Saturday, June 17, 2006
Dragon (Okay, Chicken) Heart
Tonight was the bachelor party for my dear friend Mr. Thowmbpsin, and a meatier tribute to the fine man I could not possibly imagine.
To begin the evening, we gentlemen convened at Churrascaria Tribeca in Manhattan to get our steak on. I mean, steak was only the beginning. Or more to the point, steak was the early middle, as the meal began with a trip to a "salad" bar that under any other circumstance would have provided a full dinner and then some. I sampled shrimp cocktail, squid salad, asparagus risotto, a couple of kinds of greens (which I assume were there just for show), a bean salad, and sushi, of which there was a full spread of both nigiri and maki. I didn't get around to the mushrooms, the chicken salad, the whitefish stew, the catfish something-or-other, or the...
The reason I stopped short is that I had a little double-sided plastic coaster by my place setting that was on its red side now but would soon be flipped over to green. And you know what green means: Show me the meat.
For those unfamiliar with Brazilian barbecue of this nature, you pay a fixed price and then you eat as much as you possibly can. Once you flip the coaster over to green, here's what happens: Men carrying great spears of cooked flesh appear one by one at your table, each offering a different creature, or a different part of a similar creature. As this endless parade of carnivorous delight began, I realized why there was a pair of tongs at each seat, and it wasn't so us dudes could daintily select a cheese-filled roll from the bread basket. The tongs were there so we could grab a slice of meat as the server carved it off his speared shank, or steak, or leg of beast.
Things started innocently enough with spears of chicken and sausage. But beef was soon on its heels. Prime rib, rib-eye, I actually lost track of all the different beef cuts, because I heard from behind me the whisper of two of my favorite words: "Suckling pig?" Temporarily forgetting that there was no shortage of anything and that the carnival of meat would not cease, I scrambled to get me some pig. It was in a mushroom sauce, so it was on a platter and not a spear, but that was cool with me. There was some crispy skin, and the pork was beautiful. My mind was beginning to melt at this point into an alert yet dreamy state, a state where smoke and fat and salt were all that mattered. Okay, and booze too, as eating all that meat just seemed silly without washing it down with a fermented beverage.
I kept going.
"Sure, I'll have some bacon-wrapped turkey -- why not?"
"I'm getting full, but I can't skip the leg of lamb!"
Oh, and the side dishes: mashed potatoes, rice, fried plantains, fried polenta (mmm!) and... broccoli. Broccoli, who told you about this place?
And then I saw a guy walk by with a skewer containing tiny bullet-shaped pieces of meat, all neatly arranged in a row. "Chicken heart?" he said.
I watched my tablemates wave him on, but my pulse quickened. I don't like to eat "parts" -- not at all, really -- but I was so deep in the flesh-tearing zone that this was the one time I'd consider it. I beckoned the fella over, and he slid a piece onto my plate. Before I could lose my nerve, I took a bite. I didn't like it, but that didn't matter. It was chewy and dark and just too gamy for my taste, but at least I had tried it. I celebrated my boundless carnivorousness with a nice fatty piece of duck -- my favorite, the best for last -- which is what's pictured above.
When I say we staggered out of there, I do not exaggerate, for each of us had taken on so much extra baggage that walking upright without stumbling wasn't really an option. We'd have to have a couple-few digestifs before achieving a proper, less meat-weighted gait. I don't think any of us even remembered to flip our coasters back to red to signify our surrender. A guy with a roast beef on a skewer might still be standing by our table waiting for us to come back from the salad bar.
Mr. Thowmbpsin, salute!