“Either I’m a toddler or she is in LOVE with me!” a bib-clad man, known to his friends as Amerigo Fresh Sushi, yells across a table of sizzling beef intestine. Tina, a patient waitress at Byul Gobchang, has just finished blowing on and delicately feeding him a freshly grilled bit of intestine.
“These intestines are like butter,” a man who goes by “Beef Erickson” says, his eyes closed in deep assessment. The intestines, in fact, taste nothing like butter. The flavor has the rich intensity of organ meat, and the texture is closer to an old piece of chewing gum.
Such hyperbole is common among the Culineers, a group of friends who, since 2012, have made it a mission to sample adventurous delicacies from turtle soup to goose intestine, crickets to live octopus, traveling as far as Tijuana for barnacles at Misión 19.
In the year since we last checked in with them, several members have been working on developing a reality show that chronicles their adventures. “The appeal would be that you are with people who are not experts, so it's like having dinner with friends,” says Culineer Duncan Birmingham, aka Marco Pollo Asada.
When asked about recent explorations, some Culineers look at the floor, avoiding the question.
“Lane threw up on the table,” Genghis Flan blurts out. Their most recent voyage involved a debauched train ride to a strip-mall eatery in Garden Grove's Little Saigon district. They had traveled to the redundantly named Café Artist Restaurant in search of the Philippine specialty balut (fertilized duck egg) and, for better or worse, found it. “I blacked out at 9 p.m. I don’t remember anything else,” says Lane, whose Culineers name is Beef Erickson. He goes on to defend himself by pointing out how utterly nauseating eating a fertilized duck inside of its egg can be. “It grows to a certain point,” he says. “Franklin's had feathers on it.” Another member describes the crackling sensation of biting down on the duckling's beak.
“I un–blacked out at a strip club in South Central at 4 a.m., alone.” Alexander the Steak chimes in.
Marco Pollo Asada, who later chronicled the adventure in a story for Medium, has a perfectly reasonable explanation for the shenanigans: “The train ran out of beer and wine, and we had to drink liquor on the way back.”
The Culineers took a several-month hiatus after their duck embryo outing in the O.C.
Though Culineering is a private affair, the group occasionally invites special guests. This backfired once, when one member's esteemed work colleague tagged along, thinking he was simply going out for a “fun night with the guys.” Instead he was forced to stomach a squishy, pink, boiled, developing duck embryo straight out of its shell.
At Byul Gobchang, the guest of honor is actress Katie Featherstone, of Paranormal Activity fame. She and the men convened for a pre-dinner “fireside brew” at Marco Pollo Asada's house. While the men argued about which Culineer name Featherstone should be granted, Marco Pollo Asada announced from the kitchen: “OK, guys! Fish balls are ready!” He had prepared a Thai-themed pre-dinner spread. After munching on fish balls, they decided on “Pear-Anormal” as a name for Featherstone, then “ParaHormel Activity.” It was then changed to a less germane “Amelia Artichoke Heart,” and we set sail.
After being seated at Byul Gobchang, the feast quickly arrives. A tangy marinated tripe salad, tossed with cilantro and red peppers and sprinkled with black sesame seeds, is decidedly the best tripe anyone at the table has ever tasted.
“Acorn jelly’s good as hell.” Veal Parmstrong confirms. The gelatinous brownish-purple chunks known as dotorimuk are served tossed with greens, cucumber, jalapeños and nori.
After making a respectful dent in the pile of beef parts that are now beginning to shrivel on the grill, it's on to karaoke. The men are warned by the waitress at Byul Gobchang that not a single karaoke room in the area will be available since it's Saturday night. They all pull flasks of whiskey out of their pockets, contemplate this for a few minutes in the parking lot and walk to the nearest karaoke club.
At Pharoah Karaoke Lounge, they are met by a hostess who apologizes that no rooms are available. A few minutes later, a man wearing a suit with a head microphone walks up. The Culineers agree to spend an exorbitant amount of money on beer in exchange for one of the premiere rooms. They are then escorted down a corridor of empty karaoke rooms to the most lavish of them all. Veal Parmstrong takes a seat at the head of the long table and commands like an emperor, “Entertain me!”
Soon, Amerigo Fresh Sushi is belting Seal's “A Kiss From a Rose on the Grave” into the microphone.
“I've totally seen him sing this song a thousand times,” Beef Erickson says, “and every time it gets better.”