It was a warm but windy afternoon in May when Fergus Henderson brought his offal cuisine to the West Village for two sold-out seatings.
For nearly a decade, as a member of the Organ Meat Society, I’ve been following the career of Fergus Henderson, notorious English advocate of “nose to tail” eating, and probably the most esteemed chef an animal organ has ever known.
The chef was in New York last Thursday to offer a pair of lunch seatings at Barbuto, the West Village restaurant helmed by Jonathan Waxman, the man who first brought California style cooking to New York with his restaurant Jams in the 1980s.
Fergus Henderson is the chef at St. John, generally regarded as one of the best restautants in England, and a place that daringly specializes in offal offerings. As a friend and I scanned the menu, we became excited at the list of appetizers, which constituted a Who’s Who of Organs: There were marrow bones and tongues, kidneys and feet, tripe and eel pie.
Henderson (back to us in white) at work in Barbuto’s kitchen.
Though the printed paper menu – decorated with a 19th-century steel engraving of a pig at the top — had a brief list of entrees and sides, all the action was in the apps. The first thing to hit the table was a pile of fava beans still in their pods, constituting a sort of palate cleanser for what was to follow. We ordered a bargain-priced bottle of Italian rose to wash everything down.
We were seated under an umbrella on the sidewalk, and the spring sunshine and stiff breezes off the Hudson River only added to our pleasure. Fergus Henderson and Jonathan Waxman could be seen in the open kitchen with five other cooks, Henderson presiding over all, arms folded, carefully inspecting dishes as they emerged from the stove or wood-burning hearth, which could be seen flickering merrily from most vantage points in open-air dining room. Watching the chefs at work was a great pleasure.
Next: A pictorial diary of our amazing meal
The meal was heralded by an amuse of raw fresh fava beans still in their pods.
A casserole of so-called “trotter’s gear” featured diced pig feet, bacon, and quail eggs poached in the accumulated grease that retained their sunny, runny yolks.
Next, a pair of long marrow bones served with toast and a small heap of parsley, capers, and shredded onions, which made wonderful do-it-yourself openface sandwiches. Alas, no marrow spoons in sight, forcing us to excavate the bones like a coal miner with a Frisbee.
Two non-organ seasonal vegetable dishes came almost at the same time: a simple collection of perfectly steamed asparagus with a reservoir of molten butter, and a round forest hillock of fiddleheads soaked in beige anchovy sauce.
Next: More organs!
The veal tongue was perhaps the best of the dishes: a plate of thinly shaved glotus with a smooth and almost creamy texture dribbled with assertive parsley sauce something like an Italian salsa verde. A perfect pairing.
The kidneys were arresting when they heaved into view, lamb kidneys we decided, devoid of any skanky flavor, moist and bulbous, mounted on toasts, rare in the middle, and inundated with a brown sauce shot with black pepper. Kidneys have never had it so good.
The tripe gratin was dull looking when it arrived in its rectangular casserole, with grated cheese on top obscuring the swatches of tripe, which were the tenderest tripe you’ve ever tasted. Who knew cheese and tripe went so well together?
For dessert there was a splendid chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream, and an rhubarb crumble made with fresh and brilliantly red farmers’ market stalks. We left wishing we’d gone to both seatings.