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Where Y'Eat: Raw Beef Is The New Hot Ticket

Ian McNulty
Beef tartare at the Uptown restaurant Atchafalaya.

Ask chefs to prepare one of their favorite steak dishes, and they may not go anywhere near the grill or the broiler. Instead, many of them will start chopping up meat for beef tartare, the classic French dish served raw.

This cold dish has had a warm spot in the hearts of many chefs and nostalgic gourmets for a long time, and now beef tartare is starting to gain wider appreciation and get some star treatment across a wide range of New Orleans restaurants.

Uptown at Atchafalaya, chopped filet mignon is threaded with sweet and sour red peppers. Downtown at Peche Seafood Grill, lean sirloin is mixed with garlic and spread over an outrageously flavorful smoked oyster aioli. The version at the boundary-pushing Root Squared is positively green with herbs and smoked capers and has a delicate crunch from puffed quinoa. Meanwhile, the venison tartare at Balise in the CBD feels like some kind of deer hunting ritual gone upscale and gourmet. And these are just a handful of recent examples around town.

For those who love it, beef tartare promises a primal flavor and velvety texture, and in the midst of summer heat, these cool dishes and can be more enticing than ever.

Enticing, that is, if you can stomach the idea to begin with. Of course, any mention of a meal of raw meat will make some squeamish, and there’s a very good reason for that.

If they’re on their job, health advocates will advise against eating any meat raw. It doesn’t help that many beef tartare recipes call for raw egg yolk too – so food safety experts have cause to throw multiple red flags here.

In their restaurants, however, chefs will point to high-quality product from trusted suppliers and their own fresh, cut-to-order preparations as safeguards. And more of their diners have been eagerly validating these dishes by making them bestsellers on their menus. 

But if eating raw meat still seems edgy to some people, for many others these dishes represent a form of comfort food, one that reaches far back into the traditions of cuisines from around the world. They’re a staple on Ethiopian menus, for instance, and more examples have been turning up locally too. The new Israeli restaurant Shaya has been giving many their first taste of the Lebanese classic kibbeh nayah. It sounds similar to fried kibbeh, a standard on Middle Eastern menus, but this raw rendition combines grassy-flavored lamb and buttery beef with bulgur wheat, bits of mint and ground walnuts. And at the CBD taqueria Johnny Sanchez you can often find a special for carne apache, a traditional Mexican dish of marinated raw beef, here spooned onto bite-sized tostadas.

So, tartare is riding high, right up there with crudo, raw oysters and other elemental expressions on our menus. Forget the paleo diet, beef tartare might actually qualify as pre-paleo, from an age before man used fire. It’s a trend in play around the country, and it’s happening here in New Orleans. In fact, it seems any way you cut these days, raw meat is one hot ticket.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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