It’s not every meal where a course of frog legs stands out as tame. But when a meal includes duck kidneys, duck tongue, goose-feet webbing and pig stomach, frog legs seem downright chicken-like. I ate all of these dishes and more a few weeks ago with the members of a small eating group that alternates among calling itself the Innard Circle, the Organ Meat Society and the Organ Grinders. They are a group of foodiesâ€”including journalists, designers and one notably food criticâ€”devoted to sampling offal, animal organs, at restaurants throughout the city. My colleague, Goulash, was writing an article about the group, and I had the opportunity to tag along with him to one of their meetings, this time at the Fujianese restaurant Rong Hang in New York’s Chinatown.
The restaurant is as brightly lit as a Wal-Mart isle, and thirsty diners must reach into a glass-doored refrigerator for their own Heineken or Coors Light. The group’s resident food critic, Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice, and it’s only Mandarin speaker teamed up to do the ordering. Our first dish was duck kidney, which had a slight funk of liver-ishness but was otherwise satisfying and savory. It was soon followed by my favorite dish of the night: thin curls of goose intestine, served with beautifully julienned scallions. It would have seemed right at home on a four-star tasting menu. Other successful dishes included slightly crispy (though bony) duck tongues and pig stomach. I even liked the goose-foot webbing, which looked gelatinous, but actually yielded a sort of melt-in-your-mouth quality between the chewier cartilaginous pieces.
On the less successful side of the ledger was an unremarkable non-organ meat noodle dish, a water spinach dish with the most overcooked, mealy shrimp I have ever tasted and bright red, too-sweet lychee pork with rice. But, to my mind, the only dish that was truly inedible was the beef large intestine, cooked in Fujianese red wine paste and served with mushrooms. Let me just say that as you move closer to the end of the digestive system, the organs begin to taste more and more like the food that once passed through them. In other words, these large intestines tasted like shitâ€”literally. After gagging down a few bites, Goulash and I left that dish up to a couple of the more hardcore members at the table. Some foods, it seems, are not even palatable to the average adventurous, open-minded eater. After all, it’s not called the Innard Circle for nothing.
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