Steak what? Oh, waiter. . .

If greatness were measured by the amount of food left uneaten at meals, I'd be leader of the free world.

Growing up, there wasn't an item on any menu I couldn't half-eat or barely touch. And I was certain to order the one thing no child could possibly want: the Cauliflower Quiche; Squid Prepared in its Own Ink; the foie gras. They looked good on paper; less so on my plate.

Why my parents let me order for myself would be a mystery without noting that my dad stopped ordering for himself years before. Whenever we'd eat out, he would bide his time, awaiting the grand portion I was certain to leave. I thought he was just being thrifty, but Dad knew what he was doing: letting his son feel grownup by making his own decisions.

Twelve years of bad restaurant ordering can be summed up by the following self-evident observation: Victor Borge and Steak Tartare make strange bedfellows. Actually, I've only seen them together once, and yet they'll always share a curious union. I still can't think of one without the other.

Not that I think often of Victor Borge; Steak Tartare even less. But know this: the impact made on a 12-year-old by a plate of uncooked ground beef topped with a raw egg yolk, and two gray anchovy fillets, however well-garnished, should not be underestimated. Throw in a celebrity and you've cemented a moment in time.

It all took place during lunch at the Top Hat on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. My father spotted the clown prince of classical piano three tables away. I wouldn't have known Victor Borge from Victor Hugo, but he was a celebrity. My dad said so.

Clearly we were all distracted being in the presence of greatness. How else could my parents have allowed me to come face-to-face with a plate of raw beef, runny yolks, and fish? It looked more like road kill than lunch.

I should have blamed the waiter. Perhaps he considered my palate mature beyond its years. Thanks, I'm flattered.

Mr. Borge, all the while, seemed oblivious to my predicament.

My subsequent research shows that 100 percent of all children demand that 100 percent of all meat they eat be thoroughly cooked. The closest thing to raw meat I had encountered up to that point was bologna. (I now know that bologna is cooked. At the time I wasn't sure.)

The waiter's hand had not yet left my plate when I began a conversation with myself:

There's an egg on my hamburger.

That's weird.

It's raw.

That's weird.

So's my hamburger.

Somebody's getting fired.

It didn't take the waiter long to figure that this was hardly what I expected. Before I could say, "check, please!" he flashed that "I'll-take-it-back-to-the-kitchen-and-have-it-cooked" look, and whisked it away. He returned a few minutes later with said entree in its more recognizable form: hamburger with a side of fries.

I spent the rest of the meal in silent protest wondering why Mr. Borge wasn't having Steak Tartare himself.

As I grew up, my ordering improved and my palate expanded, but I never lived the Steak Tartare Incident down. It provided years of family entertainment.

Anytime I left even a scrap of food on my plate, or ordered something just slightly off the beaten path, any time they wanted to provide an embarrassing anecdote to a new girlfriend, I could count on the conversation making its way toward Victor Borge and Steak Tartare.

Steak Tartare

This recipe serves four sophisticated adults, or one hungry great Dane (four-legged) and no children.

Leftovers should be refrigerated and may be fried and cleverly disguised as a hamburger.

Use only the freshest ground sirloin or tenderloin that has been trimmed of every speck of fat. Never use previously ground beef.

1 pound freshly ground beef sirloin or tenderloin

4 raw egg yolks

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 cup minced shallots or onions

1/2 cup capers, drained

8 whole anchovy fillets

Additional seasonings:

Worcestershire sauce

Dijon mustard

Lemon wedges

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Divide beef into four rounded portions on chilled plates. Make an indentation in each mound; place an egg yolk in each center. Drape two anchovies crisscross, over each egg yolk. Sprinkle with parsley; serve shallots and capers on the side. Have each diner mix tartare with two forks; and additional seasonings to taste.

Spread on small party rye, toast, or crackers. Serves 4.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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