My friend’s family has been in the meat business for a century. His great grandfather started a company called Golden Packing in 1920, and my friend just re-established the family business in 2020. He got his start learning about and cutting meat, and then later was in sales with various operations. Now he runs his own show, having started his own operation exactly 100 years after his great grandfather did the very same thing. So cool.
His 21st century Golden Packing is even operating in a space that’s literally across the street from their original location in NYC’s meatpacking district on Little West 12th Street. One of the last few remaining meat packing businesses in the area. That’s something special.
He gave me a quick tour of the facility, and we even tasted some burgers and dry-aged steaks that we cooked in the office upstairs. Check out this video of the dry aging room, which is just across from the office:
This place was amazing. The smell of that room permeated through my mask and filled it with a mouth watering blue cheese aroma. I was salivating while taking these pics and videos. If I was in that office it would be hard to keep me from wandering off and just hanging out in the aging room.
Check out the progression on these aged short loin anterior ends. It goes from one day, to five days, to nearly three months.
And that same middle pic, just a week or so later:
Here’s a look at how burgers are made:
I actually made those! Chuck gets cut up into pieces and then turned into ground beef via these machines.
Anyway if you’ve been following along on Instagram, you may have noticed that I’ve been posting some butcher and packing type pics and videos lately. That’s because I’m “interning” here at Golden Packing, learning the business!
That’s right. I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is, and stepping into this glorious world. Here are some more shots of the day to day:
It’s a lot of fun. I’m learning so much, and somehow I find it exciting to wake up at 3:30am when I’m going to this new “office.”
Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to sample the wares, as you might imagine. For example, I’ve never touched anything as tender as these bone in veal tenderloins:
The skirt steaks are killer. Here’s an easy preparation I did with them to make fajita pitas:
Here’s my treatment of their porterhouse:
What a tasty beauty.
And also their bone-in tenderloin. This was fun!
Really great product, and it’s no wonder that they service so many of the city’s best steakhouses. They DO offer steams for home delivery as well, but the main bread and butter is their restaurant clientele.
For this installation of Beef Advocacy Monday, I figured I would shed some light on the subject of growth promotants. Namely, steroids and hormones used in the feed lot. You may recall that these are sometimes implanted behind an animal’s ear and slowly release over time.
Why would anyone give these substances to cattle, you might ask? There are a few reasons.
First, they act as “preventive medicine” and aid in animal health, much the same way that we use vitamins and supplements. This can mean fewer illnesses for the animal during its lifetime, and less use of antibiotics, which are expensive.
Second, the practice is done to help cattle develop lean muscle while simultaneously eating less feed. This attribute provides two beneficial side effects: One is that the practice helps ranchers and feed yard operators fill our country’s growing demand for lean beef. The second is that it provides dual conservationist/sustainability benefits. By administering growth promotants, the beef biz uses 10% less land and 141 billion fewer gallons of water in beef production operations. That’s pretty kickass. Because the animals become better at converting feed into beef, that means the environment is impacted less.
But are hormones/steroids in beef dangerous to humans? Sure – they could be. But the FDA sets residue tolerance levels for these substances in the same manner they do for other substances that are in our food supply. In addition, the USDA tests beef to ensure that there is no human impact to using these substances to promote cattle growth. Similar to withdrawal times for antibiotic use, these residue levels are closely monitored and heavily regulated. The promotants are re-tested every year, and if the data ever suggests that they’ve become harmful, then their use would be further regulated or disallowed.
As a matter of fact, scientists in the agriculture and protein production field found that animals’ in which promotants were administered had average residue levels that were similar to and sometimes even less than the natural hormonal residue fluctuations in naturally raised beef (no added hormones, no steroids).
I could see this issue being a concern if the residue levels were consistently or significantly higher than those of naturally raised animals, but since that isn’t the case, I’m not worried. I could eat a naturally raised steak right now that has more hormone residue in it than a steak from an animal that was treated with a growth promotant during it’s lifetime. To me, that means there’s really nothing to worry about.
Want to learn more about the beef business? BUY MY BOOK!!! It’s a lot of fun, I promise.
This is pretty much as close as it gets to having a professional level steakhouse broiler at home. With ripping flames that reach as high as 1500ºF, you are putting a serious crust on your steaks when you toss them in here.
The best thing is to see for yourself just how incredible this monster is in action:
More here, from when we christened it at our annual “Meatfest” in the Summer:
I’m so into this thing that I have two of them, the “Otto Lite” and the Pro, yet I have nowhere to use them. I stashed them at friends places, and they reap the benefits more than I do. HA! But if you’re interested in this amazing piece of equipment that will take your steak game to the next level, you can get 10% off with promo code Johnny10. DO IT! You are going to love this thing. Click HERE to explore the Otto Wilde products.
Inevitably, when discussing steaks, I am often asked what my favorite steak or steakhouse is. This is a very complicated answer for someone like me. For example, and by way of analogy, most movie buffs don’t have a single favorite movie. They might have a handful of favorites from each genre, though. Favorite horror (The Shining); Favorite Sci-Fi (12 Monkeys); Favorite Comedy (Trading Places); etc. That’s how I view steaks and steakhouses. So when I’m asked, I always tell people that it depends on the cut. So here we go:
I often consider the rib eye to be the true steak eater’s steak. Bovine bliss. So here are my favorite rib eyes, in order:
This bad boy is only offered on the first Wednesday of every month, and they only get about seven of them, so you have to call ahead to reserve yours. Well worth the effort, and it comes with sides and apps if I recall correctly.
As my buddy Tappi recommended to me, so shall I recommend to you: Get the “English Cut” prime rib here, if you’re lucky enough to score a table in the first place. The other versions are great as well though.
Also, any steak or chop this place has on special is work ordering, whether it is a bone in tenderloin or a porterhouse.
I’ve really come around on this place. At first I was a hater, but now I’m a huge fan. And there’s just something about this classically served prime rib that I can’t get enough of. Dining at The Grill is special, but eating the prime rib there is decadent.
For the manly appetite, this is the place to go. This massive dry-aged, beautifully roasted chunk of beef is probably big enough to share. If you order like I do, you’ll share the mutton as an appetizer and then share this as your entree.
Ahh, the porterhouse. So many places do it well. But there are two that really stand out to me:
Chef Lomonaco does the name Porter House proud with his delicious porterhouse. It always packs a punch of dry-aged goodness.
NEW YORK STRIP STEAK
I don’t order strips as often as I should. My typical game plan at a steakhouse is to share the rib eye as an appetizer, and then share the porterhouse as the main course. And since the porterhouse includes a strip in it, I’m sort of covered. But these two places offer some great stand-alone strips that are worthy of your time.
Time for an updated pic! As their double-entendre restaurant name might suggest, Strip House serves a really good strip. It just wouldn’t be cool if they didn’t. Smear some of the roasted garlic across the always perfectly cooked and beautifully crusted beef, and you’re in heaven.
Transport yourself to the lavish days of Wall Street power meals at the newly re-vamped Harry’s, and treat yourself to their delicious strip. It is classically grilled and mildly dry-aged, but a perfect pink throughout. This meal is just as much about the ambiance as it is about the flavor.
Since I don’t have a vagina, I almost never order a filet unless I’m having a light lunch. That’s not to knock the filet mignon by any means. I just prefer it attached to a porterhouse instead of by its lonesome. But here are a couple of my favorites:
They say it’s for four, but you can definitely take it down with two people. You have to call ahead and ask for this beauty. Similar to the Bowery Steak above, only large format and roasted, served family style. When you call ahead, request that they serve their Pommes Anna to go with it. You will thank me.
It’s been a while since I did one of these beef advocacy posts, although I guess what I do every day is beef advocacy. In any case, I figured I’d whip up a post for you about how beef translates to strength, and why it should be incorporated into your diet and fitness plan.
The first thing I’ll say is that a high quality protein should be the anchor of your plate at meal time.
There really isn’t a more rich, more complete and more appetite satisfying protein source than beef. And when you go lean, you’re removing any unwanted fats as well. One caution is this: watch your portion size. I know that a “steak night” is often viewed as a special meal, and the tendency is to go big when you’re splurging. But if you can keep the portion size down, or share a steak with someone, that’s good.
Another option is to diversify your beef intake to other cuts and not just steakhouse middle meats like rib eyes, strip steaks and tenderloin. Those are just a few muscles in the entire animal after all.
Second, pair your beef with green veggies. Beef will provide you with plenty of zinc, iron, protein and B-vitamins (among others), but plants will get you the vitamin C, fiber and other nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. If you’re cutting down on your typical beef portion sizes (say from 10oz to 5oz), you can double the veggies and not feel guilty about it.
The third thing I’ll say is this: don’t be afraid of carbs! Carbs are energy, and our body craves and feels satisfied by consuming carbohydrates in the same way that we crave and feel satisfied by meat proteins. If you’re active – which you should be – you should never be avoiding carbs altogether unless you’re really trying to cut weight drastically (like at the onset of a comprehensive, physician-assisted weight loss program).
I like to promote carbs that are high in fiber, like whole grains, beans, legumes and starchy vegetables. Consuming fiber helps lower cholesterol, it slows the rate that blood sugar rises after a meal, and it immensely improves the body’s digestive processes.
Finally, beef is fuel for activity, but it’s also essential for muscle recovery and building strength after a workout or a run. Protein consumption afterwards stops muscle breakdown and aids in muscle repair, so eat some high quality protein like beef after a workout to help those processes along.
I guess that about does it. In short, I couldn’t do what I do – lifting three times a week, running over 20 miles a week, cycling, stairs, jumping rope for the length of a boxing match – without the fuel that beef provides me. I encourage you to get out there and be active, and fuel that activity with beef as a part of your nutrition plan. Those high quality proteins are vital!
Want to put in that extra mile? Check out this cool “Strength Field Manual” that “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” just published.
Here’s a run down and guide for all the food I had in Barcelona and San Sebastian. If you followed a link here for a specific restaurant, just scroll down until you see the restaurant name in bold – I did a bulk review here for all of them. In summary, here are my top dishes of the trip:
Mountain and Sea Fideua; Xiringuito Escriba (BCN)
Grilled Prawns; Xiringuito Escriba (BCN)
Roasted Piquillo Peppers; Lomo Alto (BCN)
Mussels in Tiger Sauce; La Mejillonera (SS)
Ham, Cheese, Sardine & Candied Pistachio Pintxos; Txalupa (SS)
Ham & Mushroom Sailboat Pintxos; Karrika Taberna (SS)
Cheesecake; La Vina (SS)
Potato Tortilla; Bar Nestor (SS)
Cream Puff; Izar Pasteleria (SS)
Iberico Pork Shoulder; Kokotxa (SS)
Suckling Lamb; El Asador de Aranda (BCN)
Suckling Pig Tacos; Hoja Santa (BCN)
Vanilla Custard Filled Churro; Random Churro Truck (BCN)
You might notice that the reviews go from BCN to SS and then back to BCN. Very astute of you. That’s because I wrote these in semi-timeline order. We travelled to BCN first, then spent a few days in SS before returning to BCN to finish the trip. In any case, read on and salivate.
TAPAS SIN FRONTERAS (BCN)
We ate here, which was across the street from our AirBnB, to kill some time before check-in on day one of the trip. We got some paella, salumi, and anchovies. Everything here was just mediocre. Not the best way to start the trip, but at least there was some jamon iberico involved.
XIRINGUITO ESCRIBA (BCN)
This beachside paella joint was slammed! There’s a great open-air dining room that overlooks the beach along the Mediterranean Sea, and, as you might imagine, the seafood here is amazing.
The “mountain and sea” paella was visually the star of the show here. Check it out:
But the version that’s made with pasta (fideua) tasted better and had better texture.
We also had some ceviche, guacamole, “pan con tomate,” Galician style octopus and grilled head-on prawns to start.
The prawns were amazing, and one of my top dishes of the entire trip.
The ceviche was just okay, but the guac, the tomato bread and the octopus were all excellent. In fact, that octopus was a close contender for another top dish of the trip. This place was just incredible over all.
Another standout starter was the jamon “air bag.” The crispy cracker-bread pillow gets broken and you eat the ham with it. Awesome.
The highlight of dessert was the pistachio cake with orange sorbet. So delicious!
The other selections weren’t too shabby either, one being a multi-layered combo of dolce de leche and tiramisu, and the other a classic puff pastry and cream combo.
In sum, Xiringuito Escriba is a “must go” spot if you’re looking to eat at the beach in Barcelona.
LOMO ALTO (BCN)
I came across this spot in my research for all things meaty in Barcelona.
This place is all about the beef! Dry-aged, “vaca vieja” (old cow) to be specific. The old cows, some as old as eight years at slaughter, are dry aged for months here, on site. Typically this type of meat is turned into burgers in the US, but here in Spain it is a sought after delicacy.
They offer 12 different breeds of beef to choose from.
Pro tip: say no to the bread. They will automatically bring out bread portions for each person at the table and then charge you upwards of four euro per head at the end. We got them to remove the charge since it was pretty much all stale and we barely touched it. The olives, however, were awesome.
We started with some very meaty items. Tartare, carpaccio and beef tongue. This was a great way to get to know the flavor of dry-aged dairy and old ox meat, which is what these were prepared from. Bold, savory, unique. I really liked all of these, and they came with a pair of nice spiralized potato chip things.
The croquettes were nice as well.
The steak we had was a rib chop from an 8yr old dairy cow that was dry aged for 90 days:
This had some of the most interesting and unique flavor from the dry aging. It tasted like blue cheese. The texture was a little bit aggressive – not tough, but more chewing involved. Some folks love that. Over all I’d say this was an 8/10.
The steak came with roasted piquillo peppers, fries and a salad. The best part of this entire meal was the dish of peppers! They were amazing, and oddly enough a top dish of the trip.
This place is heaven for folks who love dry aged beef, and who also love Spanish beef. A definite must try if that fits your bill. I personally like US beef better, but “when in Rome” … (or, in this case, “when in Barcelona”).
VARIOUS PINTXOS & BARS (SS)
This San Sebastian pintxos joint specialized in mussels and served them something like five or six different ways.
The door handle is even a mussel.
We arrived just as they opened, and as a general matter I found that this is the best way to eat pintxos: Get there early, before the crowds and while the pintxos are freshly made and not collecting bacteria as they sit out on the counter, sans sneeze guards and subject to all kinds of touching.
We tried two mussel dishes: Spicy “tiger” sauce, and wine/herb sauce. Both were incredible, but the spicy tiger sauce (orange/red) was a bit better. Great for bread dipping.
We also had fried calamari two ways: one with shishito peppers and one with a bravas style spicy, creamy sauce. Both excellent.
This unique place was the first and one of our best stops in San Sebastian. It’s definitely worth a stop on your pintxos crawl.
At this place, you need to focus your attention on the cheesecake.
It’s fantastic. Rich, creamy, and delicious.
One order gets you two slivers, so if you’re planning to hit a bunch of places for tapas/pintxos, you can just get a single order to share among two or three people.
This is one spot that every guidebook will tell you is great.
We enjoyed it, but it was mostly more of the same type stuff that you see at other places. In my opinion, it can be skipped.
This joint had one of my favorite bites of the trip: A ham, cheese, sardine and candied pistachio crumble pintxos bite. It blew me away.
When you need a sweet fix, hit this little shop and get the cream puff. I picked the one that looked like a hot dog shaped bun. It was one of the best bites of the trip.
These pine nut clusters were great as well.
If you need a cold sweet fix, this is your place. They have various flavors of ice cream pops, and you can have them dip the pops into various flavors of chocolate and then sprinkled with various toppings. I went with an oreo ice cream pop, dipped in dark chocolate and then hit with crushed waffle cone bits. Awesome.
We hit this spot on a whim before lunch on our last day in San Sebastian and tried a handful of pintxos that looked unique and different from the standard pieces we kept seeing all over the place. Turned out to be a great decision, as that sailboat looking thing (ham and stuffed mushroom) turned out to be one of my favorite pintxos of the trip. Also a great place to have a spritz.
This little spot is essentially a deli/meat shop with some dry goods products for sale as well, but they have a window on the street side where they sell meat cones and sandwiches.
Of course I picked up a cone of ham to walk around with and snack on. The aged flavor was immense on this ham! So good.
My new favorite bar in the world sits on top of Monte Urgull in San Sebastian and overlooks Santa Clara Island and Bahia La Concha. The walk there is half the fun, and the bar itself is in an isolated nook of the castle/battlements of Castillo Monte Urgul. Take a look:
Talk about AVERAGE! Everything here was just meh, but this place is always on pintxos lists for tourists. Pass.
We ate dinner at this seafood joint along the docks.
This was a mediocre meal, but there were a few highlights that were good. This side of asparagus was not fresh. It was canned or pickled.
The grilled octopus was one of the highlights here. It was cooked nicely and had some spicy flavored potatoes with it.
The grilled squid skewers were okay. Nothing special, but not bad by any means.
These prawns were good as well, but not nearly on the same level as Xiringuito Escriba.
The bay scallops were pretty, but a little overcooked.
I enjoyed the baked langoustines though.
BAR NESTOR (SS)
This place is iconic in San Sebastian for all of the main items they serve. Get there at 11:45am and wait to reserve your slice of potato tortilla at 12pm, when Nestor opens the window and starts taking names (they only have 12 slices a day).
It’s one of the best things I ate on the trip. Crispy, gooey, delicious.
Come back at 1pm when they open and sit for a meal. You can reserve a table or spot at the bar when you give Nestor your name for the tortilla. Once seated, they’ll bring out a pair of steaks for you to choose from.
Say yes to the tomatoes; they’re fucking amazing.
Say yes to the peppers; they’re great, too.
The steak itself is 8/10. There’s not as much dry-aged flavor as Lomo Alto in BCN, despite the restaurant and street smelling intensely “dry-agey” and beefy-delicious. That aroma – that Spanish “vaca vieja” – is unique and intoxicating. It doesn’t always translate to flavor, but this cut was more tender and had a better crust than Lomo Alto, so it evened out.
Two slices of potato tortilla, tomatoes, peppers, steak, and two glasses of wine: €63.80.
What an experience! Here’s a short video of the process.
We did the market tasting menu at this Michelin-starred restaurant. It started off with some fancy breadsticks.
Then a trio of snacks – seaweed cake, creamy fish puff and a relatively flavorless bite of something that I can’t seem to remember at the moment (the orange thing).
This white tuna ceviche was fresh and delicious.
I really enjoyed this grilled calamari dish as well.
Kokotxa means cheek in basque, and this hake cheek was a delicious bite for the restaurant namesake.
The crispy skin hake filet was great as well – probably one of the best bites of the meal.
But the star of the meal for me was the iberico pork shoulder, and it was mainly why we chose the market tasting menu instead of the chef’s tasting menu (it wasn’t on that menu). One of the best dishes of the entire trip right here. I wanted three more plates.
The two desserts were both good, and both featured interestingly flavored and balanced sorbets.
Petit fours for the finish:
I definitely recommend Kokotxa if you are in San Sebastian and looking to change up the diet from pintxos. It’s one of the cheaper Michelin-starred places in the area too.
Our final meal in San Sebastian was this chop house. We started with foie gras, lomo (cured pork loin) and roasted piquillo peppers. The foie and peppers were mediocre but the lomo was outstanding.
Another “txuleta” (chop/steak in basque, and the restaurant’s namesake) was consumed here as well. This one had less aged flavor than both Bar Nestor and Lomo Alto, but it was nice and tender. In fact, it was more tender than both of the others, so we evened out again at an 8/10.
Having loved the hake cheeks from Kokotxa the night prior, we went in on two styles of them here as well. Bad move. Should have gotten more meat. The fried ones weren’t as battered or seasoned as I expected, and they were also a little soggy (not crisp). The sauced ones were even worse – they were slimy and seemed almost undercooked.
DINNER AT HOME (BCN)
One of my favorite things about travel in Europe is just hitting the local supermarket (Mercadona) and snacking at home for a meal. High quality stuff for very cheap!
We also got an extra strip steak just for fun… Another 8/10.
…And some lamb ribs as well. These were incredible! I would have called this the best dish of the night if it weren’t for the next one…
The real star here was the 1/4 suckling lamb; a leg:
This crispy skin, fork tender beauty is fall-off-the-bone soft. Simply put, it’s the best lamb I’ve ever had. This dish is reason enough to book your trip to Spain. Skip the vaca vieja and get this!
For dessert, us adults decided to eat some of what was meant to be for the kids. Ice cream in the shape of a dick, and some chocolate cake with whipped cream and ice cream.
This bottle of sweet licorice flavored amaro type liquor came out with the bill. Very nice digestif.
What a meal! This place is a must on your trip to Spain.
HOJA SANTA (BCN)
Hoja Santa customized a tasting menu for us based on a handful of things we were interested in and pointed out to the waiter on their a la carte menu. This Michelin-starred restaurant ended up being the best all-around meal of the trip.
Here’s what we had:
Trio of snacks: gastronomic/spherized olives and peaches, along with a Caesar salad tostada with chicken skin.
Trio of solid cocktails: michelada, mezcal and margarita foam ball. So cool.
Ceviche with catch of the day white tuna and octopus.
Trio of tacos: conchinita pibil taco puff, beef brisket taco with jalapeño tortilla, and bone marrow with sesame tortilla. All awesome, but the brisket with jalapeño tortilla was incredible. One of the best bites of the meal.
Foie gras mole with thin crispy bread and some sort of quinoa meatball things.
Arabic lamb tacos with tomatillo, avocado and sour cream sauce, radish, limes and crispy flour tortillas. These were incredible, and almost shaped up to be the best bite of the meal if it wasn’t for the final savory dish.
Check out how tender this meat was!
One of my lamb rib tacos:
The final savory bite, and best part of the meal – possibly even the best dish of the trip – were these suckling pig rib tacos with cilantro cream, herbaceous pig drippings sauce, pickled cabbage, lime and fresh corn tortillas with pig stamps on them.
Dessert was a frozen orange foam with amaranth, custard and some kind of tahini-like sesame butter.
And finally, and most impressively, corn ice cream with goat cheese, caramel and chocolate truffles. One of the better sweet bites of the trip.
I highly recommend Hoja Santa – you should definitely hit this spot on your trip to BCN.
RANDOM CHURRO VENDOR
These stuffed churros from a churro cart by the famous Gaudi park “Park Guell” (near the Alfonso X metro stop) were awesome. One vanilla custard (best), one dolce de leche (second best) and one chocolate.
Holy fuck I think that about does it! What a ridiculous amount of great food. I hope you take some of my recs if you ever make it over to BCN or SS. Salud!
Over the course of a few days, some Instagram pals and I were able to get a sense of their operations, how they raise their animals and how delicious their proteins are.
The camp itself was pretty awesome. Home base was a nicely appointed “glamping” style tent that can sleep two, outfitted with extremely comfortable beds.
I was more comfortable here than I was in the hotel that I stayed at in San Francisco prior to the drive up. There are nice modern bathrooms with hot water showers near the tents too, so you’re not roughing it in some outhouse or washing up in a lake.
Here’s the event barn and main lawn, where most of the action took place:
Okay so let’s get down to business:
Belcampo Meat Co. is a 100% grass fed and grass finished organic beef producer. They also raise lamb, pork, chickens and turkeys, but they run about 3200 head of cattle total, including their cows, calves and bulls.
The animals are generally about 24 to 30 months old when they reach market weight, after which they go off to Belcampo’s processing plant in nearby Yreka. Most of their beef grades out at USDA choice or select in terms of marbling. However since intramuscular fat (marbling) isn’t a priority for Belcampo in the way that it is for traditional beef producers, the grading almost doesn’t matter.
This was the best tasting grass finished beef I’ve ever had. Truly outstanding!
As you can imagine, at a place called “Meat Camp” your daily scheduled activities are pretty awesome if you’re a raging carnivore like me.
We broke down a beef forequarter, which included the chuck and rib sections.
We also broke down a lamb shoulder, pork shortloins/t-bones, and chickens.
We portioned out chops for grilling, as well as ground up various meats for burgers and sausages.
Yes, we ate LOTS of it.
We even made sausage and tasted several of their incredibly delicious cured meat products with a charcuterie and wine pairing lesson. I think these bites were my favorites of the entire trip!
One of the many impressive things up at Belcampo is the fire wagon, which they use to develop embers and natural charcoal for cooking on their Argentinian style grills, their huge cauldron, and their “Asado Crucifix,” (all of which are made by NorCal Ovenworks).
Another fun lesson was about how they make their “bone broth” and sauce bases, like ragu and soffrito.
When we weren’t cooking, eating or butchering, we toured their farms, fields, and animal paddocks, which consists of about 5,000 acres of grasses and alfalfa.
We also visited the farrowing barn where newly born piglets were nursing from sows.
Just nine months later those babies are pushing 500-600lbs from eating a mixture of pasture, grains, acorns and nuts on the farm.
We saw their chicken train cars and barns, with the animals truly “free range” feeding on bugs, seeds and grasses.
I even got to see their turkeys along the road when I was out for a morning run.
Belcampo goes above and beyond to make their animals comfortable, and they exhibit the utmost respect for the environment. The farm is run like a family, and the love and care they give to their animals translates directly into a high quality product at the end of the animals’ lifecycles.
I think my biggest takeaway – and by far the most important one – is that not all grass-finished beef is the same. I had it in my head that I wasn’t a huge fan of the taste of grass-finished beef, but Belcampo’s product is truly amazing. They definitely changed my mind on that, but their other proteins and products are outstanding as well – especially that charcuterie!
Currently, Saigon Social is chef Helen Nguyen’s pop-up dining experience. The location varies, but the most common spot seems to be at Boys Don’t Cry in the Lower East Side/Chinatown.
A lot of buzz has built up around her dinners – deservingly so – because she’s extremely talented. I’ve eaten her food several times in the past year, and I have to say she’s serving some of the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had in the city.
I haven’t written about her yet because, well, up until now she’s only been doing pop-ups, and for some reason I feel like I can’t talk about pop-ups since they’re so fleeting and temporary.
But Helen is about to open a restaurant here in Manhattan, spearheading the way for great NYC Vietnamese food, along with John Nguyen (Saigon Dep), and Yen Vo and Jimmy Ly (Madame Vo and MV BBQ). Yes, I’m ignoring Brooklyn and Queens Viet food for the moment; there are some great spots out there in the sticks.
Anyway, my wife loves her food too, so that pretty much means it’s legit. Those of you that don’t yet know Helen Nguyen will be saying, “Hey, wait a fucking minute… Johnny GODDAMN Prime was talking about her, and now here she is, all over the news!” But if you read food publications, you may have seen her pop-ups featured as a “must try” for the past year.
Her bo 7 mon (“beef seven ways”) feast was incredible. Her brûlée bone marrow ended up in my top dishes of 2018, not to mention that she can seriously cook steak and makes some of the best pho around.
She knows her meat, as she is deeply connected to the Pat LaFrieda brand. At a recent pop-up, I had her garlic noodles with deep fried soft shell crab, which was incredible.
Also, her meaty fried rice with bone marrow and egg was probably one of the best rice dishes I’ve ever eaten. Highly addicting with that home made scallion oil.
Her newest creation is a banh mi burger. The perfect halfway point between American and Vietnamese, marrying the familiar flavors of both classics.
This beauty is a blend of short rib, chuck and 60-day dry-aged rib eye.
It’s topped with pate, mayo, maggi sauce, pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeno.
What I really like about this burger is that it’s meaty as fuck but it isn’t heavy. Just like Viet food generally, it’s light, fresh, herb-ish, and healthy… but the culture is very meat-centric. And just like a banh mi sandwich, you can eat this and still walk around after, not food-comatosed and yet still craving more.
Look out for these dishes at Saigon Social, coming soon to NYC!
I’ve been holding off on talking about Kow Cattle Company for a bit, hoping to visit the farm and facilities out in Iowa first, but I’ve been privileged to eat so much of it in the past year that I just couldn’t hold back anymore – especially after the beef binge I just had with their product at Nobu 57.
Kow Cattle Company is a small producer of highly marbled, domestically raised wagyu full blood and purebred animals in Iowa. They’re consistently raising cattle that grade out at super high prime, with BMS scores of 8 or higher.
They made a big splash in the NYC meat scene and made some great connections both in the restaurant world and in the influencer world.
Some noteworthy folks who are featuring their product fairly regularly: BLT Steak, Delmonico’s, The Grill, The James Beard House, The Gotham Burger Social Club, Bistrot Leo, Boucherie, and, of course Nobu 57 (and more as well).
One of the owners of the company, Jon Urbana, who has since become a good friend of mine, sent me home with a beautiful strip steak to cook up:
Later, I banged out a tomahawk at home as well. Absolutely stunning.
The high quality, and more importantly the consistency of that quality, is pretty much untouched by any domestic producer of wagyu beef here in the states. I’d love to get some of it into my shop, but they’re currently only shipping direct from their site. Believe me, a LOT of distributors are trying to get their paws on this stuff right now. I’m not alone.
In any case, seeing that Nobu 57 is one of Kow’s purveyors here in NYC, Jon brought me there to try some of the new lot of striploin that they have.
What occurred was nothing less than a Kow Cattle Company strip loin omakase for the ages.
This preparation is thinly sliced, torched and sauced with ponzu and some sesame, rare to raw. Simple and delicious.
Beef nigiri sushi. This had a quick sear on the edges, rare to raw.
Tataki. One of my favorites. Thin sliced after being seared on the edges, rare to raw, and then lightly dressed and garnished with some ginger and shiso.
This was my favorite. This was seared on the edges as well, rare to raw, but sliced a bit thicker and garnished with a black garlic sauce and some micro sprouts. Incredible.
This was similar to sukiyaki, a saucy stew with onions and greens. Really tasty, and it demonstrates that even when cooked through, this stuff is tender and savory.
Classic steakhouse fare here: seared and sliced, rare to medium rare, served with a garlic miso butter on a bed of grilled asparagus. Perfection.
Foie gras and wagyu beef potsticker dumplings. So decadent, and they ate almost like soup dumplings with that burst of liquified foie and wagyu renderings.
I think that covers it. When you go to Nobu 57, you’ll find Kow on the “washu” side of the menu. Ask about some of the preparations you saw here, because they’re not always on the menu. If you know about them, they may accomodate you if they have the ability. Some stuff is limited availablility, so go early and go often.