the year i ate new york

A New Golden Age for Offal?

Our diner-at-large packs his stomach with liver, intestine, kidney, and more.

Liver sashimi at Hakata TonTon. Photo: Moonhee Kim
Liver sashimi at Hakata TonTon. Photo: Moonhee Kim

At Artesano, a Peruvian restaurant in Tribeca, the anticuchos are not made from beef heart. “Here, we cater to our customers,” our waiter said, explaining why the kitchen uses filet mignon instead. In Peru, you can enjoy beef hearts grilled over open flames; here, in one of the city’s ritziest Zip Codes, you can have them in gentrified form while sitting by a wall of plastic greenery. They’re deliciously competent — juicy cubes of steak on a metal skewer over a bed of fried potatoes with hits from a peppery rocoto cream. Still, as Pharrell and Omillio Sparks once said, “Gimme that funk, that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff.”

My palate skews old man. I’m talking stews, braises, hard liquor, and offal — the discarded, unloved parts with wild textures and complex histories. I love them: the gurda kapoora at Dhamaka, where the goat kidneys and testicles are so obscenely soft you can spread them like cream on accompanying rolls of pao; the oxtail I’ve had at the Islands, particularly when it used to have that tiny attic crawl space where it felt like you were gently cooking with the meat; the bouncy opaque pieces of knee cartilage in the seolleongtang at Hanbat I recently got post-acupuncture. Bone broth for my bad bones. I have a feeling offal is about to come back in a real way: the continued promise of Team Frenchette’s Le Veau d’Or revival; a paean to Mexican tripe soup with La Menudería in the massage parlor underneath Mariscos El Submarino; and Eric Valdez’s Naks that he’s opening with Unapologetic Foods and which I hope does for Filipino cuisine in New York what the group did for Indian.

But I am impatient, and I wanted to get my fix now. I was reminded of Gopchang Story, the Korean chain restaurant that specializes in grilled intestines, while reading Dwight Garner’s “Grub Street Diet,” in which he mentions his membership in the Organ Meat Society, a roving band of gastronomes in search of offal. Since living in Korea, I’ve been a devotee of the GI tract. When done right, it’s unmatched in its textural wonder: The outer skin gets crispy as the fat renders and puffs outward, and deep inside is what Koreans call the gop, the mucous membrane that contains an intoxicatingly rich, silky flavor. Intestines are like the John Cazale of beef parts: Real heads know.

My friend Kristen and I had been meaning to go for years, and this was reason enough. We took our partners, both intestinal virgins, along for the outing. We got two sampler platters with daechang (large intestine), gopchang (small), heart, and tripe served tightly packed like rolls of cold cuts along with rice cakes, potatoes, and a tumbleweed of shaved scallions. There are two options: original, which comes in a dusting of garlic powder, and a spicier marinade. I’m partial to a classic: the daechang hits that chewy sweet spot. This, like almost all good food in Korea, is supposed to benefit the skin and the loins. What is certain is that bottles of beer and soju will suddenly start to disappear.

But back to the anticuchos. My boyfriend is a fiend for them, which means his exacting tastes have become mine. Our recommendation is toward places with less pretension. A personal standby is La Chacra, an unobtrusive restaurant that serves solidly good Peruvian food catering to locals in Williamsburg. An ideal meal begins with a round of pisco sours and an order of anticuchos that arrives with smoky grill marks, anticuchera glaze, and a pile of choclo to whet the appetite. Then ceviche and pollo a la brasa that comes with an ají verde sauce so good we always get an extra tub to take home.

The best anticucho we’ve had has been at Ancla, a neighborhood spot in Astoria we happened upon earlier this spring after a screening at the Museum of the Moving Image. The anticuchos arrive in fat chunks on a sizzling platter with rings of white onion and potatoes — all of which continue to sibilate as you unhook the meat. This was beef heart as it should be, with a crimson density both gamy and tender.

I needed more, and in the spirit of looking inward, I returned to the first place I’d ever had sweetbreads: Casa Mono, that cramped, rude, romantic Spanish tapas restaurant on Irving. Its opening made a stir with a commitment to offal in 2003 — cockscomb, headcheese, tripe. The chicken’s crown is gone, but classics like foie gras with five different onions and tender lamb’s tongue remain. And, of course, the sweetbreads, battered and fried in almond flour, whose creamy interior is cut by the acid in the Marcona-almond vinaigrette and concentrated anise bites of fennel stems underneath.

For another celebratory stage for offal, I went to the recently revived Hakata TonTon, chef Koji Hagihara’s hot-pot restaurant that closed during lockdown in 2020. Hand Hospitality, the group that has keyed into creative and congenial Korean food with places like Ariari and Moono, smartly brought the restaurant back in the former Madangsui space. The menu has bulked up, izakaya style, with everything from a shaken-at-your-table mazemen to mapo tofu to softly scrambled eggs with shrimp. The offal delights are plenty: paperlike slivers of foie gras that top inari sushi in sweet-and-salty tofu pockets; the iron depth of steamed ankimo, monkfish liver, paired with high notes of yuzu; and maybe most luxurious in their simplicity, thin slices of raw veal liver with salt, sesame, and a hit of spicy soy. This is my favorite way to eat liver — impossibly clean and slightly sweet with a nutty glow.

The namesake pork is still the star here. Pig’s trotters are available as small dishes, a couple of petit feet that are braised before getting broiled and sauced with scallion ponzu or spicy garlic, depending on your preference. There are a few hot-pot options with pig’s feet or beef intestines. We got the classic with chicken thigh, pork belly, and pork knuckles arriving under a thicket of garlic chives that gradually melts down into the spicy, meaty miso broth underneath. You know it’s good because the soup passes the ChapStick test, leaving a layer of glossy collagen on your lips as you slurp it down.

More of The Year I Ate New York

See All
Are We in a New Golden Age for Offal?