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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Anchovies, Beef Heart and Cilantro

You'll please pardon my linguistic atrophy--it's been awhile.

They say memory isn't (please, someone, explain to me why "isn't" isn't in my firefox dictionary--y'all download 3.0?--readers, so much has happened) so reliable, so it's going to require a leap of faith for you to believe my account of a dinner a fortnight past, but, suffice it to say, I have a preternatural memory, especially for all-things involving cilantro.

One of my good friends is leaving New York to work for the Obama campaign. This is a trend a lot of my friends are partaking in--not the work for Obama thing, the leave New York (me) thing. First there was good friend who moved to Cairo, then there was other good friend moving to Argentina in two months (I won't mention her name in the event her employers are reading--surprise!!) and then this guy, my best guy friend that isn't my boyfriend in the whole state of New York--moving.

Well, that's neither here nor there except that we had a sort-of goodbye dinner together. As I said, it's been a couple of weeks (I have, a few weeks ago, taken a real grownup job that has been a bit needy time-wise). We went to Marlow & Sons. This is a restaurant I can't help but love despite the fact that hipsters love it too--this is true of a lot of things in Williamsburg. Great oysters. The same menu of 10 things everyday, except the way each is prepared changes with what's in season and presumably the chef's whim. I've never had anything I didn't really like there.

That was, at least, until a couple weeks ago (God, I should write murder mysteries--you didn't know where this was going, did you?) when we ordered the beef heart. I'm basically of one mind when it comes to offal: I'll try it. I don't always like it, but I often do, and, you know, I'm out to eat, so, let's, like, try something new. Especially when I'm with a group of experimenters, as I often am--I like to just order weird shit, especially when I'm in good hands like at M & S.

I asked the waiter how the heart on anchovy crostini was and he responded with something like: "Oh my hold fucking christ it is so good you won't believe it." While bordering on the too-much enthusiasm in a response category, it seemed clear his answer was an endorsement, and so we ordered it. I said something snarky like "Wow, your chef really went for it with the anchovy AND the heart, huh?" He knew what I was saying. Bold. Real bold.

My review of the heart is this: it was fine. I wouldn't eat it every day. I wouldn't spit it out. It was just fine. I'd never had heart before and have no source of comparison. It seemed like it was probably cooked properly, it was just sort of OK. The anchovies were a bit much (I find they almost always are unless they're used where they belong--in caesar salad dressing or as a flavoring in some sauce or dip or other kind of condiment situation) and didn't help things out--they took things from fine, to less-than-fine. What changed things dramatically was the accoutrement. I've never seen such an egregious affront to my cilantro hate, maybe ever.

With the thinly sliced heart and anchovy crostini was a green salad of what looked to be parsley tossed in a very light vinaigrette. Of course, as any good cilantro hater would, I asked (aloud) if it could be, was it possible, could it be cilantro? I didn't really think it was--who would do such a thing? But wouldn't you know it? An absolutely mammoth pile of cilantro was just lying there nearly naked, adorned by nothing more than some fresh lemon, a little olive oil, some salt, some pepper and my rage, contempt and nonplus.

This was no normal cilantro. No, this was local, organic, seasonal, probably god-damn heirloom cilantro. In other words, it tasted like the Platonic ideal of cilantro, which is to say the Platonic ideal of gross. I promptly told my waiter, relating the same lesson I will take with me from the experience: When a chef is bold enough to pair beef heart with anchovy, he's not going to think twice about serving it with a heaping pile of cilantro--and you're a fool to think otherwise.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence (from Cilantro) Day

As a precocious, egomaniacal kid, the fireworks meant a lot to me growing up. See, they would happen on the 4th of July, while my birthday is on the 12th of July, (and I always used that syntax to describe my birthday, being in addition to precocious and egomaniacal, patriotic in the precise way of a nuance-free 5-year-old) and my recollection is that my father would tell me every year the grand fireworks were part of my birthday celebration, not so much that they were for me but that they were somehow part of the Erin Hollingsworth birthday gestalt, if you will.

So it's in this context that I came to know fireworks, Independence Day, the whole thing; America's birthday and mine are, in my mind, intrinsically linked. Of course, as I've grown older I've realized this isn't strictly true, but one doesn't easily shake-off childhood associations. This association has also become more disturbing as each year of age brings another year of Bush--another year of mitigated freedom. The fireworks, invented by the Chinese, are less magical and more ironic--China kicking our economic asses and everything. But as we grow older, we find new ways to enjoy things we used to, or we probably should try.

And so it is that I greatly look forward to this weekend's festivities, which awesomely will be full of friends old and new, and I'm thinking cilantro-free! You don't get more Americana than 4th of July food: potato salad, BBQ, hot dogs, baked beans, watermelon, (with salt if you have any reverence to either the fruit or your Midwestern roots) and domestic macrobrews. And when and if Americana is overtaken by cilantro, well, the war against gross is lost. Not on my watch America!