The Ultimate Sweetbreads

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I’m not sure why, but there is a huge misconception as to what sweetbreads really are. But to clear things up for the misconceived, they are NOT brains. They are glands. Now, I can only imagine that if the thought of them being brains was irksome to you, the whole gland thing didn’t exactly move the ball either, but at least now you know what you’ll be rejecting the next time someone offers them to you.

Animal – Los Angeles, CA

There is virtually no part of the anatomy this place can’t turn into gold. And man do they spin some sweet-ass sweetbreads. The thing I love so much about them is that they don’t overly bread and fry them. So many other restaurants seem like they are trying to hide something as opposed to improve something. Well, Animal gets it. They let just enough of the savory through, and then contrast it with an outer shell of crisp sweetness, so that when you bit into it, the two collide like someone walking along the street with a bar of chocolate and another with a jar of peanut butter (as though anyone has ever done that, ever) and BOOM- Two great tastes in one gland-based dish. Reese’s advertising was so stupid in the 70’s, and yet I still remember it. Scarred for life I suppose.

Dovetail – New York, NY

When dealing with a delicacy that isn’t exactly the foie gras of fine dining, you have to try a little harder to impress. But therein lies the razor’s edge. How much trying can you do before it becomes overdone? Like at The Gander, for example, overdone to the point where they actually miss the point and you taste absolutely nothing of the sweetbreads. Well, I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, but whatever Dovetail is doing is hella right, taking the sauce and batter right up to the very threshold of pomp, without crossing the line. In fact, it’s so good you’ll be all like “foie who?” Assuming you talk like that, which, dare I say, is a bit annoying.

Recette

328 W 12th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 414-3000recettenyc.com

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I have been wanting to try this place for a while now, but after hearing that it is the sister restaurant to The Gander, my eagerness waned. Perhaps a blessing in disguise though, because low expectations are always easier to hurdle, and Recette most certainly sailed over them.

The space is intimate, which is sort of the restaurant version of “cozy” in NYC apartment listings, meaning “small.” But it’s walled with beautiful divided light windows, so it feels more open. As for the décor itself, apart from the windows it’s not very memorable.

The service and meal however, left quite the impression. Our waiter managing to strike that perfect balance between attentive, professional and down to earth.

Unfortunately the wine list was quite the opposite of down to earth, priced in a much higher stratosphere with only a very small handful of options below a C-note. Luckily the one I chose was not too crazy and not too shabby, a 2006 Barolo priced right on the threshold.

Things began with the bone marrow toast, complemented by trout roe to give it a nice burst of saltiness amidst the richiness. And while it was good, it also felt reminiscent of so many dishes at The Gander. Good, but not quite great.

But as regret started to seep in, that’s when the tide turned, and my use of an oceanic term was purposeful, because the next two dishes not only came from the sea, they are both Ultimates. The first being the best sashimi I’ve ever had. Incredibly fresh red snapper adorned with oyster crisps and chili peppers packing more heat than Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The other Ultimate came in the form of the most ridiculously creamy langoustines I’ve ever had. So buttery soft, they were practically worth starting a new religion over. And you really didn’t need any of the surrounding elements, like the pork croquette and the flan. They were life-changing-awesome all by themselves.

After that, came the spaghetti with sweet shrimp and sea urchin, which was also good, but was doomed from the get-go. First because it’s been touted as one of the best pasta dishes in the city, and it’s not. And second, because after the previous two dishes, it was an impossible act to follow.

And closing out the “small plates” was the pork belly. Now, I’m not sure if they were going after irony here, but this was easily the biggest portion of pork belly I’ve ever been served in my life. It was the size of a brick and could handily serve four ravenous wolves. And while that may sound awesome, truth be told it was a bit too massive making the harissa to belly ratio a bit anemic. Fortunately the maple glaze carried it, but nailed it was not.

Sadly, things continued on the downward spiral through dessert. The highly recommended s’more, while good, fell a chasm short of the ones at Marc Forgione and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. And the apple upside down cake should remain that way, face down in shame. Had two bites and done. The best of the lot was actually the free dessert that came with the check, a devil’s food cookie with a hint of chili. My advice, forgo the desserts and put that money into the wine.

So a very accurate Yelp rating for once, 3.5 stars. But since I don’t do halves, I’m going 4 knives. After all, they did have two Ultimates.

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