Our restaurant Ox, in Portland, Oregon, is a new-age steakhouse.
We're serving off-cuts of meat, and we are cooking them differently. This may sometimes mean serving cuts that are a little more gristly than your average steak.
Since, as we all know, eating meat is not the most environmentally friendly practice, we hope to encourage our guests to eat the way we like to eat. This means not eating a completely beef-centric meal. Even in a place that many would consider a steakhouse, we don't want to promote the overconsumption of meat. The biggest misconception about Ox is that we are strictly a meat-lover's restaurant, but we actually get lots of vegans and vegetarians who love the experience of eating here.
Not too long ago, we had a 12-top of vegans and vegetarians come in and they were all blown away by the number of menu options available to them.
This is because we treat vegetables with just as much respect as the more expensive meat we serve. (We actually get to have a lot more fun creating our side dishes because vegetables offer such versatility.) We make sure that we always have some really good, hearty fish and vegetable preparations that are just as enticing as—if not even more than— our steaks. There is no reason why this shouldn't be the case, even for an Argentinian-style restaurant like ours. When you look at the "From the Garden" section of our menu, those may be just side dishes to many people, but to others, those are the main course.
Yes, we serve a lot of beef. And while we do the best we can when buying beef and sticking to certain criteria—which for us means antibiotic-free, humanely raised, pasture-raised, mostly sourced from the Pacific Northwest (though we do serve grass-fed Uruguayan beef)—we can't hide this fact.
However, we try to suggest to our diners that each person doesn't need a whole 16-ounce prime ribeye, and that they could share that same steak between two or three people. Instead, we recommend that people try some of our great vegetable dishes. Not too long ago, we had a 12-top of vegans and vegetarians come in and they were all blown away by the number of menu options available to them.
When we look at our dishes, we think: What really needs to be there and what really doesn't? For example, we have a sautéed mushroom dish that has chunks of foie gras in it that is just as good without the foie gras, so we make sure to prepare it in such a way that the foie gras can be omitted without the dish suffering. We want our menu to appeal to a wide range of diners, from the culinary student who wants to try sweetbreads and blood sausage for the first time, to that person's grandfather who won't eat anything but steak and potatoes.
We offer our philosophy on eating, cooking, and grilling meat (and vegetables!) in our new cookbook coming out soon, Around the Fire: Recipes for Inspired Grilling and Seasonal Feasting from Ox Restaurant. I guess you could say that our problem is that we always try to please everybody, but we just want to make sure that the meal is memorable for every kind of guest, regardless of their dietary preferences. In the end, we understand if someone is coming in to Ox for a fat steak and little else, but we hope our menu will entice people to create a balanced meal and maybe try some new things.
As told to Javier Cabral