Welcoming the whelks!
Some dishes you dig into without hesitating — you know the terrain and keenly anticipate the execution. These sorts of dishes make eating pleasurable and worry-free. Other things you like the idea of, but once the dish arrives the fork hesitates over the plate. Either the appearance is alarming, or the strange combination of ingredients gives you pause. But somehow your fork begins to fly faster and faster. Here are some menu selections that scared us this year but turned out to be wonderful.
10. Raw Whelks at Bowery Diner — Yes, the French relish all sorts of shellfish that Americans remain unaccustomed to, and the whelk is one of them. Yes, the shell is pretty, but once you hook the little creature out of there, it looks like the thing that crawls into your belly in Alien, only to burst out weeks later a million times bigger.
9. Broccoli Tacos at No. 7 — Jeez, the broccoli isn’t even cooked. How could it be a good taco filling? Well it is, and the squish/crunch matrix provided by both a hard corn and soft flour tortilla provides the perfect context, and the nuts on top add extra crunch. How can this even exist? Did it come to the chef in a dream?
8. Spaghetti With Creamed Corn and Spam at Coluck — Sadly, the madhouse café called Coluck in the Chinatown Arcade has shuttered, depriving us of this oddball dish, perhaps forever. Somehow, the creaminess of the canned veggie rammed up against the salty Spam in an unforgettable way, and what doesn’t taste better ladled over overcooked spaghetti?
7. Perro Colombiano at La Casa de la Antojitos — New Yorkers who like their franks with just some mustard and sauerkraut might be abashed at the way they handle weenies in South America. Take this hot dog from Colombia, available in several permutations up and down Northern Boulevard in Queens. It flaunts canned pineapple, Russian Dressing, and potato sticks, among other things. And yes, it’s good.
6. Beef Tartare at Perry St — Like Coluck, this place is also closed. But in this case due to Sandy, and re-opening is expected in a couple of months. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of the place’s challenging take on steak tartare, in which you have to assay the raw meat like a spelunker crawling into an uncharted cave. Crumbed and fried quail egg yolk? Check! Spiral of some unidentifiable raw vegetable? Check! Baton of panisse? Check! Eating this requires a strategy, but the taste proves to be memorable.
5. Black Bean and Mango Pie at Pete Zaaz — This was one of those traditional pies in the early days of Pete Zaaz, the city’s most off-the-wall pizzeria. You can’t get it anymore, but now that it’s gone, I still long for it and don’t quite know why. The beans were savory, the shredded leeks a nice flavor enhancer, and the fruit added a touch of sweetness, an odd combination of ingredients working in unexpected ways.
4. Cold Tongue Salad at Kavkaz — The problem as I see it with this dish is that when it arrives, the cow tongue looks exactly like a human tongue, complete with taste buds and other recognizable features. Yet, in its tart vinaigrette and strewn with verdant dill, the glottal organ is spectacularly moist and soft.
3. Bull Penis at Minzhongle — Say that you’re eating dick and it will only provoke a laugh, but what if you’re really eating dick? It’s much less meaty than you would think, and in the case of a bull, though he may be well hung, the thing is as thin and rubbery as a computer cable, and oddly translucent. Close your eyes and chew. [Sadly, Minzhongle now closed 🙁 ]
2. Potato Taco Placeros at Tacos Morelos — Are you ready to make the dietary plunge into Fork in the Road’s All-Carb Diet? Well, that doesn’t quite yet exist, but this would be the cornerstone: corn tortilla, fried potato patty, and yellow rice, all in the same place at the same time.
1. Pig Blood Soup at Hospoda — This seething potage, a sometime special at this elegant Czech restaurant, has the texture and appearance of semi-coagulated pig blood, and the taste is salty and somewhat sweet. What knocks it into orbit, figuratively speaking, is the fragrant marjoram on top and the nuggets of barley found in its depths. Would you dare try it?
Please check out our 2010 list of most challenging dishes.