Friday, December 18, 2009

How about a nice Leg of Beast?

Sound appetizing? That's what I had for dinner last night. Kinda makes me think about this:

The look on Cindy Lou Who's face conveys perfectly the emotions I was feeling when the enormous hank of meat arrived and settled itself in the center of our table at Incanto Italian Restaurant. Incanto specializes in meat, as would be readily apparent to anyone examining the restaurant's decor, which I might describe as minimalist, with a side of dismembered pig. Pig heads on the walls, wooden pigs holding up mounds of impossibly large fruit, and an eerie painting over the bar featuring people with pig heads or beaks or riding large fish across the sky. I was not disturbed by this emphasis on flesh, though I arrived absurdly early, and had ample time to examine this painting while downing two glasses of excellent wine and nibbling on house-cured olives. You see, I knew what I was getting into. I was there for the meat, and I was not disappointed.

Leg of Beast requires a week's advance notice, and at least six of your closest friends to come along for the ride. We were a group of ten meat-lovers, ready to consume every part of the animal. In addition to the entire beef shank that was the centerpiece of the meal, we were treated to our choice of an array of appetizers (Mine had snails, The Man's featured cod milt -look it up; you'll be disturbed.), and half a marrow bone apiece. I've had marrow twice now, and it's absolutely my new favorite thing, ever. Check this out:

Seriously, scoop a little of that goodness out, spread it on one of those toasts, sprinkle a little sea salt on top, pop it in your mouth, and then . . . .don't talk for awhile. Don't think. Close your eyes if you like. Just appreciate your senses being flooded with the intense pleasure of the moment. If you're not too busy enjoying, try to remember to chew with your mouth closed. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Now, I know marrow is not for everyone. Nor are large shanks of meat, served with tendons and skin, preceded by polenta snails. The Man, for example, can't really handle marrow, but that is definitely a "more for me" kind of situation, so I'm cool with us having our differences.

I'm not really a gourmand, or a gastronome, or even really a foodie, if it comes to that. I love food, especially good food, and I love to cook, but what I would really honestly call myself is a food adventurer. I'm like Indiana Jones, except I would have totally dug into those monkey brains.

When I go out to eat, I look for the weirdest thing on the menu. I like cooking crazy things that require days of work, and lighting things on fire (ask my mom about the Crepes Suzette Incident of '99). I get all aquiver at the thought of octopus. The Man is the same way, and for that reason, we not only get along great, whenever we eat out, it's an EVENT.

Our wedding, therefore, if it is to be true to us, will be an extravaganza of exotic foodstuffs. We've chosen to hold our reception in a Scandinavian restaurant in my native Madison, WI called Restaurant Magnus, and from the daily specials it tells me about on Facebook, it will not disappoint. The menu changes seasonally, so I can't be sure what exactly they'll be offering once it comes time to set our menu, but the current private dining menu features such delectables as "Caraway Seared Venison and Venison Carpaccio" and "Cinnamon Smoked Lamp Chops" (served with pickled lamb tongue.)

For The Man and I, this is heaven. It couldn't possibly be better. However, our guest list contains a whole slew of folks whom we love dearly, and to whom pickled lamb tongue might just be grounds for a full-on freakout, or at least making it an early night with a fast food stop on the way home.

Case in point: one of my best friends from high school traveled Europe with me the year we were both going abroad for school. We had one huge fight, in Venice, because she wanted to go to Burger King for lunch, and I flat out refused. I was in Italy, and I wanted to eat the most Italian thing possible. She was tired, and just wanted to be able to identify her meal for once. We split up. I ate at a little cafeteria where the busboy sang to me every time he walked past. It was a good decision, and we met up later to feed pigeons and see some opera. Everyone was happy.

This marvelous friend will be a guest at my wedding, along with my grandmother, my parents' friends, The Man's boss, and a small delegation of vegetarians. Much as I would love to spread the gospel of Exotic Meats, I also really want these people to enjoy themselves at my reception, which I imagine they will not if they are faced with "Smoked Gouda-Egg Flan."

So, okay, no problem, you say. Just pick one entree for the veggies, throw in the one relatively innocuous chicken dish for the conservative eaters, and go nuts with the rest of the menu. With three entree slots on our RSVP cards, however, that only leaves us with one opportunity to go for a culinary explosion, and how on earth am I supposed to choose between "Cocoa Nib Cured Pork Tenderloin" and "Herb-Salt Roasted Beef Striploin with Bone Marrow Butter Pate?"

Our wedding should be an expression of us, I feel, but also a gesture of appreciation to the community of people we love and want to share in our happiness. How does one balance one's passions with respect for one's guests?

It's a difficult question, and one I'll be pondering quite a bit in the next few months.

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