Saturday, November 22, 2014

Halloween Offal Dinner at Table, Donkey, and Stick

Maintaining my reputation as a foodie does take some work.  If people consider myself a relative expert on the local food and restaurant scene, I feel obligated to try expand my knowledge.  This means having an open mind and trying things that other people may find a little off putting.  Many restaurants will play to the season and present things that may be a little macabre or gruesome sounding.  In that vein, Table, Donkey, and Stick, for the second year has offered a 6 course Offal Dinner for Halloween.  I hadn't gone to it last year, I have liked the offal that I have tried before, it fit with the holiday, and I like Table, Donkey, and Stick, so I figured that they could make an interesting dinner with the various entrails of butchered animals.  Offal is simply the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal.  As we eat a wide variety of animals and the classification of offal covers a very wide range, I could see this going anywhere.  Of those things that I have tried that could be considered offal, I have liked many, but there are a lot of things (like hearts, brains, or testicles) that I have not tried, so I figured that there were going to be a few things that were going to be new to my palate.  Things immediately started out with new flavors with a Veal Brain Custard with Arugula, Veal Fries (Testicles), and a Lemon Aioli.  This was actually very good.  The brain custard was very light.  It did have the irony flavor of those organ meats that might have a lot of blood flowing through them, but that flavor was actually pretty subtle.  Brains are also pretty fatty, so it had a rich flavor.  The arugula was fresh and crisp and added a lemony pepper flavor which also went well with the aioli.  The veal fries were interesting.  They tasted good, but the thing that they reminded me of most were very good skinless hot dogs.  The first course was a success for me.  It introduced me to a couple of things that are well outside my comfort zone and I really liked it, so I was set up for whatever they planned on presenting to me next.
For the next course, we went to seafood with Fried Shrimp Heads, Monkfish Liver Mousse, and Fennel.  I had had shrimp heads before and had sucked the innards out and have liked the monkfish that I had had before, so I was confident of this dish.  I had never had fried shrimp heads fried before and I had also never had monkfish liver, so it was going to be a new experience.  I liked the monkfish liver mousse.  It was smooth, creamy, and had a nice, rich flavor.  The fennel was fresh and crisp with a sweet and slight licorice flavor.  The shrimp heads, I wasn't so sure about.  I like shrimp which is what it tasted like, but the frying seemed to concentrate the flavor.  When eaten together with the mousse and the fennel it wasn't so bad, but by itself the flavor was a bit overwhelming.
The next course also had some familiarity to it.  It was a Foie 'Nduja with Greens and a Grilled Baguette.  I have had 'Nduja before, which is simply a spreadable salami.  I have also had foie gras which is fattened duck (or goose) liver.  I am not sure however, if the foie used in the 'Nduja was of the gras variety.  I have also never had foie 'Nduja.  This dish was simple and it wasn't bad, but it did need some work.  The 'nduja was spicy and flavorful, but it wasn't smooth and didn't spread exceptionally well.  The greens were limp, but it felt like that is how they were supposed to be.  They were fresh and flavorful and the baguette was crisp.  If the 'nduja was a little more spreadable, this could have been a very good dish.

I could also say that there was some familiarity with the next dish, but that would be a stretch.  I was served a Lamb Heart Tartare with Beets, a Potato Nest, and a Quail Egg Yolk.  I could say that I've had lamb before, and I have had tartares of many different kinds which are frequently served with egg yolks.  I have also had beets and potato nests many times.  The X Factor in this is the fact that the lamb is specifically lamb heart, which I had no familiarity with.  If would have had to guess about eating a heart, I would consider the fact that it is a muscle, so it might be kind of fibrous like the other muscles that we eat (any other kind of meat we regularly eat).  It is also an organ so it has a lot of blood flow and might have a bit of an irony flavor.  Lamb itself is kind of gamy, so I didn't have a lot of hope for this dish.  It came out and I saw that the heart had been roughly chopped so the texture of the meat could be seen.  As far as flavor was concerned, it did have a have a lamb flavor with some iron undertones.  The beets added an earthiness and some sweetness, and the potato nest mellowed things out.  The dish wasn't bad, which is actually better than I expected.  I might have preferred it more however, if the heart was chopped more finely.
The last savory dish had me wondering.  I wasn't really apprehensive, because I knew that it could be eaten, but I thought that there might be a texture issue that the chef would have had to work through.  I had seen Pigs Ears sold at the butcher shop that I go to for pork belly, but when I think of them, I think of them as chew toys for dogs.  I was served a Pigs Ear Terrine with Pickled Pigs Ear, Mustard Seeds, and Mustard Sauce.  The meat was thinly sliced and looked to have been formed by being pressed into a pan (which is how a terrine is formed).  The greens, mustard, and pickled pigs ear were presented over the three thin slices and the mustard sauce was presented under the terrine slices.  This was actually one of my favorite dishes.  The terrine slices tore apart easily if you went with the grain.  It was served cold and the meat, while fairly tender, also had a bit of a gristly crunch.  This was a good thing because it provided some textural variety.  It also had a very definite pork flavor.  The pickled ear was very tender and had a sour flavor that went well with the mustard.
 After five dishes that were fair to very good, I wondered about dessert.  In retrospect, I should have passed on the dessert even though it came with dinner.  I was served Chicken Liver Malt Ice Cream with Chicken Skin Toffee.  I will say that it was not terrible, but it was my least favorite dish.  The chicken skin toffee was actually pretty good.  It actually had a sweet and salty flavor that was both fudgy and crispy.  It was similar to a chocolate covered potato chip.  The ice cream wasn't terrible when eaten with the toffee, but by itself, the liver flavor just lingered, and it was not a pleasant aftertaste.

As it was Halloween, dinner finished with a treat which could also be classified as offal.  We were given a Halloween Treat Bag with Caramel Corn Chicharrones.  I am generally not a fan of popcorn because it feels like I'm eating styrofoam and while chicharrones are not bad, they don't really excite me, so I don't generally go out of my way to eat them.  Breaking up the chicharrones to popcorn size and putting caramel on them though was a win.  They were sweet and crunchy with a slight salty pork undertone and I really enjoyed them.

Overall, this dinner was a win.  It was thematically appropriate, I got to try several things I had not previously tried, and even though there were some things that I didn't care for, there were several things that I did like, and I know now what may not work for me.     

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