Ask Mr. Gold: Hunting Pheasant, or Celestino Drago's Your Man for the Fancy Fowl
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Melczer:
It's odd -- several decades ago, pheasant was the ultimate in luxury meats, probably because of its connotations of the hunt, landed gentry and packs of well-trained hounds. Pheasant was pretty standard at luxury restaurants, and when Wilma Flintstone conned Fred into taking her to a nice restaurant, I'm pretty sure that what she wanted to eat was pheasant under glass. When Scottish game started to be imported into the U.S. 20-odd years ago, a lot of us tasted pheasant for the first time, and while it was pleasant, it was also a little dry, like chicken only less so, without the obvious pungent pleasures of grouse or woodcock. It didn't disappear, exactly, but nearly so, making only token appearances on the menus of places like Patina and Mélisse.
But you can get it at fancy butchers now -- I've seen it recently at Puritan Poultry in the Farmers Market and even tucked into a corner of the meat case at Whole Foods. It's occasionally on the menu at Bistro LQ, which does very nice game dishes, although not at the moment. But pheasant is practically a specialty at Drago in Santa Monica and Drago Centro downtown, where it mostly appears in a dish of pappardelle with pheasant and morels in a light cream sauce, which is very, very good. The restaurants' owner, Celestino Drago, lives to hunt, and secondarily to cook (domesticated) game. If you call a couple of days in advance, you probably could persuade the restaurant to roast the birds instead.