Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - October 21, 2011

Save the planet: Eat a burger

Steak Out's burgers are juicy and full-flavored — and even billed as eco-friendly

by Dale F. Bentson

Steak Out is one of those hybrid restaurants that defy classification. It's fast-food but with superior quality; it has no table or bar service but offers an exceptional roster of microbrews; and it has limited indoor seating but a spacious al fresco patio, which works wonderfully unless the weather is ugly.

Opened in early July, Steak Out occupies the space of the former Turkish eatery Bodrum Cafe in downtown Mountain View. Michael Finley has partnered with Mehmet Delgri, principal of Bodrum, in the American-styled food approach. At present, the carnivore selections are burgers and sausages but the menu is set to expand.

"Steaks will be added soon," Finley promised.

"I really want to enjoy what I am doing," said Finley, who spent the past few years learning about high-quality, locally sourced foods while managing farmers markets for Bay Bread of San Francisco. "I've had a long-standing desire to have my own food business." At the farmers markets he rubbed elbows with the area's cutting-edge growers and ranchers.

Steak Out's beef is raised by Morris Grassfed in San Juan Bautista. Morris Ranch practices "holistic" management of its grasslands, which, its website claims, improves land health with rotational grazing and no-till organic farming.

Finley buys whole animals and has them butchered and dry-aged for two weeks, which reportedly adds to the meat's flavor profile. Every part of the animal is ground and used except for the offal. That might not sound appetizing but it is. The beef is juicy but not fatty, tender yet firm and dense enough to hold its shape, and loaded with rich, robust flavors. It should be a crime to douse these burgers with ketchup and mustard.

Morris Grassfed is a seasonal business — cows take their time. Finley is talking to North Bay organic-beef ranchers to supply him during winter months.

Besides top-notch beef, the bun is what distinguishes a great burger from the run-of-the-mill. Finley, with his bakery experience, has developed an exceptional bun that is baked by the Palo Alto Baking Company.

"It's a two-day process," he said. "The yeasted rolls are made from a natural starter."

On a recent visit, I found all the beef burgers, which each weigh a third of a pound, dense and delicious.

The euphoric eUtopia burger ($8.50) was dressed with caramelized onions, horseradish mayo and sharp cheddar cheese. The exceptional eXperience burger ($8.50) came with sharp cheddar cheese, house-made sauce, lettuce and tomato. Meanwhile, the uber-Undressed burger ($8.50) featured a choice of cheese or no cheese, with sides of tomato, pickle, lettuce, red onion.

There were non-meat sandwiches as well. The "crab cake burger" ($9.25) was excellent: a deep-fried cake with shaved fresh fennel, chickpea spread and spicy harissa aioli (hot Tunisian chilies and spices). The veggie burger ($6.75) was a deep-fried chickpea patty topped with onion, cabbage, tzatziki sauce and roasted-red-pepper spread.

Sausages came with options: caramelized onions, roasted sweet or spicy peppers, sauerkraut and tomatoes, plus an array of mustards from the condiment bar. With the delicious andouille sausage ($5.95), I chose the harissa aioli and sauerkraut. The bun was fat with tender meat and fixings.

While the price was right, the grilled cheese tomato sandwich ($4.50) was nothing special. Grilled cheese sandwiches, chicly referred to as "melts," are hot items right now amongst foodies with exciting cheeses and fabulous breads, often grilled in panini machines. The grilled cheese at Steak Out was something most people could concoct at home in less than five minutes. No "melt" here.

Good and plentiful were the sweet-potato fries ($3.50) with chipotle dipping sauce. Regular fries ($2) sat too long in the warming tray: saltless, brittle and, because they were not made to order, flavorless.

I am not much of a beer drinker and can't comment much on the quality of Steak Out's labels. I love the names of the microbreweries, though: Rogue Dead Guy Ale (draft), Mad River Steelhead Pale Ale (bottle), Lost Coast Great White (bottle), Wandering Aengus apple cider (bottle) and Spaten Optimator (draft). In all, there are two dozen choices.

For sweets, the vanilla-bean-gelato milkshake was good but not worth $4.50 — and please don't use dispenser whipped cream as an ooze-over-the-sides messy topper. For that price I expected more shake and less ooze.

But the beef was well worth it. The restaurant offers the choicest of full-flavored, grass-fed beef, with all the attendant environmental appropriateness, in a fast-food setting. Eating can be a quick or leisurely experience depending on how much time one has.

If Steak Out ever launches a marketing campaign, I might suggest its slogan should be "Save the planet: Eat a burger."

Steak Out

383 Castro St., Mountain View

650-209-0383

Open daily: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

www.steakout.us

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