Friday, March 16, 2007

Where Steak is 50 Cents a Gram

I am pretty sure that New Zealand is not flooded with places that sell steak at 50 cents a gram, even more sure that there are very few places which would require one to purchase at least 200 grams of said steak. So, I must naturally be talking about Auckland - thanks to the new bargain way to buy random flights on Air New Zealand, I had a four day weekend there last week, ex Queenstown. One of my key plans was to visit the Jervois Steak House, after reading a review in Cuisine. I've been wanting a steakhouse experience ever since I went to Canada a couple of years ago, and the desire has recently been rekindled by an article in the NY Times about them. Technically, I did go to a steakhouse in Niagara Falls, but it was a Dinseyfied, McDonaldised version.

I don't think they quite got the aesthetic right with the Jervois - it is a green and white old-Ponsonby style villa still comprised of several small rooms, white table cloths and sharply dressed wait staff, looking for all the world like a fine dining establishment. But their menu is predominantly steak in its various cuts - I couldn't quite justify the $100 Wagyu, so went for a large Prime Rib (roast for 10 hours at 60 degrees) with a candied Kumera side while my friend branched out and had elk. She liked it on the basis that it didn't taste of much! But it wasn't until we were at the Himalaya Nepalese Restaurant in Parnell the next night that I could formulate my opinion about the Jervois Steak House - it was very nice, the service was very good (even if they did have a habit of materialising behind me without my noticing) but ultimately it was just steak, nicer than many I have eaten sure, but not a transcendant experience by any means.

In fact, one of my best eating experiences in Auckland was also my cheapest - we popped into Dida's cafe because we were a bit early for our steak reservation, and they had this wonderful babycake (a tiny sponge) with the most vividly flavoured passionfruit icing. But it was nice to have a companion who enjoys going to good places and spending a little money on food (down here, I tend to go to the budget food places) and so I took full advantage of it, making another visit to Wagamama for their take on modern asian food and to the Sunshine Chinese Restaurant for Yum Char as well as the Himalaya for dinner on the Sunday night. There I was re-acquainted with the delicious puffed rice used in Nepalese cooking. My main wasn't so hot - my friend had already ordered the dish I'd had my heart set on (Sekuwa - a chargrilled meat dish) and the only other one to catch my eye had been a bean and potato concoction. The waiter was very good - he told me it contained gundruk (basically a dried and fermented saag, used by the Nepalese to ensure a green vegetable in the winter) which people tended to love or hate. Of course, I was neutral in my reaction - I wouldn't not eat it again, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have more of it - it introduced a very earthy flavour to what was essentially soup.

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