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Offal = Awful

I won’t mince words here. The thought of eating offal–i.e. organ meats and other parts of animals–makes me want to hurl and/or run for the nearest exit. I won’t tell you that brains, tripe, eyeballs, hearts or blood in general don’t taste good. It’s just that I don’t want to try them to find out. I start gagging as the thought of something like that crossing my lips seems just wrong. It’s a mental thing with me. I can’t get past what I would be eating. Now, I did make an exception last year when we went to Graham Elliot in Chicago and had the foie gras lollipops. Those were decadent and delicious and I’d eat them again. But I won’t go much further beyond that. Heck, I only recently started enjoying fish.

I felt compelled to write about this when I saw Chris Cosentino win Top Chef Masters recently. Chris’s specialty is offal meat, as evidenced by this website of his. And he made tripe, blood sausage and some other really gross looking dishes on his way to winning it all. A few seasons ago on Top Chef Masters, they also had an episode where the contestants had to make things like tacos out of things like tongue. I’m sorry, but ewwwww. I often look at the judges to see how they react to this stuff. And I think that I could never be a full-fledged food critic because there are foods I won’t touch, much less enjoy, with a ten foot pole.

How about you? How do you feel about offal?

  

My new friend–fish

Chef JimI won’t go into too much detail about why I never cared much for seafood. I think that it’s because of the awful smell when my mom would take me into fish markets on Long Island. Ewww. And the beady eyes on those things. But I’ve tasted some seafood and have liked some things at times–crabcakes and shrimp cocktail to name a few. And I’ve had fish a few times too, especially at wine dinner events or special all inclusive “chef’s dinners” that my wife and I have gone to, like at Graham Elliot in Chicago. Well, there, I went into detail.

Anyway, I always notice how nice the frozen fish looks at Trader Joe’s, our favorite grocery store. And I keep thinking I want to give fish a chance. So last week we got some–a fish called Cape Capensis, a mild white fish from the coast of South Africa. Yeah, that’s a long way from Madison, but there it is. And last night, we tried it. And by we, I mean that I cooked and ate fish for the first time in my life. I won’t say it was my favorite thing ever, but it was tasty for sure and I’d make it again. The recipe was one I found on a site called The Fish Bus. (note: The Fish Bus name reminded me of this hilarious rap written by my wife’s friend Aly). I substituted panko bread crumbs for the corn chip crumbs and it seemed to taste fine.

So there you have it. My wife and sister are proud of me. My parents will likely faint when I tell them.

  

Chicago meal #3: Graham Elliot

Mrs. Mike and I walked off our lunch at Frontera Grill by taking a leisurely 90 minute walk from our hotel to the park with the giant reflective bean and then to our final Chicago meal of the weekend, dinner at Graham Elliot. You may know Mr. Elliot, first from Top Chef Masters, and then on the hit Fox show Masterchef, in which Graham is a judge along with Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich.

Elliot, still only in his early 30’s, is known for interesting and exciting cuisine, and when we showed up at his restaurant, the atmosphere from the start was interesting. The music was hip and sort of blaring, almost like it was a nightclub. Then the menus arrived, and the list of items was a bit confusing, but again, extremely interesting.

We decided to go with the tasting menu–which would give us the chance to try small portions of many items from the menu. There were three levels of tasting–and we went with the first one, which they said would take about an hour and a half. There was a mid-level and a top level that was more of an event–but based on how large our lunch was, the smaller tasting menu would be perfect.

The server told us that the chef would bring us a few “extras” that were not listed on the menu, and if we desired, they would also bring us each a foie gras lollipop coated in watermelon Pop Rocks. Now, I’m not adventurous, but this was too weird to pass up.

But first, they brought an “extra”….a shot glass of watermelon consomme with mint and jalapeno oil. Oh, but before that, some popcorn with parmesan and truffle oil. Then came the lollipop–holy crap, that was the first time I’d had foie gras, and it was delicious, something I’d totally eat again. But the Pop Rocks gave it the most amazing contrast–creamy and fatty with popping candy in your mouth. Just crazy but delicious.

Next was the deconstructed Caesar salad–this was the one we had a hard time with–it was creative and cool looking–a nub of romaine with Parmesan, some dressing on the plate, and a brioche twinkie with marscarpone. But it also had a Spanish anchovy on top, and that tasted like it just came out of the ocean. We ate it, but blech! Next was the corn bisque, with lobster, toasted coquito and vanilla essence. This was an interesting contrast in flavors too, and one that totally worked. Yum.

Next up was an extra of “cucumber salad,” which consisted of tiny bits of cucumber with rice wine and sabayon. Pretty good, and it was what they might call a palate cleanser after the creamy soup. Then came the main courses–first the seafood dish, which was crispy seared halibut topped with bacon, leeks and haricot verts (thin green beans). I’m not a big seafood eater, but this was also very good–at least way better than the anchovy! Then it was the meat course–bison loin with an onion ring, baked bean puree and pepper salsa (pictured above)–it was unbelievable.

Then there were a few small dessert items–first, a homemade grape soda; then a flourless chocolate cake with root beer ice cream, port cherry and birch caramel. Wow, that was one of the highlights of our weekend. Finally, there was an extra–a small pistachio and coconut biscotti.

I love trying new and innovative cuisine, and this entire meal was that. If you are in Chicago and feeling adventurous, you have to try Graham Elliot–just make sure to make a reservation well in advance!

  

Chicago: foodie weekend

Greetings fellow readers of Mikey’s Kitchen. This past weekend Mrs. Mikey and I went to Chicago for the weekend, for the sole purpose of eating at some of the city’s great restaurants we have heard much about. The rest of this week will be devoted to talking about the meals we had–at The Purple Pig, Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill, and Graham Elliot. There was some interesting food–stuff we would never try on any given day–but it was all good. So stay with me this week for the recap….

  

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