Found the beef, where’s the bourbon?
Dinner with Kate and Brad at Bourbon & Beef in Oakland, across the street from Olivetto in the Rockridge district. Friends have been talking this place up so we wanted to see for ourselves.
Bourbon & Beef isn’t very large, and the bulk of the seating is in bright red booths along the wall across from the bar. We ended up sitting at an extension of the bar, four stools fixed to the floor two across from two. It may have been the only time in my life I wished for more padding in my tush.
The bar area is very nicely done, with the top shelf all backlit bourbons of varying vintage–the place stocks over 30 variety of the iconic American whiskey.
We started with the shishito peppers. Excellent. Quickly blistered in searing hot oil, the peppers are always an experiment because 95% of them are mild, and one in 20 is wicked hot. You can’t tell which is which until you bite into them–which is why I start with a tiny nibble, but the flavor is well worth the danger. It’s my version of living on the edge.
Two of us had beef–Kate had an excellent filet and Brad ordered a burger, which Gail promptly appropriated, leaving the son in law with a huge stack of ribs.
I think Brad got the good end of that deal–the ribs were pretty spectacular, thick, succulent, tender and not overpowered by sauce. The portion was huge–Brad couldn’t finish it, and I couldn’t complete the task for him. I was impressed.
I broke with tradition and ordered the fried chicken. It was probably the lavender honey that sold me. The crust on the chicken was much darker and crispier than I would expect, as though the oil was too hot, but the meat inside was properly cooked, moist and flavorful. The biscuit was not exactly southern style, but interesting. The “house slaw” was made of shredded cabbage, but any resemblance to cole slaw stopped there. This dish was limp not crisp, sour not sweet, spicy not gentle. I guess I’m a classicist when it comes to my slaw: Bourbon & Beef is not.
There are two different brussels sprout dishes on the menu. The first is an appetizer of flash fried crispy sprouts served with goat cheese, sliced almonds and a balsamic reduction, the second features the sprouts sautéed with bacon, red peppers and garlic. We had both–order the appetizer, it’s a ton better.
As soon as the reservation was made, I started dreaming about the dessert I just knew they would have–New Orleans bread pudding with a bourbon sauce. In fact, I was hoping that there might be other dishes on the menu featuring bourbon as a flavoring–sweet potato casserole, for instance, or buttered carrots with a hint of the Kentucky nectar. A few drops in the slaw would be intriguing. A shot added to the barbecue sauce would raise things to another level. Bourbon is a fantastic all-American flavor, and can make an interesting addition of many a recipe.
Nope. None. Nothing. The concept of cooking with bourbon seems never to have occurred to the chef at a restaurant named Bourbon & Beef. I was flummoxed and gobsmacked. What a lost opportunity, what a crashing lack of creativity, what a lost marketing tie in. You would hope that anyone cool enough to name their business Bourbon & Beef would want to make more of it than just sell a few $20 flights of booze.
So I liked the food, thought the service was competent, wasn’t crazy about all the red naugahyde (or maybe it’s leather, I didn’t get close enough to tell), but I’m let down, disappointed and mildly crushed at the total failure to capitalize on their name and the feelings, images and senses it evokes. What a waste of a concept. I’d still go back for the ribs, though.