When mighty roast beef was the Englishman’s food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good.
Oh! the roast beef of old England.
Roast beef is in my blood. I was born in England…in Hereford, no less, home of some of the world’s tastiest cows. My mother was English. The absolute, definite, without any doubt, very best favorite food of my father was roast beef. And Sunday just wasn’t Sunday without what my parents called “a joint”.
When I was still in diapers…sorry, nappies…the cut of choice was topside (no, I’m still not sure what that was). The joint required my mother to set the alarm so that she could be sure it would be cooked beyond all belief, with zero spicing, and served at Noon. It tasted OK but was pleading for gravy.
When, despite my sulking, we emigrated to Canada, the cut changed to rump or sirloin, consumption time changed to around 4:00 pm and my father took over the cooking task, including the trussing (whether the meat really needed to be tied up tightly with string or not).
“The roast”, its new name, was generously dusted with some revolutionary new product that was then called Accent and later called things like “the silent killer lurking in your spice rack” and, now, the somewhat glamorous “ahi-no-moto seasoning”. The roast was cooked to not quite well done. It was reasonably juicy, quite tender, and very tasty.
Then, when I was around 12 years old, my father made a find that I’m sure he ranked in importance over Christopher Columbus’ greatest achievement. My father discovered a trendy cut of beef called standing rib. He spiced it with salt and pepper and cooked the roast to medium well (or medium if my mother wasn’t proclaiming, “it better not still be mooing, Tommy”). It was served at 6:00 pm, was very juicy, very tender, and very tasty. It was the best piece of roast beef I’d ever had then and have ever had since.
In time that standing rib was trimmed a little tighter and became a prime rib but that change of name has not changed my opinion. I love roast prime rib of beef. Which can be a distressing problem if you spend a great deal of your life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
There are some wonderful butchers in San Miguel. And they all proudly support their local beef farms. But those local farms raise pastured cows, skinny cows, cows that look like the fashion models of the bovine world. And lean, bony ribs are not suitable for roasting. Our solution is to drive to a giant barn called Costco in Celaya, where they do have nicely marbled prime rib and, while in Celaya, we might as well celebrate our purchase with, what else, prime rib.
California Prime Rib is an institution, a place of legends, a restaurant I heard the wonders of within a couple of weeks of setting foot in San Miguel. It took me a while to get there (it’s hard to kick the roast beef Sunday-dinner-at-home routine) but when I did, I had to agree, this was the second best (Don Day’s Wife subscribes to the blog) prime rib I’d ever had in Central Mexico. This rivalled my Dad’s prime rib.
Some time ago, the world wisely determined that it would be a safer place without me behind the wheel of an automobile, so a trip to Celaya requires a chauffeur. Last time out, Bill Heublein put his hand up and, after filling a basket or two with some Napa Cabs and French sparklers (thou must never neglect Don Day’s Wife) at the big barn, we headed for the first time to California Prime Rib’s location in the Galerías Celaya Mall.
Now I don’t like malls. And I really don’t like restaurants in malls. But this was for California Prime Rib and roast beef. The restaurant is enormous (especially when empty) and has a bit of a fast food chain look, with a large kids playground, some interesting biker props and stylish graphics on the walls.
There are a few other things on the menu (I’ve had a salmon sighting) but this place is really all about prime rib.
Each prime rib meal starts with good, just-out-of-the-oven-temperature bread and an old-fashioned but also good, mixed lettuce (including iceberg) salad with a beet dressing.
I love showbiz at a dinner table (what exactly did happen to cherries jubilee?) and California Prime Rib does one of the best salad presentations I’ve ever seen as the aluminum bowl is spun on a bed of ice cubes.
There are five cuts of beef: the Diamond which is about 12 ounces, the California which is about 10 ounces, the English which is the same weight as the Diamond only sliced thin (like my English mom used to do it), the Henry VIII which I presume is ginormous, and the Kid’s cut which is probably still a decent size. My recommendation is the California cut.
After choosing what cut you want, you then order how you would like your prime rib done. The Spanish for the five ways may be obvious to some but, just in case you’re a little challenged like me (after 14 years, I still can’t stop calling rare “rara” and medium “mediano”), the standard terminology in Mexico is rojo, medio rojo, medio, medio cocido, and cocido. My recommendation at California Prime Rib is medio and I can’t help mention a warning that appears on the restaurant’s menu: Disculpe: No somos responsables por prime rib ordenado bien cocido. Perhaps my mother was once there.
The owner and chef of California Prime Rib, Salvador Rodriguez, has spent almost every day of his working life with roast beef. Chef Chava, as most people call him, grew up in California and, for a few years, I grew old in California. Chava was a server in a restaurant in San Francisco called The House of Prime Rib; I was an occasional diner in a restaurant in San Francisco called The House of Prime Rib. Eventually Chava became the Executive Chef of The House of Prime Rib and I moved back to Toronto, Canada. Chef Chava estimates that, between his time at The House of Prime Rib and California Prime Rib, he’s cooked and carved about eight million pounds of prime rib. That’s more than I, or even probably my father, has ever even dreamed of eating.
The house wine at California Prime Rib bears Chava Rodriguez family’s name. It’s a fresh and fruity Tempranillo from Penedès that’s bottled exclusively for the restaurant by René Barbier. I agreed with Bill Heublein that “it was fine for the price”.
So what makes California Prime Rib’s beef so special? I must admit I’m not sure…but I did try to find out. Our server could or would not give us details, however; I couldn’t find a way to get in touch with Chava by telephone; and the restaurant “no utiliza correo electrónico”. So here are my best guesses which, based on my amount of beef consumption, may be very good but based on the intricacies of beef farming and cooking methods may be not so very good.
I’m guessing that the meat is from the United States. If it is from the U.S., I’m guessing by the amount of marbling that it’s graded as USDA Choice which is the second best of the eight possible grades. It is almost definitely aged, probably wet rather than dry, and I would guess for around one month. It is lightly spiced, probably with only salt and pepper. There is no crust so it probably was not seared at the beginning or end. I didn’t get a whooooeeeee buzz so I doubt there’s MSG.
The distribution of the liquids throughout the meat suggest it was slow cooked at a low temperature and given a long rest time. The result is very tasty, very juicy, very tender prime rib and, as I said before, the second best (sometimes Don Day’s Wife reads an entire blog post) I’ve ever had in Central Mexico.
The second at your table showbiz act is the slicing of the beef. A separate server, known as the cutter, arrives at your table with his red chef’s jacket, embroidered apron and silver wagon. He teases you a while as he strokes the carving knife on his steel. He opens a metal box, unveils the beautiful brown beast, removes it and carefully measures and cuts your slice.
He sides it with mashed potatoes shaped into a bowl to hold some extra gravy. He then finishes it with prime rib’s perfect plate partner…and much better than the canned peas I had at home as a child…creamed spinach. He asks if you would like chimichurri or horseradish. The horseradish is, thankfully, of the heat not sweet variety.
There is apparently a dessert menu but I’ve never seen it for, after you’ve been entertained by the star of the show, there’s no need for a closing act.
So is California Prime Rib worth the time it takes to drive to Celaya or Queretaro? Is the best local preparation of what may be England’s greatest contribution to cuisine worth that hour there and back? No, not quite. But if you’re going to either of those towns to shop anyway, it should be California here I come.
California Prime Rib has four locations with slight variances in opening and closing hours as follows:
California Prime Rib (Bulevar, Celaya). Monday to Saturday, 13:00 – 20:00. Sunday, 13:00 – 19:00.
California Prime Rib (Galerias, Celaya). Monday to Saturday, 13:00 – 22:00. Sunday, 13:00 – 22:00.
California Prime Rib (Los Ángeles, Celaya). Monday to Saturday, 13:00 – 23:00. Sunday, 13:00 – 20:00.
California Prime Rib (Querétaro). Monday to Saturday, 13:00 – 20:00. Sunday, 13:00 – 20:00.