Wow! What a Day! – Part 3 of 3

 

 

I’ve been sharing moments (here and here) from a recent day Mister and I spent at Venice Beach. I’ve saved our main reason for being there until now. But first, I feel I should backtrack and fill you in on why we decided to hit the beach in the first place…

 

 

It started over dinner at Lawry’s. Mister was seated next to our friend, Betsy. Drunk Mister and Betsy were gabbing away about something or other, and I was talking to folks near me so I wasn’t hip to what Mister and Betsy were discussing. I only found out the next day: they were talking about attending a chef’s lesson in butchering a lamb. After working out the details with Betsy, the date and time were set. We were going to meet Betsy at Venice’s Barnyard restaurant to butcher a lamb ourselves.

 

Our 1 pm start was pushed ever so slightly, as the delivery truck (carrying the lamb) was battling L.A. traffic. That was no problem, however, as chef Jesse Barber brought out a lovely tray of nibbles and some even lovelier wine to tide us over. (Can you say “Day Drinking’?) Before we knew it, the kindly driver had arrived with the lamb.

 

 

If I’m remembering correctly, that lamb came from a reputable farm in the Sonoma area, and had been dry-aging for a few days (having been slaughtered just under a week prior). Every aspect of the lamb’s life – from grazing to slaughter – was care-filled and conscientiously handled.

 

 

Even the “USDA” stamps on the meat were accomplished with blueberry juice, so as to be edible and natural. When I asked Chef Jesse if all meat stamps were made of blueberry juice, he assured me they most certainly are not, and that the natural stamp was only one example of how the Sonoma farm is a level above others.

 

 

So it was time to begin. First things first, Betsy, Mister and I diligently washed our hands, as we would be participating in the butchering lesson. All scrubbed, we were ready to begin.

 

 

First, Chef Jesse began by separating the legs from the lamb’s body.

 

 

He explained how the knife “knows” where to go in accomplishing this, and that one need only follow the lines of the joints for most of the butchering. He also showed us how gravity and the weight of the super-duper sharp knife do a lot of the work. He was right, too.

 

 

Once the legs had been separated, it was time to butcher the lamb’s trunk, or torso.

 

 

Chef Jesse explained how to use a mallet and a cleaver to cut through bone, and that it needs to be accomplished with one fell swoop.

 

 

He told us how cutting through bone with one swoosh will generally eliminate splintering. Splintering is no bueno, y’all, as the tiny bone shards will lodge themselves in the surrounding meat. And no one wants to pick out tiny pieces of bone from their food.

 

 

So! Swinging the mallet and cleanly cutting through bone ends up being the way to go.

 

 

It does require focus and strength, and Betsy and Mister had zero-point-zero problems with that!

 

When it was time to separate the ribs, Chef Jesse first cut a line a few inches up from the ribs’ end.

 

 

This was to make riblets. He cleavered through each rib bone and that mission was accomplished.

 

 

Chef Jesse took some time in telling us about how important it is to properly remove the spine from the animal, as that part of the body holds not-so-great flavor and can adversely affect the food. He also educated us on how to spot glands in the animal’s fat. Fat – good! Glands – not good! This part of the day’s class was particularly enlightening to me, as I encounter glands in the meat I prepare at home all the danged time. And y’all, I always thought those glands were just meat bits. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Chef Jesse drove this lesson home when he allowed me to smell an embedded gland as well as the surrounding meat. The meat smelled fresh, and really sort of like nothing. The gland? It didn’t smell great. It was game-y and a little offensive. Lesson learned.

 

 

Chef Jesse also taught us about the ugliness of “silver skin” and how imperative it is to remove it from meat, as it’s un-cuttable and un-chewable. He showed us how to cut it away in a clean swoosh, versus sawing back and forth. The clean cut, he said, leaves a smooth, flat surface that will cook evenly and beautifully. The back and forth sawing motion, however, leaves a mottled surface that can’t take even heat during cooking. I did my best, but even with Chef Jesse’s professional knife, I succumbed to my sawing-motion habit. Clearly, I have much to learn. (And yes, I do realize that is the understatement of all time.)

 

 

When Chef Jesse had finished the magnificent butchering demonstration and Betsy, Mister and I had again washed our hands, the class was over. Betsy darted off to an appointment and Mister and I chatted a bit with the Chef. Not only did we thank him profusely, we also told him how excited we were to come back some time and dine at his restaurant. The man is a professional, so he asked what time we’d like to return that night. Knowing we would be back in the area that evening for our friends’ gallery closing, we figured we might as well hang out at the beach all day! We said we’d return at opening time (5:30 pm), shook hands and headed out the door.

 

 

That’s when we opted to walk around the beach for a few hours. After that, we chose a nice car nap. At the appointed time, we moseyed back over to Barnyard to sample some of that beautiful lamb we’d helped to butcher earlier in the day. Betsy arrived and we all took seats at a primo table and made ourselves comfortable.

 

I’m going to tell you now – I did not take a stream of food photos. I chose to simply enjoy the amazing menu Chef Jesse put together for us, and I do not regret my focus. Yes, the photos would come in handy here, but they would have annoyed me (and probably everyone in the vicinity) at that time. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you how magnificent each and every course was: the Crudo of the Day – Fresh Hamachi; the Grilled Octopus; the Grilled Bread; BOTH Salads; the Pilota (Italian Fried Rice); and the Gnocchi Bolognese.

 

 

And then it was time. A beautiful plate of Lamb Ribs and Leg meat was placed before us and we were awed. Knowing we’d witnessed the freshness and quality of the meat earlier in the day only served to make us love it more.

 

After the Lamb had been devoured, we were treated to a dessert tray of Panna Cotta, Chocolate Mousse and Salted Caramel Budino. I’m not even a sweets-addict, but I sure did dig into those desserts. And I was in heaven. When we realized we’d been there over 3 hours (that is not a mis-print, y’all), Betsy, Mister and I figured we’d better take our leave so that we might actually make it to our friends’ gallery closing before they locked the doors. We stopped on our way out of the restaurant and bought the kitchen staff a round of beers (I so love that option – printed right on the menu), thanked everyone we could for an unforgettable experience and stepped out into the unseasonably warm night.

 

Personally, I’d like to thank Drunk Mister for even remembering his conversation with Betsy about the butchering lesson. And I especially want to thank Betsy for thinking to include us in such a unique activity. She’s a pretty cool chick.

 

 

I don’t plan to butcher a lamb in my own kitchen any time soon. (Though I can watch Chef Jesse perform the task in this informative video.) I do believe I’ll do a better job, however, the next time I clean a chicken. And I also hope to return to Venice Beach’s Barnyard restaurant. If you end up in the area at some point, you would be well-served to dine there yourself. Actually, well-served doesn’t begin to tell the story. What a beautifully realized experience this restaurant is. I am truly in awe.

Wow! What a Day! – Part 1 of 3

 

 

Mister and I had occasion to spend a day last week at Venice Beach. (I’ll go into the reasons and those details in my next few posts.) The day was a hot one, and though the Pacific Ocean looked mighty inviting, we know just how cold that water is and, well, how dirty it is, too. So we admired its coolness from a distance and walked around the area for a few hours.

 

We passed by a bit of graffiti that was too personal to ignore…

 

 

We saw the canals of Venice, which look nothing like the canals of Venezia, but are still pretty danged awesome…

 

 

We also walked the Boardwalk for a few miles and I have to admit, I definitely slipped into freak-overload there. I usually enjoy the people-watching at the beach. For some reason, this trip just got to be too much. I blame the heat, as it was in the high 90′s – at the beach! That’s unheard of, y’all. So when Mister and I had hit the beach wall, I suggested we head back to our car and take a bit of a nap before our local evening commitment. I love that guy for about a jillion reasons, and his agreeing to a car nap was at the top of the list that day, I tell ya.

 

 

So after our evening commitments and a long, long day (again – I’ll tell all in the next couple of posts), it was time to head home.

 

I snapped one last pic of Venice Beach and we aimed toward sleep. On the way home, all I could say was, “Wow! What a day!” It surely, surely was.