Someone's in the Kitchen With Satan
Day One: Ruth's Chris Steak House on Van Ness. Fairly classy, fairly expensive. A 45-minute wait means something's going on here. It's the Meat World, carnivores in their forties and fifties, maybe their siblings. Everyone is jowly and jolly, bellies comfortably drooped over waistbands. The room is slightly drunk, noisy yet somehow dangerous -- people not at all afraid to pistol whip a hippie who looks at them funny. No trendy haircuts or cutting-edge clothing -- just wide-hipped folks in need of a cocktail and a slab of beef the size of their head.
Your $24 porterhouse steak arrives on a plate of still-sizzling butter, held confidently by Michael the waiter, anemic-skinny in odd contrast to the rest of the place. The garlic mashed potatoes are smooth and steaming hot. The table is vibrating with poisonous cancer and quadruple-bypass surgery. Welcome to the roaring gates of Hell.
Every so often danger is necessary. Edward R. Murrow reported the bombing of London from a rooftop. George Plimpton suited up for the Detroit Lions. Hunter S. Thompson -- well, we all know what happened in Vegas. In this age of fitness, veganism and California guilt, the time is right: to actually eat a bloody, corpusculent steak every day for a week. Can it be done?
Being from two generations of Montana cattle ranchers myself, colon cancer is like comin' home. And yet to many, meat is the inevitable solid meal, from settling a sports bet to celebrating an anniversary. Wash it down with some booze and waddle off to the Plymouth with a missing hubcap, damn the panhandlers. Is it good or bad? Everybody lives life their own way. If you wish to tear into animal flesh, who is Jeremy Rifkin to dictate why rural livestock businessmen should reverse 200 years of industrial enterprise and raise soybeans on land that can't handle it?
And what about all the cancer doctors? What about their needs?
Day Two: Charlie Brown's Steakhouse sits on the top floor of the Cannery, one of 24 franchises littered up and down the California coast. A mere $17.95 gets you salad, potatoes and the "Cajun-style prime rib," covered in crushed black peppercorns, with an extra little cup of special sauce containing an actual shot of Jack Daniel's!
A century ago, when Jack Daniel first began cooking up sour-mash bourbon in Lynchburg, did he have any idea that someday a table of Japanese tourists in tennis shoes would use his whiskey to daintily dunk a bite of pepper-coated prime rib?
The waitress admits that Harris' has the best beef in town, and sends back your "extremely rare" steak to be browned into the "medium" you ordered. You return to your book. In the opening pages of James Ellroy's new crime novel, American Tabloid, some guy gets shot in the head in the Everglades and falls into a rosary to be eaten by gators. The prime rib lands in the stomach with a thud. It's going to be a long week. As you leave, three bald losers in extremely bad toupees are ordering drinks in the lounge. Jesus, guys, at least split up.
Day Three: Tad's Steaks, on Powell near Union Square. You grab a plastic tray emblazoned with a big "Tad's" logo, tell the chef what you want, slide down the line and in three to five minutes you're sitting at a formica table staring at a steak, baked potato and salad for a puny $5.99. The crowd is primarily Japanese, sampling our traditional American cuisine, including an eight-year-old boy with a "San Francisco Muscle Club" T-shirt. If only he knew.
Tad's is cost-effective class: black-and-red velvet patterned wallpaper; overhead, two naked cupids hold aloft the main chandelier. Each table is decked with sauces, should one need to add any flavor. The meat itself is stubborn clumps of fat and sinew, but then it's only six bucks. Why complain -- you're getting a bone out of the deal! Many people are here alone, silently gnawing and looking off into the distance. Something in the air says finish your plate and don't dawdle.
Day Four: Izzy's in the white-bread Marina. More chubby carnivores, but a surprising number of younger Muffys and Biffs bounding in the door in their Cal sweats. Out of all the steak joints in town, Izzy's is the best bargain, with a typical New York steak running at $18.95, including two side dishes. This leaves more money either for drinks, or perhaps a post-meal low-fat acidophilus half-skim double decaf lattŽ at a Chestnut Street coffeeshop jammed with Aryan Gapheads.
In the Meat World, things seem simpler. You consider getting a crewcut, firing up a Pall Mall and driving your Jeep over an endangered species. Hey, maybe Gingrich and Limbaugh are the Chosen Ones after all! They'll carry the heads of vegetarians on sticks, and walk us through the streets to the new millennium, humming Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold." Laptops and prime rib for everyone!
Day Five: Dwindling resources suggest the Sizzler on Webster and Geary. Despite all those close-up TV commercials of steaming, dripping, glistening beef and shrimp, the steaks here are a pale insult, and a persistent David Sanborn/Kenny G fog emits from ceiling speakers in a fine saccharine mist. Thankfully it's just $8 for USDA top sirloin, including a wimpy potato. Chewing your fifth hunk of meat in as many days becomes agony. Your jaws haven't worked this much in years. You walk out into the parking lot and feel like picking a fight.
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