Sunday, August 8, 2010

Coagulation

This evening, a couple of friends took me out for some fine dining at my favorite St. Louis trattoria on The Hill.  We started with a brisk, Italian, sparkling white wine, and then segued into a sultry, Argentinian red (the equivalent of a California Cabernet but, in my estimation, less rusty tasting).  As we were busily scrutinizing the menu for our entree selections, the following short exchange occurred--

Donna:  Do you think the [name of some ostentatious meat dish I can't remember] is pork or veal?

Jeff:  Well, considering that it is priced at $27.50, I'm guessing it is veal.

Donna:  Great!  Then I'm ordering it, if it is indeed veal.

Me:  You know, Donna, if your daughter [a radical animals' rights activist] finds out about this, you are dead meat (no pun intended).

Donna:  I just don't pay attention to that sort of thing [the controversy surrounding veal] and don't you tell my daughter, either!

 ***

When I was thirteen, I had the youthful insolence to lecture my father about the evils of industrialized farming while he was making himself a cold-cut sandwich.  As I was finishing some particularly truculent rant about how outrageously chickens are raised, my father silently turned to me and smacked me in the face with a slice of ham.  I still viscerally remember the greasy feeling that the meat juices left on my cheek.  That little happening cured me of lecturing meat-eaters about the evils of their diet whilst they were actually consuming it.  Thus, I did not have the stomach to criticize Donna's selection outright.  I could only look on in helpless dismay and incredulous bemusement as she ordered her veal.   

Being a professed vegetarian for the better part of two decades,* I've never actually eaten with someone who had the audacity (or complete indifference, as was the case with Donna) to unabashedly order veal in my presence.  In a moment of marked dissolution, I found myself quite curious to see what this much maligned dish looked like in living color.  Shortly before our meal was served, our waiter bestowed upon Donna a golden, ritualistic-appearing, dining implement--similar to an elongated, rectangular-shaped spoon--explaining that it allowed easy access to the marrow of the veal.  At this point, I began to feel a little queasy in anticipation of what seeming horror was to come next.  However, when the dish actually arrived at our table, it appeared as any other meat dish would appear to a non-meat eater - neither delightful nor grotesque.

I attentively monitored my friend as she enjoyed her dish, but she never picked up her "sacrificial marrow spoon" (which is what I had come to call it in my mind).  Eventually, she'd had her fill of dinner and pushed the plate away in abject satisfaction.  Jeff then asked her, with some confusion, why she hadn't eaten, or even tasted, the marrow.  She replied that it held no appeal for her and gamely scootched her dish in front of him so that he could partake in what he considered to be "the best part" of her meal.  

Both Donna and I watched Jeff in open fascination as he dug into the bone with that bizarre utensil.  He triumphantly extracted a brackish looking, almost black substance and then inserted the heaping spoonful into his mouth.  He dug in again and again before finally pronouncing ecstatically that, as soon as it touched his tongue, the marrow seemed to "coagulate" in his mouth**.  Apparently, this was a very good thing.  We segued into a discussion of fats in foods (as this marrow was obviously pure fat) and how folks like the taste of fat and so it made sense that Jeff would enjoy this aspect of the dish so much (in uncomfortable situations I tend to intellectualize).

We concluded our meal with shared succulent tiramisu, creme brulee, and no further incidents.  All in all, it was... educational :)       

Om shanti.


*Of late, I've begun eating fish, on occasion, but that isn't entirely relevant to this story.

**I'm guessing the word he was actually looking for was "liquefy" (it's nice to not be the only dyslexic at the table :)