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Reintroducing meat into diet...where should I eat?

Hi everyone. I've never posted before, but I've been reading posts for about a year now, and I've enjoyed many incredible meals as a result. Thanks chowhounders! Thus, I knew where I could go with this dilemma.

For a number of reasons, I have decided to reintroduce "land meat" (for lack of a better word) into my diet. I already started eating seafood about a year ago, and I was vegetarian for about 10 years before that. Growing up, food was not a particularly important thing in my family (I love my parents, but gourmet they are not). Meat was never something I really enjoyed because it was never very carefully prepared, and thus it was not at all difficult to give up. But now that I live in the Bay Area, where food is lovingly prepared, and one can get meat that is not a product of factory farming, I am willing to take the plunge. But now my question is, where should I do it?

I'm not yet ready to prepare meat myself, so I thought it would be good to eat at restaurants that prepare it well to establish a standard. I'm not quite flush enough to go really high-end, but mid-range suggestions would be great (I've enjoyed Lulu, Canteen, Range, Limon, B44, but always veg or seafood). We live in Oakland, but SF is fine as is anywhere accessible by a reasonable public transit trip. I prefer a restaurant that takes seriously a commitment to sustainability and fair treatment of animals, although I imagine most restaurants in the Bay Area do this without necessarily having to announce it. Any cuisine is okay, as long as it's not too spicy (I am a spice wimp).

So, please, suggestions for where to get:

1. Fabulous meat entrees (maybe separate suggestions for beef, pork, chicken other meats?)

2. Bacon (This is the only meat product that ever really tempted me when I was vegetarian, so I think it deserves a separate experience)

3. Other cured meats (in a restaurant or in a deli)

Sorry for the verbose post. Thanks in advance!

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  1. Why not check out the Fatted Calf stall at the Berkeley farmers market (Saturday). There are plenty of ready to eat options if you're not ready to cook meat, try their fegatelli, salami or mortadella. You may even be tempted to take home some bacon for easy cooking...

    1 Reply
    1. re: rabaja

      I wholeheartedly second and third and fourth everyone elses suggestions for fatted calf bacon. I have been a vegan and a vegetarian inmy past and for a long time I never even liked bacon much. That's all changed. This stuff is amazing. Every one I introduce it to just raves. You can just put it in the frying pan and leave it til it gets to your required doneness (only one turn, use tongs). Then drain of the fatt and hey presto. It is thick cut and stays flat in the pan, it doesn't curl. It is the best thing ever. I freeze it and then use it in everything. Current fad fatted calf bacon and potato salad with vinaigrette.
      Ok - I'll shut up now. Enjoy!

    2. If I were you, I'd ease into meat eating by having your favorite Asian vegetarian dishes made with the addition of chicken or pork, so as not to shock the system too much.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chocolatetartguy

        Not too many Asian restaurants serving sustainable meat, unfortunately. Andy & Cindy's Thai and Renee's Place are a few notable exceptions. It's too bad, I miss Asian food.

        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          Not so. Bear in mind that free-range chickens are common at Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants from local purveyors. They're not necessarily organic, but they are from sustainably farmed sources. Rocky's grandfather was a Chinese free-range bird. And, I'd bet that kurobuta pork (Berkshire pig) is served at more Japanese restaurants locally than non-Japanese places.

        1. Definitely Cafe Rouge.

          Funny you said that about bacon -- that's a pretty common weakness among vegetarians. I think there are quite a few "baco-vegetarians": vegetarians who make the occasional exception for bacon.

          For your bacon fix, I suggest you go to Baron's Meats in Alameda and have them cut you some thick slices of Neuske's bacon from the slab then cook it to your taste at home. Personally, I like my bacon well-browned but still moist. Ummmmm.... pork fat!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Yeah, I'm SO with you on that Neuske's bacon, Ruth and if the OP wants to do a test run without cooking it 900 Grayson in Berkeley, just off Ashby has it for breakfast and lunch. Here's a link to my report about the restaurant ant the bacon


            Today's 900 Grayson discussion


            Until Neuske's, Hobbs bacon was my favorite. The place I recall that sells it at breakfast is the Hayes Street Grill stand at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers market. If you are there when they have the soft shell crab sandwich with hobbs bacon, I highly recommend that.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I agree on Cafe Rouge. How can yo ugo wrong with a restaurant that has their own meat counter/ butcher? I like the burger, the ribs, the steak frites... well, basically anything meaty there is good.

              1. re: vliang

                Cafe Rouge's chef's connections are hard to beat. Marsha McBride introduced Bill Niman to his first pork supplier, and occasionally gets goat from her cousin in Rio Vista.

                The fries aren't quite as good as when they used 25% beef tallow in the fry mix.

            2. mortons steak house - nuff said

              1. Welcome to the dark side, Baxter. Mrs. Mousse went through a similar tradition about two years ago (11 year vegetarian, two years vegan and then I got my hands on her.) While she was transitioning in meat her favorite place to eat was Gregoire. All of the meat is sustainably ranched, prepared well and priced reasonably. It is not a sit down restaurant with table service, it is a casual, counter style place that does mostly take out (but I recommend eating there so everything is hot). The format is what allows them to keep their prices low. It's great because you can satisfy a meat craving and spend $15-$25 per person on dinner (whereas at most restaurants that serve sustainable meat you'll be lucky to spend less than $40-$50 per person). Similarly, you can try a new or unfamiliar preparation of meat without worrying too much about wasting a lot of money if you don't like it. The pork, beef, lamb and chicken are all consistently excellent. Gregoire is located in Oakland on Piedmont and 40th st.


                I also second the Fatted Calf recommendation. Their bacon is so good that it should be illegal. I've been making BLTs with heirloom tomatoes, blue heron little gems, avocado spread and acme bread - oh my God! Fatted Calf also has a nice range of salami, sausage and pater - stuff that requires little to no preparation skill. All of their meat is sustainable/natural - they adhere to very strict ethical standards. They sell at the Berkeley Farmers' Market on Saturday. Get their early - the best stuff sells out fast (or pre-order on-line). One caveat about Fatted Calf is that many of their pates are sized in big portions. If you're just buying for yourself you should pre-order on-line in smaller sizes (1/4 lb is good). You can only do this with pates and terrines, not with salamis.


                I hope you post reports on a few of your meals. Don't feel intimidated just because you are unfamiliar with meat - the perspective of someone who is new to a food is also valuable. And we can always use more East Bay based posters.

                1. My GF was a vegetarian for the first few years we dated. when she decided to take the plunge we went to the best steakhouse in our area and she got a filet rare. and ate every last bite. maybe go to one of our steakhouses around town for the meat. i generally avoid steakhouses because i find them very expensive for "just a nice piece of meat" whereas other great restaurants will have a nicely cooked steak with a nice preparation as well. but at a steakhouse you can have a filet with nothing else competing with it to get in the way.

                  for a steak where the meat is the star try the rib-eye at eccolo if you dont like the steakhouse idea.

                  for cured meats definitely go to oliveto. you can get an assortment and they are all incredible.

                  for bacon: memphis minnies for brunch has freaking ridiculous bacon that they cook with a little brown sugar. its without a doubt the best bacon i have ever had.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Lord Griffin

                    I had steak at Eccolo last month, good but very similar in style to Oliveto's, which is better. That's true for all the dishes I've had at both places.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I finally got to Oliveto when my family was in town and unfortunately i picked the apps and secondi's but they picked the entrees... so no steak.

                      is there always a steak on the menu? do they do all meat entrees really well?

                      1. re: Lord Griffin

                        No guarantees on Oliveto's menu, it changes daily depending on what they get their hands on. More often than not there's a tagliata of Niman ribeye but last night they had grilled venison instead.

                    2. re: Lord Griffin

                      My first thought was Eccolo also...Great selection of meat (a largely meat-centric menu) and fantastic house-cured meats.
                      If you like bacon, their salumi plate is not to be missed...two toasts, one with pancetta, one with cicciole.

                    3. As a fellow recent convert, I say welcome! It's fantastic over here on the dark side. I agree with everything posted here so far and wanted to add a few seconds, and a few new recommendations.

                      Fatted Calf bacon - Simply heaven. It's called the gateway meat for a reason (converting vegetarians for over 20 years)! The pate is a bit much for a this recent convert though.

                      Oliveto - salumi and pork dishes, excellent. I've only eaten downstairs.

                      Gregoire - high quailty take-out. Pork in mustard sauce over penne!

                      New Recs:
                      Bakesale Betty - Fried chicken sandwich. Perfection!

                      Hot dogs behind the meat counter at Whole Foods.

                      Dopo - We had some great salumi there on Friday night, and other intersting meat dished in the appetizer section.

                      A Cote- I can't recommend a specific meat dish, but I think the food overall is outstanding.

                      Good luck, and please do report back.

                      1. My suggestion is somewhat different... ten years ago I was ending a long stint as a veg, and just before getting on a 13 hour flight to New Zealand, I ate my first beef in 6 years in the form of an In-and-Out Burger. Questionable judgement to do this before a long flight, I know, but damn, was it good.

                        1. Heck, even Chipotle uses Niman Ranch pork these days....

                          1. I'm a born-again carnivore too and can't imagine going back. There are TONS of restaurants in the Bay Area serving "happy" meat and doing it well: check out http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/

                            My East Bay favorites are:
                            Adagia Restaurant in Berkeley (http://www.adagiarestaurant.com/): They have excellent Montana grassfed beef, Niman pork chops, lamb shanks...reasonably priced, too.

                            Dona Tomas on Telegraph: Great Mexican food made with Niman pork, etc.

                            Breads of India uses organic free-range chicken

                            Downtown restaurant in Berkeley serves a good Niman burger

                            Venus Restaurant on Shattuck in Berkeley is very reasonable, basic good food with Niman bacon and Rosie chicken

                            Zatar's, on Shattuck north of University has irregular hours, but makes very tasty Mediterranean food with "happy" lamb and chicken.

                            In San Francisco: The Globe Restaurant, Acme Chophouse (serves local grassfed beef), Blue Plate, Zuni's -- lots of places serving tasty guilt-free meat.

                            1. The rack of lamb and bone-in Ribeye at Kokkari are great. Probably my favorite place for red meat. They also do a different rottiserie every day, I had the goat once and it was very good. They use lots of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice (among other things) which I love.

                              Go to Zuni and have the roast chicken, you'll never look at roast chicken the same way.

                              The smoked pork at Memphis minnies is addictive and I need a fix every now and then. Try it with the vinegar sauce.

                              1. Mostly responding to say, I like your term "land meat".
                                Will try to use, along with "sea meat". Is there "air meat"?

                                An attractively priced offering is the short rib
                                item at Chow and Park Chow in SF ($11ish or $14ish
                                for small/large order). I dunno anything about the
                                provenance of their Land Meat(tm), tho.

                                A simple home option is a broiled rib eye, maybe with
                                Bleu Cheej.

                                Cafe Rouge is certainly a fine recommendation for
                                dining out or Land Meat Procurement.

                                You can also get some decent proscuitto/spanish jamon
                                and work up to something like lardo. I guess foie gras
                                may be politically barred for you.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: psb

                                  Cafe Rouge is a great place for foie gras and charcuterie. That's where Taylor Boetticher worked before Fatted Calf.

                                  There's no good reason for an informed carnivore not to eat foie gras on ethical grounds, but maybe that's a topic for another board. Or maybe not a topic for Chowhound at all, I'm not sure.


                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    As noted in the thread Robert links to:

                                    Politics of any sort are not allowed on Chowhound, including the politics of food. We find that such discussions invitably lead to flamewars and nastiness.

                                    Please keep discussions in this thread on chow and away from issues like the politics of foie gras.