Three years ago, in November of 2008, a motley group of friends began to congregate on Monday nights to gorge themselves on meat and beer. Sebastian Sergeant led the charge to Gyu Kaku, the yakiniku (Japanese barbeque) restaurant on Cooper Square that featured half-priced specials on meat and beer on Mondays from 9:30 pm until closing. Initially, the group was decidedly male, and the conversation was allegedly dominated by the topics of football (er, that’s soccer to us Americans) and, not surprisingly, meat. Greg the Butcher, formerly of Minetta Tavern and currently the sausage maker for Prime Meats, rhapsodized on the favorable aspects of various cuts, and even a neophyte was welcomed if he made a perceptive compliment on the marbling of a piece of meat.
It wasn’t long, however, before one special woman—Kazusa Jibiki, owner of Lovely Day restaurant in Nolita—was brought into the fold, and soon after Rebecca Guinness finessed her way in. A Facebook page proclaiming “Meat’s Not Dead,” was started by Sergeant, and even from California (where I was living at the time) I sensed that the way to Sebastian’s heart would be through his stomach, and more specifically, via meat. I sent him a photo from a trip to Joshua Tree, of me devouring an enormous side of ribs, quipping, “Girls love meat too,” and the next time I was back in New York, Sebastian blessed me with an invitation to the Monday night festivities.
By the time I joined in, the Monday Night Meat Night conversation ran the gamut. Andrew found new ways to discuss all things related to sex and porn; Rob discussed world politics and economics with Jasper, who enjoyed waxing philosophical on any subject, whether he knew much about it or not. Owen inevitably arrived late and claimed pennilessness, but appeared to leave satiated. There was still a lot of posturing about the forfeit for getting your meat stuck on the piping hot sides of the grill, but people were far too tipsy and happy by evening’s end to see the penalties through.
The antics carried on like this for some time until things took a surprising turn. We, the Die Hards, arrived one Monday at 9:30 and were shocked to see several other tables of people we knew at the restaurant; the word had gotten out. Rebecca would appear with one or several of her countless cousins; Rory would be sitting at a table with Matthew (a.k.a. “Frosted Tips”) and Mickey from Maroon 5. These were the Beatrice years, after all, and our circle was sprawling, but to the Die Hards, that was no excuse for sharing meat with socialites who order sushi and pink cocktails instead of Meat and Beer. Without meaning to, the original Die Hard Meat Eaters had started a Meat Eating movement, and the consequences were sitting blandly at the tables around them, talking about fashion and the music scene, not football and meat marbling.
Though there was certainly enough meat to go around, another more significant problem was becoming paramount. Despite the growing number of hipster meat lovers showing up on Monday evenings at Gyu Kaku, the quality of the meat was plummeting. The half-priced Kalbi didn’t have the same marbling it once did and the Rib-Eye was tough and noxious. The Die Hards knew they had to move on and Sebastian guided them back to the source.
Sebastian’s love of cooking meat at the table began years before at Shabu Tatsu, the East Village Shabu-shabu restaurant where he went with his sister after sessions at the Russian Turkish Baths. Shabu-shabu literally translates to swish-swish in Japanese, an onomatopoetic name connoting the sound made as one swirls the meat around in the broth. Shabu Tatsu provides a much more refined and authentic experience; it is a ballet to Gyu Kaku’s mosh pit. With Eel Bi Bim Bap as a first course, fresh vegetables and delicious meat dipped in alarmingly good sauces, the experience was far superior to Gyu Kaku in every way…apart from the price. Half the fun of Meat Night was that we left so full of meat and beer that we thought we’d never be hungry again, and that we had done so for about $15 per person. Truth be told though, even back when the meat was good, we left Gyu Kaku feeling slightly queasy, where as we left Shabu Tatsu feeling satiated and restored.
How could we continue the Monday night revelry—raise beers and eat top shelf meat—without spending the entire week’s budget? It was Kazusa who reconfigured it all so that we could eat sublime meat but do it cheap: Kazusa brought meat night home.
Kazusa and Sebastian invested in burners, which were placed in the middle of our dining room tables (we rotated hosting each week). Everyone contributed beer or wine. Water simmered with kelp first on the stove and then on the table in shallow pots, and once the team arrived the dropping of vegetables began, followed by tofu and finally the main event: The Meat. Paper thin slices of sirloin were plunged into the fragrant water, cooking in seconds, then fished out by keen chopsticks, dunked into the waiting bowls of Goma or Ponzu and shoveled into our greedy mouths. Once the meat was finished (much to the consternation of the founding male members, there never seemed to be enough of it), the noodles were lowered into the murky stock created by the simmering of all those vegetables and meat. Finally, the Die Hards would ladle the broth—gleefully punctuated by a rogue tendril of meat that had escaped even the most persistent chopsticks—into their bowls, add a little salt and pepper and drink it. It was a complete and balanced meal that never offered any leftovers, and once again it cost about $15 per person.
Some of the original members have disbanded and continue their quest for Meat abroad, but on a recent Monday the planets aligned and Meat Night was revived at our house. I made the requisite sesame (goma) dipping sauce from scratch. Kazusa made the ponzu with grated daikon radish and chili pepper. Sebastian sliced and trimmed the essential watercress, carrots, mushrooms and cabbage, boiled the noodles and laid them all out on platters. As an addition to the usual fare, Sebastian made rice infused with Shiso, which his brother-in-law used as the filling for a tiny aromatic meat “taco.” We drank beer, wine and whiskey, swish-swished our meat and basked in the the primitive pleasures of food, drink and each other’s company. As Sebastian said, “Meat’s Not Dead.”
All of the ingredients for this dinner are available at Sunrise Mart.
The Die Hards
Jasper Van Der Hurd
Greg The Butcher
The First Girls
The Vegetarians Who Came for the Company
Anna Van Der Hurd
Fanny + Bill Gentle
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