"I've only eaten goat brain once before and it was nothing like this."
Last week I stopped by Fatty Crab's new Upper West Side digs to see what Zak Pelaccio and his crew have been cooking up. In addition to such old favorites as the pickled watermelon and pork belly salad and the addictive Fatty Sliders, there are several new items including the Fatty Dog, which is more of a kick-ass spicy sausage with a Malaysian accent than a wiener.
Pelaccio is also experimenting with banh mi. This isn't a case of some bandwagon effect brought on by the sandwich's overnight transformation into the hottest thing in New York City since toasted baguettes, though. He was making banh mi when he was at 5 Ninth. For a long while I held fast to the belief that good banh mi isn't available in restaurants. Then 5 Ninth's upscale yet traditional version rocked my world. Pelaccio and that stellar banh mi are both long gone from 5 Ninth, so I was glad to see banh mi on Fatty Crab's menu.
At first glance it looks like a traditional banh mi. It's got all the standard veggies: cukes, cilantro, and a tangle of pickled carrot and daikon strands. Don't let this sandwich fool you though—it's actually a fried oyster and poached Bobo chicken banh mi. And when I saw it listed on the menu as such I immediately ordered one.
At first the combination of flavors and textures was somewhat of a disconnect. Perhaps it was the pre-dinner cocktail taking effect, but for a moment, I forgot there were oysters in it and found myself wondering what all that great crunchy stuff was doing in a Vietnamese sandwich. And then it hit me: So this is what banh mi would taste like if they had been invented in New Orleans.
That thinly sliced piece of lunch meat on top isn't part of the Vietnamese charcuterie tradition either—it's mortadella from Salumeria Rosi. My one complaint about this eclectic take on the banh mi is the $12 price; then again it is the Upper West Side.
While I was in the kitchen taking pictures of the sandwich, Pelaccio was browning an entire goat head in a pan. Flabbergasted by the spectacle, I asked him what he was doing. "Somebody's gotta eat the head," he said with a nod in my direction.
I've only eaten goat brain once before and it was nothing like this. Slicked with a fiery sambal, it had a firm consistency at first then melted on my tongue evoking memories of my first bite of foie gras.
Here's the head itself sitting on a bed of callaloo. As Spencer Tracy once said of Katherine Hepburn, "She ain't got much meat on her, but what she's got is cherce!" The bits of brown face flesh and the cheeks proved quite tasty. I'd have eaten the eyes, but didn't want to freak out the couple sitting next to us anymore than I already had. After all, this was the Upper West Side, not some grotty Flushing food court.