Friday, August 31, 2007

Local Pastured Meat: Dinner at The Linkery

"We get to know the people who make the best stuff in the world so that we can bring it to you along with its story." The Linkery.

The Linkery is a different sort of restaurant, and since the Region restaurant in Hillcrest closed its doors last October, it is one of its kind in the city. The vision of its founders is to provide excellent food produced by farms that promote sustainable practices and organic principles. They cook in season (this means a constantly changing menu depending on what's available) and label many of their menu items with their provenance. Strangely, The Linkery has received only a mediocre review in the San Diego Union-Tribune and is noticeably absent from local foodie websites such as Slow Food San Diego and San Diego Roots. They're also missing from the Eat Well Guide and Food Routes directories of restaurants serving local fare. If I hadn’t found the proprietor Jay Porter and his online blog, I would have just assumed The Linkery was just like every other hip, North Park restaurant that’s offering mediocre fare. As it turns out, these guys are anything but mediocre and are, in fact, on the cutting edge of the knowing-where-your-food-comes-from trend.

Imagine my excitement when I learned that local pastured meat - for the first time ever at The Linkery and perhaps at any San Diego restaurant since the mid-twentieth century - was on Tuesday's menu for the Green Flash Brewmaster's Dinner! With the potential of local meat, local beer, and a local emphasis in the other dishes, I didn’t hesitate a moment.

Here was the menu:

Chilled soup of Japanese cucumbers (Cunningham Organics) with lemon oil (backyard lemons from North Park) and micro rocket (Connelly Gardens). Paired with: Cask conditioned Green Flash Summer Saison.

Pastured local goat (RC Livestock) also fed Green Flash barley, in a banana-leaf wrapped tamal with five spice and Swiss chard (J.R. Organics) and braised Pinquito beans from Santa Maria. Paired with: Green Flash Hophead Red.

Salad of heirloom tomatoes (Wingshadows Hacienda and Stowell Tom-King Farms) and wild rocket (Kenter Canyon) with goat cheese and vanilla. Paired with: Green Flash Le Freak Belgian-style ale.

Pepitas financier with pineapple confit, house made vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Paired with: Green Flash Barleywine.

During our meal, we had the opportunity to speak to Jay briefly and learned that they're planning on having local pastured meat on the menu regularly within a couple months. This is exciting news since, as of this moment, purchasing local, pastured meat for our home hasn’t been possible (putting a bit of a damper on our efforts to eat completely locally). As it is, the meat procured for that evening’s dinner had been difficult to find even for The Linkery. According to Green Flash's brewmaster Chuck Silva (who also kindly came to our table to visit while we were having dinner) Jay actually bought the live goats, rented a trailer, and then carted them up to the processing plant himself. (As a side note, the goats that made it into our dinner were actually fed partly on the spent barley seeds from that San Marcos brewery.) Jay has promised to pursue placing pastured meat in an existing retailer so that people such as ourselves can purchase it for our home-cooked meals.

The infamous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California (founded in 1971) approaches food in much the same way as The Linkery. According to their website, they have “stitched together a patchwork of over sixty nearby suppliers, whose concerns, like the restaurant's, are environmental harmony and optimal flavor.” Another great example is the unique Outstanding in the Field restaurant that serves their (expensive) meals actually on the site of the growers' farms throughout the west. Chez Panisse, Outstanding in the Field, and The Linkery are excellent examples of restaurants working outside of the larger restaurant supply structure (the one in which ordering the ingredients means calling up one distributor who will then deliver everything in one go). The alternative requires a much more intelligent, labored approach. For many chefs and proprietors, that means sitting down with farmers at the beginning of the planting season and choosing what will be grown and how. For Jay, it means renting a trailer and driving the goats to be processed himself. I’m convinced that only the best-trained chefs can pull off an ever-changing menu that not only satisfies, but actually reflects culinary achievement.

The Linkery gave me that on Tuesday night. To be certain I was not blinded by my now-quite-frantic search for local, pastured meat, my husband came along to offer his more balanced opinion of the meal. He heartily approved of the beers (the Hophead Red and Barleywine being his favorites), which was not a small feat considering his snobbishness in that area. The final test came when the bill arrived along with an option to sign up for the The Linkery newsletter. Brian didn't hesitate to hand over his precious spam-free email address. That is some serious stuff!

I received a lot of satisfaction from reading the menu, even recognizing some of the farms as those from whom I had purchased food. The place was buzzing by the time we left at 8:30, with a line of people waiting for tables. Our sincerest complements to the staff, the chef, and the brewmaster of The Linkery! The meal was a great success!

If you’re interested in learning more about the actions some chefs are taking in order to have local, sustainable food on their menus, you will probably find this Deconstructing Dinner podcast interesting.


Diane said...

Glad to hear your experience at the Linkery was such a success. What does goat taste like? (And please don't say "chicken"!)

Melanie said...

It tastes a bit like lamb actually!

Rebecca said...

I was not aware that people (in America, at least) ate goat at all! My husband once said that he thought gyros were made of goat meat, and I laughed him off the planet! Maybe I owe him an apology...