Friday, February 22, 2008

Restaurant Spotlight: ...and the "Bum Steer" Award Goes to....Elway's

Since the Oscars are coming up, I thought I'd start an award of my own: The Bum Steer Award. And it's going to the new Elway's downtown.

Designed to appeal to an upscale crowd, including "people living downtown, people traveling, and a heavy convention crowd at night," Elway's Downtown offers "100% USDA Prime Beef steaks, hand-cut on the premises, by the piece seafood raw bar, great wines at great prices, and a comfortable, memorable and attentive dining experience."

The Denver Post's Bill Husted reports that: "prices at Elway's Ritz-Carlton are about $1-$2 more than the same dishes in Cherry Creek. But breakfast at Elway R-C starts with one egg, any style, for $9. Kobe beef tasting is $65 for four ounces. . . ."

Wait. Did I hear Kobe beef?

Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle, which are genetically predisposed to intense marbling and (supposedly) superior taste. According to Wikipedia, "The meat from Wagyu cattle is known worldwide for its marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness, and thus a high market value."

Wikipedia also outlines the health benefits associated with Kobe beef: "Because of the Wagyu cattle's genetic predisposition and special diet including beer and sake, wagyu yields a beef that contains a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than typical beef. The increased marbling also improves the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats."

Various website promoting Kobe beef also praise the producers of these animals for raising them in luxury. Here's some marketing language from The Allen Brothers Website (purveyors of "Great Steakhouse Steaks.") "Wagyu cattle gain their tenderness from the exceptional way in which they are cared for. Wagyu are traditionally fed beer to maintain their fat content, and enjoy frequent massages and Sake rubs, where the fine rice wine is actually brushed into their coats to keep them supple. The resulting meat is nothing short of incredible."

Now, before you take out a second mortgage and go rushing down to Elway's for a sample, you should check out an article by Barry Estabrook in the December 2007 issue of Gourmet Magazine entitled Raising the Steaks. In it, he quotes Raymond Blanc, one of the few Western chefs to have visited a Japanese Kobe beef farm, and David Blackmore, an Australian cattle rancher who has made multiple visits to Japanese farms and agricultural centers over the years.

They paint a much different picture.

According to Blanc, "The animals were kept in some kind of crate, so there could be very little movement. They were very dirty from their own manure. It was disgusting, such a contradiction from what I'd read."

According to Blackmore, "From the time they are a week old until they are three and a half years old, these steers are commonly kept in a lean-to behind someone's house where they get bored and go off their feed. Their gut stops working. The best way to get their gut working again is to give them a bottle of beer. The steers have been lying in their own manure. The farmers are proud of their cattle, and the first thing they do is grab a bit of straw and rub the manure off. That could be seen as being massaged. Wagyu can also get a lot of joint swelling. I can imagine that farmers would be massaging joints so they could get the animals off to market."

According to Charles Gaskins, a Wagyu expert at Washington State University, "The steers grow so big and heavy, they get arthritic. It's a matter of keeping the animals going until they are ready to be harvested."

Elway's offers three different kinds of Wagyu beef on its tasting menu, including Kobe Kaishiki Farm Beef, Australian River Ranch Beef, and Clear Creek Farm American Beef. Just for kicks I checked out the Clear Creek Farm Website to see what they said about their beef, and I was pleased to find a web page devoted to animal health. However, when I clicked on it, there was no meaningful content on that page. Hmmm. I wonder why?

Now, I don't want to diss John Elway; anyone with a pulse in Denver has to remember the glory days of the Superbowl(s). He's active in charitable causes and you've got to love that.

Nor do I want to diss Elway's restaurant. In my previous Corporate life, I had a couple of work-related dinners there that were pretty darn good.

But I do want to sugest that he's missing an opportunity. What could be better than offering Colorado-raised, grass-fed beef and other meats to all those Convention Center tourists? Good for the customers, good for the cattle, good for local ranchers and good for Colorado.

Come on, John. Help us get the local foods movement over the goal line.


Hillary Dickman said...

Absolutely a missed opportunity by Elway. It's sad that he clearly hasn't considered the many impacts that his restaurant makes (and could make).

homegrown colorado girl said...

Thanks, Hillary,

Let's give him a chance to evolve.

Meanwhile, everyone who goes to his restaurant (or into any other restaurant, grocery, specialty food store in the state) should start asking for Colorado meats and other local products!