Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Flat iron steak is an instant classic; lasagna goes 3.0

Flat iron steak and broccoli at Cafe Bernardo is accompanied by fingerling potatoes.
Flat iron steak and broccoli at Cafe Bernardo is accompanied by fingerling potatoes.

We’ve been hopping round town with some dining pals, stopping here and there, tasting this and that.

We grabbed a secluded and very comfy booth on the outdoor patio at Cafe Bernardo at the classy Pavilions center. The restaurant became the fifth Bernardo under the Paragary Restaurant Group umbrella when it opened two years ago.

We were tempted to go with the habanero burger (with bacon and habanero jack cheese) and the salmon BLT – mostly because we remembered how good they were last time – but instead opted to split a medium-rare grilled flat iron steak with herbed and roasted fingerling potatoes and grilled broccoli.

The flat iron is cut from the top blade roast of the shoulder, has plenty of marbling and flavor, and is tender-chewy in texture. It wasn’t really a steak at all before 2001 or so, when university scientists “discovered” it. They were funded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to scrutinize beef muscles and develop new cuts of steak that were tender, flavorful and “efficient,” and which could be marketed as bargains on the retail and restaurant levels.

Relative to other cuts such as New York steak, porterhouse and rib-eye, the flat iron is less expensive and – ounce for ounce – arguably better-tasting.

Our hefty steak showed up freshly sliced into long strips, with wine-shallot-infused butter melting on top ($18). We were already thinking about seconds. The fingerling potatoes were tender and satisfying, but the expertly seasoned grilled broccoli was a revelation. Could a cruciferous veggie known mostly for being good for us really taste this good? Yep.

Curious about the seasonings on the superb steak and broccoli, we called executive chef Kurt Spataro. What’s on the flat iron? “Are you ready to write this down?” he asked, sounding a bit mischievous. “Kosher salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. It’s one of our best sellers.”

As for the broccoli, it’s blanched and brushed with extra virgin olive oil infused with minced garlic and chili flakes. “It’s then seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled,” Spataro said.

The one-word cooking mantra applies: simplicity.

Cafe Bernardo, 515 Pavilions Lane, (Fair Oaks Boulevard near Howe Avenue), Sacramento, 916-922-2870,

Lasagna at Fabian’s

Fabian’s Italian Bistro opened in January 2011 as a neighborhood restaurant in Fair Oaks. It’s still that, but also has become a Sacramento-area destination. That’s because co-owners Christian and Mercedes Forte and chef Tom Patterson have continually finessed the menu, curated cocktail and craft beer programs, and highlighted carefully timed themed dinners.

One of the menu’s foundations in 2011 was a remarkably light lasagna from a family recipe, luscious with an unusual combination of bechamel and Bolognese sauces. That disappeared after a while, replaced with a disappointing 2.0 version with too much red sauce. Then that vanished, replaced with a four-star meat-filled cannelloni. Then that went away, much to the distress of regular customers.

Now, on the new fall menu, we found lasagna 3.0. Patterson starts by making crispy eggplant Parmesan, which he nestles inside layers of tender house-made pasta and ricotta cheese ($18). It’s topped with buratta, which is fresh mozzarella and cream, the Ferrari of Italian cheeses, and splashed with tangy marinara sauce. Balanced and delectable.

“The evolution of our lasagna is representative of how we keep reinventing ourselves,” said Mercedes Forte. For the time being, it’s served only at dinner.

Fabian’s Italian Bistro, 11755 Fair Oaks Blvd. (in the Almond Orchard center), Fair Oaks; 916-536-9891,

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe