2004-03-26 : It was the finest steak in the world.
Much as I hate to make sweeping and authoritative statements like the above, in this case it holds true. I have had the best piece of steak I think I'm ever likely to have.
I had parked my car outside Vlado's Charcoal Grill on a prior trip to Richmond, and had mistaken it for some ultra-trendy/exclusive club/lounge. However earlier this year I spotted this article in The Age, and on the strength of the fact that Donald Sutherland loved it, I vowed that I would visit this hall of fine meat.
The first thing I noticed was how small it was, so it was lucky I'd booked 2 weeks in advance… The next thing was the decor – I suspect some of the downstairs diners may have gotten uncomfortable eating steak with great big portraits of cattle all around.
We (Em and I) were directed upstairs and seated, when we got our first look at the menu. From the word go it was obvious that this was not the kind of place one would bother bringing a vegetarian. Although for an indecisive carnivore, it was paradise, as the menu is set for you.
The appetiser was a sausage – the menu detailed which meat cuts went into it, although my memory fails me here – and I ahve to say, I've never had a sausage as tasty as this. Being the first thing I'd ever experienced from Vlado's, it certainly set the scene admirably. Em & I ate our sausage with minimal conversation, pausing only to make appreciative sighing and humming noises.
Next off the line was the entree, which was a selection of small cuts of meat… one was hamburger, there was calf's liver, pork neck, and I think just steak. I'm not a liver fan at all, so that didn't go so well with me, but the rest were sublime. The steak virtually melted in your mouth, and the hamburger, again like the sausage, defied prior definition of the genre by having… well, a TASTE !
During the entree, the waiter came around with a big wooden board with 4 cuts of meat – in a way it reminded me of the scene from Hitchikers' Guide to the Galaxy where the Dish of the Day comes around and introduces itself. So anyway, we selected the steak we each wanted, and explained how we wanted it cooked, and returned to the task of chowing down on some exquisite meat.
For the sake of getting this story finished, I'll skip to the arrival – the smell was almost intoxicating, and upon cutting into the steak (we both had Porterhouse), you knew instantly that this guy knows what he's doing.
Vlado's a Croatian guy who set the restaurant up 30 odd years ago, and since then he's been perfecting his technique and his meat sources. I didn't have the pleasure of meeting him, but he sure knows how to do a steak !!
There's not a vegetable to be seen in sight, and the only salad around is a bowl of something that looked like shredded lettuce which they placed on our table at some point. You know you *should* have some, but you just don't want to, for fear you'll have to meave some of that beautiful steak uneaten… and THAT would be a crime ! The flavour of it was just amazing, being a combination of the absolute prime meat that Vlado selects himself, and the smokes from the wood fire, which again Vlado prepares himself, all day with great care.
To finish off I gingerly ate my strawberry pancake – the only item of anything fruity which passed my lips, and it was almost as an afterthought at that.
If I never eat another piece of meat in my life, it won't matter, because I've had the best there is. And suffering iron deficiency is certainly a low risk after that meal too. I only wish I'd sneakily grabbed a photo – words do it no justice, especially when wielded by me.
Note for Spiro: I guess we'd better crack out a couple of those famous O'Connell's T-Bones and do our best to get them up to scratch…!