I will forewarn you with the fact that this post involves the eating of animals that many Americans consider pets. Which is a damn shame...why are American parents being food for their children to keep as pets? It precludes many delicious culinary experiences and everyone knows that parents who get Little Timmy (to use Bourdain's literary device) Floofy the Rabbit instead of Fido are just lazy.
The Gastronauts is an NYC supper club of sorts for adventurous eaters, recently featured in the NYTimes. The meals served at that dinners are a vegetarian's worst nightmare— a morass of strange blobby organs, tentacles, eyeballs, and faces. They say macabre; I say marvelous.
For me as a (mostly) paleo eater these dinners are usually fine. Last night's was unusually good for me. Apparently, Peruvian food, besides some corn, which is served as a fresh vegetable anyway in most cases, has some great meaty options.
I found myself in Jackson Heights, Queens...actually the site of some of the city's tastiest and most adventurous restaurants. We went to Urumbamba, mostly for the guinea pig, which is called cuy in Peruvian cuisine.
Guinea pigs are certainly stupider than regular pigs and certainly not deserving of carnivore amnesty. Think of them as fattier rabbits.
But apparently the Gastronauts organizers, Curtiss and Ben, found this dish hard to procure— some people even told them it was illegal. That never stopped them though, as they have even braved torrents of PETA hatemail to ensure us diners access to seafood so fresh that it fights back.
So what was on the menu? First we had octopus in a rather ugly pink olive sauce. It was salty and not much else, but I've never been very enthusiastic about pulpo anyway.
Next up was lovely little red and orange peppers stuffed with ground beef and topped with a cap of velvety melted cheese, which burst with spicy flavor:
Next up was spicy grilled veal heart, which was incredible. I must learn some Peruvian recipes because the marination of all the meats with just perfect . Whatever they did, it brought out the best in this under-appreciated cut of meat by cutting the mineral flavors and accentuating the highly delectable savory "umami" notes. I didn't really bother with the corn, as it lacked flavor:
Black clam ceviche was refreshing tart and seabreeze salty:
Now for the coup d'etat: guinea pig/cuy. It was definitely interesting. As I said before, it does taste a lot like rabbit, but much fattier, particularly in the skin. Unfortunately, the skin was tough like pigs skin and could have used a good frying :) Some of our tablemates ate the eyeballs and the rest of the head, but what happened to the heart? That might have been nice to get on a skewer.
I found cow's foot stew the most challenging. The texture was gelatinous and unpredictable. Some pieces of foot were chewy, others melted in my mouth like little tapioca balls. At that point perhaps we were feeling a little food fatigue, but we were revived by a plate of various marinated meats, the best being fragrant unctuous lamb, with some sweet potatoes.
Next up was a more conventional rodent, rabbit, which was just slightly spicy in all the right ways. A nice surprise was how well the juices went with the boiled cassava. I definitely want to explore cassava more, as I get tired of sweet potatoes after workouts.
I'm definitely interested in exploring more Peruvian flavors and elements in my own cooking. Not sure where to get guinea pig meat though!