Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Offal Truth

By Mike "The Greek" Phillips

Anthony Bourdain once wrote that when you “…order lobster or steak frites…you aren't getting a chef's A-game.” The implication being any hairless ape with opposable thumbs can make those dishes in his sleep. It takes a real hero to create something delectable out of a calf’s nutsack or a cow’s stomach lining. And when we heard Teddy was going to take on an all offal menu we knew he would be bringing his “A-game.” Here’s the menu that had us all dreaming of balls (again!):

Honeycomb Tripe
deep fried, pickled shallot malt vinegar

Feet & Cheeks
braised trotter and pig cheek, sherry jelly, sauce “Gribiche”

Veal Sweetbreads
sweet onion compote, grapefruit, parsley and caper salad

Tongue & Balls
veal tongue and veal knacker ‘salad’, pistachio dressing

Blood Sausage
celeriac puree, sauce “Bontemps”

Lamb Bone Marrow
braised lamb shank and bone marrow ravioli, spring peas, mint oil, pea foam

Lemon and Mascarpone Tartlet
with honey

Pont L’eveque
with grapes

Eight fucking courses! Let’s get to it.
Teddy had said that while preparing for tonight his apartment looked like an abattoir. You could still detect the faint whiff of iron in the air underneath the aromas of glands, tongues, and feet.
First up was the tripe. Served in a communal bowl these deep-fried strips of stomach were hungrily gobbled up by everyone. The tripe had a smooth, creamy center encased in a crunchy, salty, deep fried outer shell. Dipped in a shallot/malt vinegar sauce this was like a party in my mouth. Instead of popcorn at your local multiplex they should serve deep-fried tripe strips. I’m talking to you Union Square Regal Cinemas.

The tripe tease kicked our frontal lobes into high gear as we waited for the Feet and Cheeks. From what little I understand about cooking pig’s feet the meat is braised and then the fat is used to create a gelatinous mix that holds it all together. Teddy went the added step and threw in some cheeks. It was a rich mixture of fat, flesh and collagen.

To me it looked like a hunk of gold flecked with meat minerals. Covered in a spiky vinegar and mustard sauce rife with cornichons and tarragon this blew everyone away. As I looked around people were using their fingers to lick up the sauce. Classy lot. Just lick the plate like I did.

Two for two so far with the Veal Sweetbreads up next. These surreal looking fuckers scare off most people. It’s one thing to eat a tongue or balls but a gland makes people squeamish for some reason. Teddy’s sweetbreads were cooked in classic style with a twist: blanched, floured in a honey panko, and fried. Sweet Jesus they were good. Spongy and crispy with a slightly gamey flavor, Teddy wisely paired them with a citrusy salad of capers and parsley to cut through these fantastic fat bombs. These were a highlight for me. I am definitely taking a Teddy cooking course so I can make these for the missus.

Time to “man up” gents! Here come the balls and tongue. I’ve never seen a group of assumedly heterosexual men get so excited about putting balls in their mouth. But like a Republican in a boy’s dorm we couldn’t wait to taste this forbidden fruit. As soon as I bit into them my brain’s warning alarms of “What the fuck are you doing?” were drowned out by my palette’s appreciation of the balls livery goodness. Smooth but with a bit of resistance like a good al dente pasta the balls were tender and succulent with a mild tinge of iron. The tongue surprised me by the way it almost melted in your mouth….like it was just a few atoms away from losing it’s shape on the plate because it was so creamy. Put this between a few slices of crusty bread and that’s a sandwich I’d like to eat. Have a Tongue Sandwich: the sandwich that tastes you!

Here’s where my brain starts to get as fuzzy as a dust bunny. Numerous bottles of wine have been guzzled, it’s nearing 11pm on a school night, and we’re only up to course number Five. Christ. Course Five was Teddy’s piece de resistance. His blood sausage.

I’ve extolled the virtues of what a mighty maestro of meat making he is so I won’t go into again here except to say: Market that stuff Teddy, you’re sitting on a bloody (get it?) goldmine. Sitting atop a delightful turnip mash surrounded by a sweet sauce “Bontemps” this was another addition to the “clean plate club” as everyone used whatever they could to remove every piece of evidence that there had once been food on the plate.

In what may be a nod to offal king Mario Batali, up next was the lamb shank and marrow ravioli with pea foam. For all I know, this dish could have been cooked by Batali himself because these babies marched down my throat so fast my offal-addled brain couldn’t keep up with my super-charged taste buds. I was starting to feel like an Aztec warrior gaining strength from eating the marrow of my enemy’s bones. Or, it could have been the booze.

Now, take a moment at look at this tart.

That, my friends, is perfection. Committed to making you appreciate your place in the universe. Simple, honest, delicate. Do you dare to disturb its serenity? I did. I picked that disc of hand-crafted goodness up, took a giant sweet-exploding, tart-slappingly intense bite, watched in horror as what was left crumbled in my hand, and then proceeded to gobble it off my palm like an autistic child on his birthday.

As a sort of dare Teddy dropped a cheese plate onto the table flanked by some grapes and crispy crackers. I think it included a smoked Gouda, a pungent goat cheese, and a stinky blue. Seriously, I challenge anyone besides Teddy to name what was on that plate because at this point we were machines: testicle-fueled, pancreatically powered, wine-lubricated machines always pushing forward, always conquering, devouring more of what the rest of the world tosses away. It was Teddy that created us. He bears the responsibility. His mad genius has made monsters of us all.

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