1: Spago's Veal Filet Mignon Tartare.
When it arrives at your table, Wolfgang Puck's iteration of veal tartare may look more like a Sally Mann photograph than your dinner. But inside the twin marrow bones is not, well, marrow, but the centerpiece of a beautifully orchestrated dish. A perfect dice of raw veal — neither too coarse nor too fine, the mistake some chefs make with tartare — is topped with a thin layer of smoked mascarpone, a visual reference to the fine strata of fat that comes atop many ramekins of pâté.
The veal, a combination of the loin and tenderloin, is buttery and minimally seasoned, the smoked mascarpone, a drizzle of Tuscan olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt providing counterpoint. Accompanying the bone pillars is a tangle of lightly dressed greens and fried garlic, two crisp baguette toasts — stacked lengthwise like planks at a tiny construction site — and a small pool of caper and shallot-laced mustard sauce. You're given a dainty spoon with which to lever the tartare onto your toasts, a utensil that will possibly engender dreams of high tea service.
And if you've tired, over the years, of the more predictable variations of steak tartare, often comprised of bland cuts of beef, maybe topped with a raw quail egg like an afterthought, this dish will erase all sad memories. It's a playful, perfectly executed and incredibly flavorful take on a classic presentation. Order the dish, and maybe some others. Sit in the patio. Pray for rain, if only so that you can watch the roof roll in overhead like mechanical cloud cover.
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