By James Knight
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
As a formerly hardcore 20-year vegetarian, I found Elmo's Steakhouse almost custom-tailored for folks like me, with its promise of hormone- and antibiotic-free beef humanely raised on certified sustainable family farms. Elmo's "green steer" logo says it all: You can have your cow and eat it, too.
If this provisional omnivore is going to have a steak, that steer had better have had a decent life before its untimely date with the grill. To help me evaluate the experience, I persuaded two confirmed carnivores to join me, the type of people who hear the words "free filet mignon" and do not flinch.
The space is furnished sparingly, appropriately for upscale comfort food, with bare wood tabletops. Some bluegrass tunes played lightly in the background, adding the down-home touch. The bread was fresh and accompanied by butter instead of a Rorschach blot in an oil slick, a good start. The wine list offers a nice variety of mainly local options at reasonable prices, and corkage is only $15. Our 2005 Balletto Syrah ($32) was just 50 percent above retail.
I expected more from a jumbo crab cake ($10), but the forkful of meaty needles was fresh and clean-tasting. Utterly innocent of the price of top-grade beef, I was shocked to find that the entrées are served solo. However, the "big sides" are cheap ($5.50 each) and can easily be shared among three. We all got second helpings of broccoli with garlic and flaked pepper, which could use even more spice. Gorgonzola potatoes au gratin were browned on top and served in a milky, delicious sauce so deep we lost the serving spoon in it. The special side that night was a sweet and sublime heap of brown sugar-glazed, gingered carrots that we talked about for several days afterwards.
A choice of house-made sauces, including traditional brown sauces like the red wine and shallot reduction, and rosemary and green peppercorn, accompanies each cut; we favored the vibrant green chimichurri, a paste of fresh minced cilantro, parsley, garlic and spices that paired zestfully with the meats.
Ah yes, the meats. The crescent-shaped, lightly roasted offering on my plate was pre-cut into cross sections, which revealed a gradation of medium-rare hues. The hangar steak ($18) was a good choice, with a whiff of char followed by lean, meltingly tender flesh. The fatter lamb T-bone chops ($27) were flavorful but not gamey. The thick cut of filet mignon ($30) was pronounced good, then darned good and as it became mere memory on the drive home, awesome.
Looking back on the meal around dinnertime, I often wish I was back at Elmo's. The irony is that, even were I still a vegetarian, I could have eaten to satisfaction and left the dogies roaming happily in their pasture.
Elmo's Steakhouse, 4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol. Open for dinner only, Wednesday–Sunday. Three-course prix fixe meal offered nightly, $29.95. 707. 823.6637.
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