Musing on what's for dinner


Time was when nothing could be finer than a hunk of meat roasted over an open fire.

It was the favorite from jungle to Paris.

Now it makes men drool and women gag.

Miss Picky responds to the "We've been eating meat for millions of years" argument with "Ever hear of evolution? We used to have slaves and burn witches, too."

She's the kind of woman that inspired John Lennon to write, "You must be good-looking, because you're so hard to please."

Over a plate of hay at a diner one night, I kept staring at her, thankful I'd pre-supped on a Daly's steak sandwich, and asking myself if she looked half her age because of vegetables, vitamins or genetics?

I fantasized the grain I was grinding was a Canlis steak.

I dreamt of the Pioneer in Ketchum, Idaho, where the prime rib is so tender your fork slides through it and clinks on the plate.

"Just perfect," as Emmett Watson said to David Ishii at Ruth's Chris' steak house.

Watson, my conscience mentions, died of a heart attack.

"But a guy's gotta have some meat," my inner devil retorts, "and your cholesterol is below 160."

The argument is interrupted. Miss Picky is wrinkling her little Audrey Hepburn nose.

"Something smells bad," she announces.


Her senses focus like RoboCop as she scans the premises running an air check. No milk products interfere with her olfactory receptors.

Is it the couple at the next table? Residue from a dishwasher? A recidivist boyfriend?

I pray: "Oh, Crest, don't fail me now."


Probably the finest steak story ever told was "All You Can Hold For Five Bucks," by Joseph Mitchell (The New Yorker, 1939.)

It's about "The Beefsteak" - a particular form of New York gluttony as stylized and regional as the riverbank fish fry, the hot-rock clambake or the Texas barbecue. Some chefs believe it had its origin 60 or 70 years ago, when butchers from the slaughterhouses on the East River would sneak choice loin cuts into the kitchens of nearby saloons, grill them over charcoal, and feast on them during their Saturday-night sprees. In any case, the institution was essentially masculine until 1920, when it was debased by the 18th and 19th amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

Mixed drinking and women's suffrage sexually integrated formerly stag feasts. "We Greet Our Better Halves" was added to the souvenir menus of beefsteaks thrown by bowling, fishing and chowder clubs and lodges and labor unions.

"It didn't take women long," Mitchell wrote, "to corrupt the beefsteak. They forced the addition of such things as Manhattan cocktails, fruit cups and fancy salads to the traditional menu of slices of ripened steaks, double lamb chops, kidneys and beer by the pitcher. They insisted on dance orchestras instead of brassy German bands. The life of the party at a beefsteak used to be the man who let out the most ecstatic grunts, drank the most beer, ate the most steak and got the most grease on his ears, but women do not esteem a glutton...."

You can say that again. "Women do not esteem a glutton."


There are meals we remember....

Grandmother's Sunday roasts, with mashed potatoes and gravy.

And my mother turned out some wonderful legs of lamb. But her generation had less time at home, and shortcuts sometimes led to disaster.

"Yukkk!!!" I once punctuated involuntary regurgitation.

"YOUNG MAN," my father responded, "You will eat and like whatever your mother sets before you or you can go straight to your room."

"Fine," I yelled, from the stairs.

And then I heard my father spluttering.

"Mary, What Is This?!!"

"Uh," mom stuttered, "Spanish Stew?"

How our family enjoyed the then-pleasant drives from our home in Seward Park to Renton for char-broiled hamburgers at Jolly Boy. To Leschi for fish and chips at Koby's. To Lake Forest Park for fried chicken at Bob's Place. Or across the old Lake Washington Bridge to Nick's Potlatch in Bellevue for French dips.

Nick was a tall, old Navy guy with the face of a basset hound. Once, as his tattooed arms sawed off a slice of perfect prime rib, I confided wanting to be just like him. He looked up with the saddest face and said: "It gets old."

But good prime rib places don't.

Gone is Kelly's in Montlake. And that one on University Avenue my friend George Arthur contended was run by ex-Axis agents. Gone is Longacres' fab sandwich that could bring solace to even a losing day.

Last week, sitting at the new Kelly's (Sam's on Eastlake) I dipped tender red meat and fresh French bread into sweet barbecue sauce. I looked up at Canlis's lights and thought of Daly's just down the street. I was blissfully trapped inside Seattle's Meat Triangle.

Even the fact some people nearby looked like what we were eating didn't bother me.

The chef at Sam's is a vegetarian. So is the owner of Daly's hamburger stand. At Canlis, more people order fish than meat.

Miss Picky claims we carnivores will go the way of the dinosaurs.

I wonder what they tasted like?

Freelance writer Thom Gunn can be reached via[[In-content Ad]]