Sometimes, while I’m finishing up my Ramen, I like to get on the Internet and check out online menus from four and five-star restaurants. I read things like Cajun-crusted and blackened ahi or duck breast sealed in a light brioche crust and I think, “mmmm.” I look at my Ramen and think, “mmmmssssgggg.” I decide to eat the noodles and leave the juice.
I like online menus because I like food. I don’t harbor illusions of working these $20 to 50-a-plate restaurants into my daily meal schedule, but I’m fascinated with food evolution. Chefs are constantly competing, experimenting and inventing to create dishes either never seen before or simply better than before. No, I can’t usually afford these restaurants. I just want to glance at the menus. On a special occasion I’ll make a reservation with someone at a nice restaurant or on a lesser occasion I’ll order an appetizer somewhere and escape with my mortgage payment intact.
My favorite online menu is from Babbo Ristorante in New York, voted the sixth-best restaurant in the city by the New York Times last year. Babbo’s chef, Mario Batali, understands how to use every scrap of an animal to make a fine dish. Batali offers lamb’s brain with lemon and sage; beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver and black truffles; pig foot Milanese with rice and beans and arugula. Or maybe you’re in the mood for some lamb’s tongue vinaigrette with morels and a three-minute egg or marinated fresh sardines with caramelized fennel and lobster oil. He also serves stinging nettle, which, as many Montanans know, is an irritable little plant that has similar effects on the skin as poison ivy. But cook nettle down and it’s a delicacy.
I’ve been intrigued with Batali since my dad told me about him. Writer Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and a food critic, gave a recipe book to my father that Batali had recommended to him. The book is called, “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.” An excerpt of Batali’s glowing review appears on the book’s cover. My dad is a student of the Nose to Tail Eating philosophy, and by default, I am too.
My dad believes in eating things other people wouldn’t let into their yards let alone their kitchens. His reasons are: Most people miss out on a lot of great food because they’re stuck in their ways and afraid to branch out and, basically, he likes the shock value. Growing up, I ate rattlesnake, raw antelope liver, fresh untreated fish eggs, various unidentified plants that grew behind our log cabin, and a lot of elaborate concoctions full of whatever he wanted to throw into them. When we hunted, there was no reason to waste the tongue and heart of an elk or deer.
So it’s with great curiosity that I watch respected restaurants now getting rave reviews in the New York Times for serving dishes similar to the ones that have long caused people to question my father’s sanity. You’d be surprised at what they’re serving for $30 nowadays. But for right now, I’m going to finish my Ramen.
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