Game is the new beef. Sure, rabbit stew and wild duck have long been fall favorites, but the as the locavore and hunt-kill-eat movement continue to gain momentum, more and more wild beasties are showing up on local menus.
“There’s definitely more of a demand as people learn about game,” said Jonni Offenbach, owner of Golden Gate Meats in Santa Rosa. About 10 percent of the restaurant meat purveyor’s businesses is in game, she said. Though you won’t find any truly wild game on restaurant menus (it’s illegal to sell sport-caught game commercially in California), ranch-raised game are lean, vitamin and Omega-3 packed alternatives with rich, winter-worthy flavor.
The most popular game: Rabbit, quail, ground buffalo, venison loin and wild boar shoulders, according to Offenbach. But that’s just the tip of the horn, really. You’ll find everything from antelope to ostrich on local menus.
Keep in mind that game meat is highly perishable and unlike beef or chicken, not to everyone’s taste. Most chefs will feature a dish or two throughout the winter, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it on menus all the time. Below are restaurants that frequently serve game on fall and winter menus, but if you’ve got a serious craving, call ahead and make sure they’re serving these wild-side dishes.
Rabbit: Though it’s technically considered “game”, rabbit is quickly becoming about as exotic as chicken. Fast-breeding and economical, rabbits are high in protein, extremely low in fat. The flavor is similar to the dark meat on a chicken, and frequently found on European-inspired menus. Americans sometimes eschew the meat because of the “cute” factor of rabbits, but its lean, delicate meat is quickly making it a restaurant darling. You’ll most often find it braised or stewed, though the saddle and loin are popular cuts. Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit — a bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack and confit of leg– has become a perennial favorite at Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant.