At last night's Test Kitchen dinner at Bestia, the phrase "vegetarian options are not available during this special meal" printed on top of the menu was something of an understatement. Cooked by some of L.A.'s top "underground" chefs, the focus of the 5-course meal was a selection of offal-centric dishes, which might not have seemed very sweet unless you were swayed by honeycomb tripe, veal nerve, and sweetbreads the size of cat brains.
It was no coincidence that the dinner was scheduled on Halloween's eve. Some people might prefer haunted houses or costume parties this time of year, but for a certain subset of foodies, this dinner could be seen as a grown-up version of being blind-folded and sticking your hands inside bags of cooked spaghetti (witch's hair) and peeled grapes (eyeballs).
From Kevin Van, an alum of Providence and Wolvesmouth, there was a flesh-pink play on Italian tonno tonnato, made from a forcemeat of veal nerve and some thin slices of raw tuna heart, which lent a wafting marine funk to the plate.
There were nuggets of minced chicken giblets, fried to a hearty crunch and dabbed with smoky leeks and mustard, from Alma chef Ari Taymor, as well as a huge pistachio-crusted veal sweetbread from Kevin Meehan of Kali Dining. Meehan also had the clever notion to stuff a hollowed out section of beef bone with marrow-thickened parsnip puree, a ghostly white paste as dense as ectoplasm.
Like your favorite slasher film, it only got bloodier from there. Ori Menasche, of the forthcoming Bestia, made thin tagliatelle noodles infused with blood, stewed with braised tripe in a pumpkin-colored sauce of chile oil and saffron. Jason Mattick, the newest chef to head up Santa Monica's Milo & Olive, "killed it" with his dish: a whole lamb's heart crusted with pepper, and grilled just long enough for the center to remain raw and bloody. In almost all appearances it resembled a very rare cut of (gamey-tasting) steak, but closer inspection revealed those little flaps and compartments you might remember from Anatomy 101 as aortas and ventricles.
And, of course, there was more than a fun-size Snickers for dessert. Mozza Newport's Sarah Asch created a beef tallow-infused version of chocolate salumi, which is apparently an actual dessert popular in Italy. It tasted a bit like a cross between an protein bar and an evil step-mother's fudge.
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Were we frightened? Spooked? Horrified? Not so much. It might have only been improved if all the staff wore costumes. Wouldn't Bestia restaurateur Bill Chait make for a great Dracula?
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