He told us, "We've got an offal dinner set up at Incanto." Were we up for it? Tasting menu? Offal? But of course, darling! We are set to celebrate Oscar's 35th birthday there in August, to consume an entire pig with friends. It's within walking distance to our apartment, which also made us happy.
Incanto's chef, Chris Cosentino and his crew meticulously prepared a "Fifth Quarter" menu based on "non-skeletal meats, including the skin, head, feet and guts." In other words, just the nasty bits Bourdain consumes and enjoys so much (although he's had it with pig's head. Small or no tastes at all, if he can help it).
Chef Cosentino is working on a book that is 100% offal dishes. I look forward to seeing it in print, since it will give resources on shopping, prep and cooking offal, which remains a mystery for many Americans, including me. The bottom of the menu said, "Lips & Assholes: The Other, Other White Meat" which is an amusing and slightly shocking way of putting it.
Here's the menu with tasting notes:
Shaved tripe salad with huckleberry potatoes, parsley & lemon-my favorite. It was refreshing, bright, and lemony. No muddled flavors here. The tripe wasn't stringy or spongy, but had the look and texture of perfect pasta, soft with just the right slight firmness. Sponginess seems to give the eater pause, and for me conjures up images of brains and heads. It's not a texture to strive for with offal in most cases.
Marin mountain oysters with porcini-testicles. Balls, balls, balls (I gleefully, drunkenly chanted later). Yes, it made me giggle to be eating balls. These oysters/balls came from Prather Ranch veal, and were small enough to look like miniature sausages. The texture was smooth without any bloody or urine taste. They were my first mountain oysters, and Tony liked them because they weren't spongy like other, larger mountain oysters he's sampled. I liked that they weren't breaded and fried, either. The porcini gave the plate some umami flavor and subtle muskiness that went well with the balls. Ventresco di tonno, tonnarotti stew of tuna maw. A very delicious hot, spicy, lemony stew with tuna tripe and intestines, lemon zest and juice, garbanzo, tomato and kale. It made us sweat a little, and had interesting half moon shapes from the tuna innards. Oscar and Tony agreed that garbanzo beans somehow make it into many ethnic, country soups and stews and pairs well with offal. Fitting, because garbanzos offer a firm, nutty counterpoint to the meats and other ingredients.Roasted lamb neck with polenta & broccoli di ciccio. This "two fork" deal blew us away. The forks work best at getting the neck to give, by pulling in opposite directions with each one. The neck is a huge hunk that stands up on the plate. Chef Cosentino's blog, quotes Tony: "the lamb neck was what Fergus Henderson talks about– the meaty, fatty and funk factor all rolled into one." Fennel accented the tender/fatty meat and had been rubbed all over. Oscar marvelled at the neck texture, "like carnitas," he swooned. If Oscar and I hadn't eaten before Tony's book reading and signing (we didn't know what was in store, clearly!), we would have been able to finish. A photo of Tony and Oscar digging in, below.
The finale was fitting: Italian toast of ciccioli brioche with chocolate blood gelato & cherry brown butter caramel. I'm adventurous, but having Chef Cosentino and his pastry chef go over the details with constant mention of blood, blood and more blood put me off. I was also really full from all the food and generous wine pours. I loved the buttery, rich brioche and cherry brown butter caramel, yet only ate a few bites of the bloody gelato.
Tony got up to smoke between every course. No wonder he works his way through 2 packs a day. What does one talk about with Tony Bourdain? Some highlights:
Food & travel, obviously. He could live the rest of his days in China, where he'd "eat my way for an eternity." He particularly loves the Sichan pepper pot dish.
Turn ons-Tony finds a woman who grew up killing chickens in Italy "so hot." Note he seems oblivious to the throngs of women of all shapes and ages who adore him. I listened to two women flirt with him during his reading at Cody's, and another two discuss his marital status, smoking habits, and handsome looks after the reading. Even Incanto owner Mark Pastore's Mom is under the Bourdain spell, and insisted that Mark tell Tony, he's "a hunk. There... I promised I would tell you," he said sheepishly.
The James Beard Foundation-although they've cleaned house, Tony won't respect the organization until they offer legal services to cooks, and maybe open up their gorgeous library and let working cooks use it, since "they're the guys who would love that," rather than a bunch of rich folks.
Chef Work & Gossip-spending 30 years in kitchens sparked friendships with Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, and many other heavy hitters. But Tony remains adamant that credit and recognition should go to the line cooks who slave away and do most of the work. His humble approach showed when he talked shop with Cosentino, the Incanto kitchen staff, as well as my brother Josh who is Executive Chef at the Paragon in the Claremont Resort. The hard work doesn't stop. Even after "losing" his "cherry" participating in an animals' death, it still deeply effects him.
Tony was curious about our local scribe Michael Bauer and despises critics that are rumored to take bribes. He doesn't mind poor reviews when they are deserved, but is skeptical when a reviewer is on the take. The latest hot trend for chefs in NYC is eating chicken sashimi style in underground Japanese hot spots. I'll pass-salmonella scares me!
Drinking-It was a relief, Tony said, to have the wine pairings given to us without "the usual" spiel from the server or sommelier. We had a printed menu with wine info in front of us to consult. He'd rather drink and enjoy it than wait around to listen to someone go on and on. Great point. He's been hungover every day for the last three weeks. I thought I had it bad partying five nights a week, but three weeks straight? We would've been able to dive into the bottle of grappa that Mark brought to the table, but Tony wanted to be sure to get up for next morning's TV appearance. He'd also be at the Sur La Table store in the Ferry Building, where I told him he had, had, had to have a Blue Bottle coffee paired with a Frog Hollow Farm pastry. Duty calls.
1550 Church Street