped with a punch of sweet and sour juice with each bite.

Not all the bites of beef I’ve sampled have been gourmet. In fact, one of the best bites came during a quick pit stop at In-N-Out (151 Kern St. in Salinas; 800-786-1000; www.innout.com) before a movie. We were packed into the roadside eatery, with the bustle of hungry families circling like vultures looking for a free table.

Believe it or not, I'd never had a real In-N-Out burger until just last month!

In-N-Out’s famous Double Double — two beef patties with cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and sauce ($3.30) — is a guilty pleasure for many foodies.

Amidst the cacophony of screaming children and takeout orders blasting from the loudspeaker, I eagerly devoured every bite of that burger. It was delicious. I shouldn’t like it, but I did.

The Double Double in its beefy, cheesy deliciousness.

In the last three weeks, I’ve sampled burgers from five local restaurants, and In-N-Out’s Double Double has been the best by far.

So the beef adventure has begun. I’m looking forward to trying more of the bovine delights on menus around town.

A number of them are already in my sights — carne asada tacos at Rosa’s La Villa Taqueria (Seaside), bison short ribs at L’Escargot (Carmel) and the Vélo burger at La Bicyclette (Carmel) have my mouth watering!

Got any favorite beef bites you think I should try? Email me at offthemenublog AT gmail DOT com or tweet me @offthemenu831 with your recommendations!

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