The main yard of the Princeton University campus seemed a cold, dreary, and largely lifeless place to me as I strolled through it with my brother and sister-in-law a few days ago. Gothic spires towered over naked trees and shrubs, bells rung ominously. The cool, moist air felt saturated with grim intellect and oppressive, stern academia, almost to the point of making it difficult to breathe. The plight of ivy. Nevertheless, I was in good company and we maintained a rather sunny disposition, especially as we explored Nassau Street. We chatted about how much it reminded us of “downtown” Aspen, where we once spent a week together skiing during my brother’s astrophysics conference last January. With Christmas lights adding a comforting glow to the street, the two places looked very similar, except for the absence of mountains in the one case. Plus, Princeton is in New Jersey…
Reminiscing in words and in meaningful silences lead to reconnecting, which was nice and much needed for us, or at least for me. Due to the changing shape of our nuclear family, our Thanksgiving was a tad all over the place (literally) this year and we didn’t really get the chance to spend any real time together during the visit. It was good to get away from all of that and to spend time thinking about a trip that brought us so much closer than we had been for a long while. It was better still that we happened to stop for dinner at a place that very closely resembled Steakhouse No. 316, where we had dinner on the last night of our Aspen trip. A classic American steakhouse with traditional cuts and some wild card signature entrees thrown in. A solid wine list. Booths and white linens, live jazz in one corner. Our waitress was a tad snarky and she didn’t really know how to properly serve wine to those paying a hefty retail markup for it. But the quality of the food and the fact that neither my brother, nor his wife notice or care about this kind of thing made it insignificant. She got the tip she deserved and we got the wonderful meats we paid for.
The wine we ordered, which went un-decanted and was dumped into our glasses quite like sludge into a trough, was a Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages. It was nice, with cherry and raspberry notes from the Gamay and a little hint of black pepper, though it remained mostly fruity all the way through. Dry enough, but I might have gone for something a bit more tannic and spicy to match the food we ordered. Nevertheless, fantastic as an intro to the meal.My sister-in-law and I shared a 12 oz. Filet Mignon, cooked rare, with which we ordered some bordelaise that came on the side. It was a longer piece of the tenderloin than what I’m used to with filet mignon, but one which was consistently delicate and satisfying all the way through. Tender, juicy meat cooked perfectly with a peppery, slightly smoky sear and bloody, moist flesh inside. A light layer of crunchy onion strings over the top, easy for the filet mignon purist to scrape off, but enough for those ordering this cut well done to get some nice texture in their meal. The bordelaise was a bit goopy and too starchy, a gravy-like thing which proved to be largely unnecessary, since the quality of the cut itself was great. Easy to chew, soft flesh and juice with plenty of flavor on its own. As a side we chose the Pan Roasted Mushrooms, which came with just enough sauce to make the slightly gummy, earthy ‘shrooms glossy and easy to eat, but not too much to smother them. The red wine in the sauce harmonized well with the umami soil notes of the fungus and plenty of black pepper combined with smoky char made this a perfectly bold side to the delicate red meats. As a slightly rarer treat we ordered the 16 oz. Veal T-Bone just as we had ordered the buffalo at Steakhouse No. 316. It was a cut that I had personally never had before and when I saw it, I barely recognized it as veal. I’ve only had the latter pounded thin, breaded and shallow fried. But this thing was thick and saturated with juice that seemed to spill forth from the fibers of flesh with each knife cut. My brother cut me a piece and I rejected it, telling him the piece was all fat. He apologized and cut me another piece, identical to the one already on my plate. As it turned out, the meat was so light in color and so angelically soft and giggly that I had mistaken flesh for fat, a fact which became apparent to me as soon as I actually tasted the stuff. Soft and smooth, melting like butter over my tongue as the meat of any baby animal should do. A deep beefy flavor had not developed yet and the veal had a milder, subtler taste to it. Some smokey, crunchy char, a peppery wine sauce and some equally peppery little mushrooms over the top helped in this department but none of these additions smothered the naturally delicate essence of the meat within. It was a rotating special which replaced the lamb that my brother had at this place with some Princeton professors a few weeks back. They should probably maintain a close relationship with whatever purveyor got them these wonderful cuts and keep them on the menu (at least until I visit my brother again…)
A smooth-drinking red, two bleeding hunks of meat and plenty of conversation. Feeling confortable wearing a sweatshirt in a room full of cashmere. Feeling proud to wear Harvard in a room full of Princeton. That’s how the three of us roll and that’s how I hope we will always roll. I eagerly await our upcoming trip to Patagonia and the chance to feast on gaucho-style cuts of Argentine moo-moo, washing it down with the funky, “animal” Malbec unique to the region. Placing aside everything that sets us apart, it’ll feel good to feel like siblings again.