You know a dinner has really had an impact when, months later, you mention it to people who know nothing about your organization and they say, “Oh… I heard about that.” That was the offal dinner at Basi Italia. We hadn’t initially written about it because we didn’t have many photographs right away, but since we keep hearing about it, we decided that people might like a glimpse of what they missed.
This is what you missed.
It really was that good.
We started the Off the Menu series in the hopes that chefs would push the envelope for adventurous eaters. Chef John Dornback took us at our word, with an offal-filled menu that was perfect for Slow Food. As David Chang pointed out succinctly in his Momofuku cookbook, if you’re serious about sustainability, you’ll use every part of an animal: pigs are more than walking pork chops. Indeed, offal has long held a unique place at the intersection of sustainability and gastronomy. Nevertheless, we knew that the menu would give some diners pause—and in fact, one wrote to let us know that he’d discovered that his wife refused to attend the dinner because of the theme.
It was her loss.
The meal started off with sautéed monkfish liver with sweet pea, bacon, and lavender—a delicate sweet-savory-rich combination that paired beautifully with a 2007 Cava. Monkfish has always been a favorite of mine, known as “poor man’s lobster” when I was growing up, but I hadn’t gone out of my way to seek out the liver. Until now.
Next up was the roasted beef bone marrow. For those people familiar with the guilty pleasure of scooping the silky-buttery marrow out of the bone in osso bucco, well… this is just a whole, whole lot better. You almost feel the need to hide your head in shame, except that everyone else is enjoying the same thing.
I tend to think that there’s no such thing as too much umami, and this next dish is a ringing vindication of that philosophy. Oxtail is a fairly uncommon ingredient on Western menus, but its connective tissue renders to a silky, opulent broth, leaving delicious beefy goodness behind. Coupled with the savory punch of parmesan and the richness of dates, it made for a dish that disappeared quickly and completely (see first series of pictures).
Crispy veal sweetbreads. So beautiful that you almost don’t want to eat it. But you do. And it makes you very happy.
Cheeks are another chef’s favorite. You won’t find them on the menu at most restaurants… but poached or braised for hours, they reach a state of melting tenderness that beautifully compliments their rich flavor.
Next (yes, there’s more): grilled lamb hearts, a real show-stopper. Hearts are pretty muscular (they do work hard!), so they’ve either got to be cooked very quickly or very slowly. John took the hard way and went for “very quickly,” and the results were truly delicious.
Finally, dessert—an almond shortcake. To my knowledge, no offal, but John is crafty.
None of these photos, however, capture the very best parts of the meal. Slow Food is about conviviality, about sharing the pleasure of food, and in that regard this evening was exemplary. Smiles were everywhere, happy diners overflowed the restaurant until all hours, and the good cheer of the host and hostess seemed to fill the air itself. It was a profoundly wonderful experience, and we are immensely grateful to Basi Italia and to Chef John for having allowed us to experience it. We close with a few more photographs, which speak for themselves.
Photo credits: Food—Roderick Chu; people—Karen Lynch for Basi Italia.