Winter weather stimulates the inner caveman, and culinary cravings tend toward the paleo — as in Paleolithic. Back in the day, 2.5 million years ago, food choices were limited to hunted or gathered, and a relic of that menu survives in the modern game dinner.
Venison, boar, bison, quail and elk are among the most commonly encountered “wild game” meats on restaurant menus, but they are not really wild: According to federal law, even wild game species that can be legally hunted cannot be legally sold. That means that hunters are free to dine on their own bounty, but restaurants can only buy meat that has been slaughtered and processed under USDA supervision.
Game animals destined for commercial consumption are domesticated, but often are raised on ranches rather than farms. On a ranch, the animals will have hundreds of acres on which to roam and forage, so their diets are close to what they would have eaten in the wild. The lack of a grain-based diet plus all that roaming means that such animals tend to be leaner than their farmed counterparts.
Here are four places on Long Island where you can experience game on your plate.
43b Main St., Port Washington, 516-472-7780, bistroetc.com
Wild game dinner on Jan. 25
Price: $72 for food only. Optional four-course wine pairing is $20.
Chef-owner Karen Melanie LaRocco hosts theme dinners throughout the year, and wild game makes its appearance every January. “Our first year,” she said, “it was only men, eating game, drinking bourbon. But now more women are getting interested. This year it looks like mostly couples joining us.” LaRocco finds that her customers respond both to the leaner profile of game meat and also the fact that the animals are raised “with room to grow and be themselves.”
On the menu:
Wild boar sausage with crusty rolls
Roasted Coturnix quail stuffed with cornbread and Andouille, served with bourbon-flambéed apples
Salad of red watercress and little gem lettuce with feta cheese, fennel and orange
Wild duo plate of peppercorn-herb-rubbed bison tenderloin and elk strip steak with cabernet-rosemary butter
204 Jericho Tpke., Mineola, 516-747-6616, azzurrosny.com
Wild game dinner on Jan. 10
Price: $65. Includes beer, wine, soda and coffee
This pizzeria-restaurant started serving game dinners more than 15 years ago, when it was called Carlino’s. Under owner Wali Hussani, one of Carlino’s original partners, Azzurro has continued the tradition. Initially, the dinners were private gatherings: Many of the restaurant’s regular customers were hunters and they would periodically bring in their trophies to have them cooked in the restaurant kitchen. Eventually, the restaurant started buying game (from Pellegrini’s Prime Meats in Stewart Manor) and opening the dinners to the public. Now, there’s a game dinner on the second Tuesday of every month.
On the menu:
Grilled quail over escarole
Wild boar ragu over penne
Venison in red sauce with peppers and onions
42 Main St., Port Washington, 516-708-9920; 399 S. Oyster Bay Rd., Plainview, 516-932-3500; 235 Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre, 516-442-4090; 32 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-441-5711, bareburger.com
This Queens-based burger chain, now with 41 locations in five countries, specializes in organic produce, sustainably raised meats and burgers made from beef, turkey, chicken, beans, sweet potatoes and wild rice . . . and elk, bison and wild boar. Among the game burgers are the Blue Elk, with Amish blue cheese, bacon, stout onions, tomato-fig jam ($12.95); the Country Fare, with bison, aged Cheddar, dill pickles and red onions ($12.95); the Hog Wild with wild boar, pimento cheese, fried egg, chickpeas, onions and pickled green tomatoes ($11.25).
400 S. Oyster Bay Rd., Hicksville, 516-932-7450
On the regular menu at this elegant-innovative Italian restaurant are grilled quail with garlic and rosemary served with polenta with Gorgonzola and truffle butter (appetizer, $21.95) and rabbit cacciatore, the original “hunter’s style” dish with tomatoes and aromatics of which chicken cacciatore is a tamer variation. Served over pappardelle or gnocchi, it’s $31.95 for a main. Owner Luigi Quarta usually has at least one game preparation on the specials menu, whether it’s venison with wild rice in a red wine-blueberry sauce or roasted wild boar chops with apples and Calvados.