Steak That’s Really Rare

Tartare at Sanctuary.

A lot of people who don’t think twice about consuming raw fish of unknown provenance draw the line at eating raw meat. I was reminded of this paradox over a notably pleasurable business dinner at Sanctuary near the Metrodome recently. My guest, a confirmed sushi aficionado, recoiled in horror when, as part of our tasting meal, Executive Chef Patrick Atanalian sent out a course of what was probably the most amazing steak tartare I’ve ever sampled.

The buttery ground beef was suffused with an ethereal blend of what he later informed me was mustard seed oil, a homemade harissa, green onions, cilantro, salt, and a touch of lime juice. Most amazing of all, the mound of meat was set atop a caramelized pear—a combination that was utterly perfect in its harmony.

Sanctuary’s steak tartare will be on the menu for several months. However, Vincent, a Restaurant always serves a classic version of this personal favorite (a dish that allegedly dates to the nomadic Tatars of Central Asia, who didn’t have time to cook, and tenderized their meat by placing it underneath their saddles). It’s on the bar menu, but can be ordered at the tables. Vincent’s version includes the traditional chopped onions, capers, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and raw egg yolk. It’s served with toast points, but I prefer to smear it on chunks of the restaurant’s superlative French bread.

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Who's Afraid of a Little Raw Meat?

Like some dinner companions, the United States Department of Agriculture recoils in horror at the idea of steak tartare. The USDA recommends, with no exceptions—even when sublime seasonings and soul-satisfying pairings with fruit are involved—that all beef be cooked to an interior temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria like Escherichia coli that might be present. Raw eggs—also a big no-no with the USDA.

Still, Sanctuary’s Patrick Atanalian doesn’t worry about serving steak tartare. High-quality meat handled well is safe, he says, and the acidity of the other ingredients is hostile to bacteria. His take: “People have been doing this for centuries and they’re still alive.”

—Denise Logeland