The Organ Meat Society meeting was called to order at Northeast Taste, a Flushing restaurant that features cooking from China’s northeastern provinces. Fourteen members were present [names redacted for reasons of privacy], including two journalists, a publisher, a national security expert, a maker of absinthe, a physician who supervises boxing matches, two lighting designers, a visiting Danish backpacker, a restaurant critic, an industrial designer, two chefs, and a toddler belonging to one of the chefs. Commencing at 5:30 p.m., the meal lasted two hours. The Society was installed in the front window at a pair of round tables pushed together—newbies at one, old hands at the other.
A brief introduction was offered: “Northeast Taste is the second Dongbei restaurant to appear in the immediate neighborhood, joining two places from Shandong. These four Yellow Sea restaurants have overlapping menus, notable for their unusual selection of vegetables, including corn, tomatoes, and winter squashes; their profuse use of eggs; the paucity of rice in favor of wheat, used to make noodles, steamed buns, and dumplings; a plethora of seafood, some of it unfamiliar to Westerners; a love of lamb and mutton; and, most important for our purposes, a stunning selection of organs and other variety meats. No restaurant in the city has a more aggressive offal component.”
The first dish to hit the table was an amuse-bouche of shredded cabbage and boiled peanuts in chile paste. “That looks very Korean,” noted the physician. As a transition to the main part of the meal, a mélange of sea cucumbers and pork belly wobbled onto the table, typical of the meat-seafood combinations of Dongbei cuisine. Soon after, we found ourselves knee-deep in organs. The onslaught began with green peppers and pig bowels in a shimmering stir-fry. “That bung looks lovely with those bell peppers,” noted the publisher. “I’ve got news for you,” I warned her. “Those are jalapeños.” Indeed, the chilies had been selected for their spiciness, and proved a perfect foil for the intestines, which were of alarming circumference.
Next, a plate of kidneys appeared. Lured by a vivid color picture on the menu, which showed cross-hatched masses of red flesh, we’d ordered “kidneys in aged soy sauce.” What showed up was “battered lamb kidney,” demonstrating the restaurant’s amusing penchant for substituting one dish for another. The gnarled chunks of filter organ came crumbed with something resembling Japanese panko, and shreds of raw ginger, scallions, and carrots made the dish doubly scrumptious.
While the kidneys had been extensively soaked to dispel the pissy tang that kidneys sometimes have, the bowels we’d eaten already and those we were about to eat were frankly fecal-tasting. The second dish went by the hilarious name of “crispy colorectal,” as if a Chinese proctologist had translated the menu. This time, the meaty morsels had been smashed and breaded like wienerschnitzel, and served with a dipping powder of salt, black pepper, and a licoricey spice that masked the skunky taste—proving that anise and anus go surprisingly well together.
Next, an elongated plate of pig heart landed on the table, looking quite different from any heart we’d seen before. Usually, the heart—which is a powerful muscle, in addition to being the seat of human emotions—is served chunky and rubbery. This thin-sliced rendition was tender rather than chewy, and came lightly coated with an agreeable brown sauce, making the dish elegant in its simplicity. Not so the “sweet and sour lamb liver,” which we’d dutifully ordered, expecting a relative of the cloying pork stir-fry found in neighborhood Chinese takeouts. Yes, the bell peppers and onions were present, but without a trace of sweetness. We collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
Somewhat oddly, the soups began to appear late in the meal. We’d eaten so much already that their comparative lightness was appealing. The best styled itself “spicy beef tendon,” even though it was as mild as a piece of buttered toast. The tendons resembled chunks of pot roast, waving integuments like banners. As is our habit, we tasted a handful of non-organ selections; the most arresting was redundantly dubbed “corn with corn.” The organ eaters oohed and aahed when the waitress ceremoniously carried in the corn-yellow dome, laked in a beige sauce dotted with shrimp. The texture was creamy, like a soufflé.
Another favorite represented a seeming mistranslation: “stupid chicken with wild mushrooms.” Our Chinese-speaking lighting designer laughed when the thick, dark soup arrived, and said, “Nothing wrong with the translation. ‘Stupid’ is exactly what the menu says in Chinese, too.”