Vlado's is a great Croatian steakhouse in Melbourne, Australia. Since I wrote this, I've returned to Vlado's at least fifteen times. It just gets better and better.
For the last nine months, I've been suffering from a heavy load. It's been bothering me for a while, sometimes weighing me down. But now the burden has lifted, because tonight, I've been to Vlado's, and I've been enlightened.
You see, I've seen Eugene (he's in charge of our office in melbourne) several times in the last nine months. I've eaten many meals with him - both sushi and steak - in steakhouses and Japanese restaurants in New York, New Orleans, and Australia. We've been to some pretty good places, and eaten some pretty good steaks. But every place we go, and during every steak we eat, Eugene invariably says "it's good, but it's not as good as Vlado's".
That's the burden. And whenever Eugene does this, he strangles the conversation. Every steak ends up being compared to this place that only he has been to. It's a bit frustrating - especially when you're enjoying one of the best steaks you've ever had (and I've had a lot of them), only to hear that there's a better one out there, out of reach. But I usually laugh it off; in fact recently this has become a running joke between Eugene and the rest of us - whenever something--anything--is really good, we say, "Yeah - but it's not as good as Vlado's".
Anyway, tonight Eugene, Trevor and I went to Vlado's. On the way over, Eugene told me the history of the restaurant: Vlado is an old croatian who started the small restaurant in Melbourne 36 years ago. Apparently, Vlado takes his meat pretty seriously. In order to get the perfect steak, he once raised his own cattle. In the 70's, he switched to Argentinian beef, because he found a ranch there where the quality was even better what he could produce. Starting 10 years ago, he found a local Australian cattle ranch that supplies him even better beef. Well, it supplies him more than the beef: he buys the whole animal. It seems Vlado goes to the ranch and hand-picks the cattle that he wants. I can picture him walking through the fields as Australia's grim cattle reaper, choosing the victims that will grace the tables of his tiny restaurant.
The menu at Vlado's is pretty short: salad, appetizer, two choices of steak, and two choices of dessert. That's it. The waiter brought out the salad and the appetizer: a few slices of sliced filet mignon, plus some other choice cuts of meat.
Eugene's big like me, so i know he appreciates his food. I watched him closely as he took the first bite. Eugene is fun to watch: he tucks his napkin into his collar, rolls up his sleeves, and grabs his knife and fork. He cuts a small piece of meat, puts a dab of horseradish on it, and raises it to his mouth. He closes his eyes and places it on his tongue, chewing softly. Now he starts to beam, and breaks out into an expression of pure ecstacy. He swallows, opens his eyes, sits absolutely still for a few seconds, sighs, then repeats the process.
I decided that I should follow Eugene's example, and eat exactly as he did. I tucked my napkin around my neck and rolled up my sleeves. Our timing was about the same: we each would cut, raise, close, chew, smile, open, pause, sigh repeat. again and again - first through the appetizers, then through the main course.
The three of us ate silently - all you could hear was the clinking of the forks and knives on the plates. Nobody spoke a word from the first bite until the plates were clean.
As Eugene and I finished our last mouthful, he opened his eyes, and stared at me. I've never seen him so peaceful. He asked me what I thought of my steaks. As if he couldn't tell from my own expression.
What was I to say? Trying to describe the quality was impossible. The meat was absolutely incredible. Unbelievable. Ah who eat till no (that's encrypted russian). I couldn't rate it - it was so far off the end of the scale that to try to put words around it would demean both the taste and the entire experience.
So I said, "my steak was as good as Vlado's".
Eugene got it. And so did I.