“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”– Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs
When Hanibal Lecter peers through the thick, glass barrier and utters those words, those unspeakable horrors, we all felt a chill down our spine. We shivered and flinched much like our brave young protagonist Clarice Starling. Naturally, we were afraid . . . afraid of Hanibal Lecter . . . afraid of serial monsters who we all know are fully capable of brutal murder…afraid of the taboo practice of cannibalism and (admit it!) just a wee bit afraid of eating liver.
We often account ourselves brave for a variety of different reasons. Perhaps you stood up to your boss and finally demanded that long overdue pay raise or you killed that humongous spider that’s been lurking in the highest corner of the shower, but so many of us will turn away in horror and crinkle our faces up in repulsion and disgust at the prospect of eating something that lies outside of our comfort zone. Are you an adventurous diner? Would you brave the slimy, crunchy, pungent unknown?
Let’s start with something simple. Although things have changed drastically over the past thirty years or so, there are still quite a few people out there who are squeamish about sushi. Folks will throw up their hands and exclaim in horror “It’s raw! You’re not really going to eat that, are you?” There’s a fear of illness or food poisoning, but it’s really just “stuff and nonsense.” Millions of people eat sushi every day and find it truly delicious. For example, over at Chiba, the new Japanese restaurant on Oak Street, there’s a fabulous dish called the Gulf Coast Roll. Filled with crispy, fried snapper and topped with raw strips of the same fish with a sprinkling of tobkio or roe, once you pop a salty, sumptuous slice of this in your mouth, you’ll never be the same again.
How about oysters? Keep in mind we are in New Orleans, a place where shooting raw oysters is about as common as guzzling Sazeracs, but you will still find many a reluctant local who wouldn’t dare set their lips to any form of oyster, let alone raw. Cringing in disgust, they’ll relate a terrifying experience, the one and only time they tried to tame a raw oyster with gruesome descriptions of gagging on the “slimy” mollusk while trying to chew it thoroughly. We encourage you to be brave, be bold, head over to Besh’s popular restaurant Lüke and order a dozen Louisiana beauties on the half shell. Feel free to sprinkle them with Crystal Hot Sauce and a pinch of horseradish before letting the briny bit of heaven slide down your gullet in all it’s beautiful glory.
What if we take a step back and try something cooked, well citrus-cooked, like ceviche…calamari ceviche. Most people would take this in stride, proclaiming how much they love ceviche with shrimp, white fish, avocados and plenty of lime, but what if you saw a tentacle or three poking out from the fishy pile? Would you eat it? You really should. Though squid tends to be a bit more chewy than other types of seafood, the mild, sweet and somewhat nutty flavor is not to be missed. Santa Fe Restaurant on Esplanade Avenue offers a scrumptious version of ceviche with fresh, white fish, jumbo shrimp, calamari, avocado, red onion, tomato, cilantro and lots of lime juice. Deeelicious! Suckers and all…
So ceviche isn’t quite cooked enough? Perhaps we’ll try something completely different, something a bit more challenging for our final act of spine-tingling bravery, but something well cooked…something like sweetbreads perhaps? In case you are not familiar with the term, sweetbreads are culinary names for the thymus (throat, gullet or neck) or pancreas (heart, stomach or belly) of a calf or lamb. The most common preparation is for the organ meat to be soaked in salt water, poached in milk and then breaded and fried. Even Hanibal Lecter wouldn’t hesitate to join you for dinner at Bayona, Susan Spicer’s flagship restaurant in the French Quarter. Chef Spicer offers her signature dish of veal sweetbreads with lemon caper or sherry mustard butter and regardless which you choose, it will be a decadent, delicious dish you won’t ever forget…or regret. Although, I wouldn’t let Lecter pick up the bill . . . you don’t want to owe that guy any favors.
*Article originally published in the October 2012 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
*Chiba is closed