My editor's e-mail glowed in my inbox like a firefly, the subject line beckoning me to click: “Would you be interested in…” it read.
“Not again,” I muttered. I’m often my editor’s guinea pig, munching deep-fried cod sperm and salsa-drizzled brain tacos for the sake of journalism. Heck, last week my editor requested my attendance at— I’m clenching my legs as I type—a testicle festival. “They want to chow down on sheep balls to up their virility or something,” he wrote. Or something, indeed.
Since the testicle festival didn’t come— ha!—to fruition, I lacked a column for Valentine’s Day. I clicked the email to view my replacement assignment. My pupils dilated, as if I’d snorted amphetamines laced with rat poison. “Want to eat the veal heart from Prune?” Hell to the no.While Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton works wonders with offal (crisp fried sweetbreads with bacon and capers, roasted marrow bones with parsley salad), I was in no mood to eat a baby cow’s grilled blood-pumper—even if
it was served with a lovely mint-yogurt dressing. “My dinner dance card is punched this week,” I lied.Truth was I had zilch planned, save for watching Japanese horror flick Battlefield Baseball (poisoned bats! sadistic coaches!) and drinking oldfashioneds made with Laird’s apple brandy and maple syrup (they taste like distilled fall).
Like the star quarterback on prom night, my editor wouldn’t take no for an answer. “But the heart is only available at dinner,” I said. “If it were offered at lunch, it’d be one thing. But it’s as creepy as all get-out to dine at a nice restaurant by your lonesome and only order veal heart. This is how serial killers are born.”
“That is very true,” he wrote back, seeing the dark and frightening truth.
What about yakitori? The Japanese yen for bird offal, such as grilled neck, skin and knee bones. “I leave my heart in your hands,” my editor said, sending me to Yakitori Taisho (5 St. Marks Pl., betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves., 212-228-5086) with my girlfriend. (What, did you expect a different companion for a Valentine’s Day article?) Dinner came at a terrible cost: “You have to pay,” she said.
“But haven’t we been dating long enough to go Dutch? Fifty-fifty—like a team!” “Why are we going to the restaurant again?” She was tired, eager to go home and watch The Biggest Loser.
“I have to eat a heart.” “You’re paying.” Like most of the Japanese izakayas proliferating along St. Marks Place, Taisho is bright and buzzy, cramped and chaotic, the air thick with meat smoke and dialects from the Far East.We sat by the grill, beside a book-reading girl picking at the white flesh of a head-on fish. I ordered a Sapporo draft and assorted skewers, heart included. My girlfriend flipped through the menu, pointing at a picture of sliced eel, then pink salmon, then steaming udon.Too many choices can be as paralyzing as a jellyfish sting. “You choose,” she said.
“Shrimp udon,” I said, smiling like one of those ladies who randomly select lottery balls.
Her noodles arrived first, with two tempura-fried shrimp sticking out like TV antennae and a poached egg sunk in murky broth. She cracked the egg, releasing a yellow plume. “This is just what I— what is that?” she asked, spooning up a white, gumball-size lump.
“Is that pork?” I grabbed the meat. I chewed. That was Porky, in bits and pieces. Her face went ashen; it is possible to look even whiter during February in New York. “Blind ignorance,” I said, helping her fish out the swine. “You won’t lose your pescetarian badge.”
My words soothed. Or maybe she was too hungry to complain.You could say I’m heartless. I’d say I was staring at four hearts impaled on a stick. “They look so… small,” I said, pointing to my skewer. On it were what appeared to be four flattened pieces of bubblegum, as brown as a dog-sullied sidewalk, with tiny holes— is that you, aortae?—where blood once pumped. I grabbed my stick and gnawed off one heart. It was tough and chewy, with offal’s profoundly mineral flavor. I did not like it, sir, no I did not.
“Have another one,” my girlfriend said, my meal displeasure matching hers. She smiled. “Go on and have a heart.”