No! Not OFFAL! I don't want to eat brains!!!
I couldn't believe it. After having heard amazing things about celebrity chef Mario Batali’s Babbo in NYC, (and pasta basically being Bryan's favorite food in the world), we had decided to try B&B, Batali and Joe Bastianich's joint venture in Las Vegas. This restaurant has been most closely compared with Babbo, Batali's restaurant in New York. Both Babbo and B&B have signature eight-course pasta tastings which change seasonally.
While at the airport en route to Las Vegas, I thought it would be fun to look up the pasta tasting online. Uh oh. Bad idea. B&B had just started featuring their seasonal offal pasta tasting.
In case you don't know, offal is defined as basically parts of an animal that most people don't want to eat. Hmmmm . . .
Now, being Chinese, it's not like weird animal parts are foreign to me. I grew up eating tripe (cow stomach), pig intestines, and chicken hearts. I've had frog legs, sea cucumbers, duck tongue, and all sorts of other things. Really, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Nevertheless, there are a few things that have always grossed me out, and one of these is brains.
And the first course of the tasting menu? Ravioli made with lamb's brains.
We entered the restaurant and the waitress RAVED about the pasta tasting. She said the various dishes were REALLY GOOD. And after looking at the other menu options (which looked much more ordinary and less interesting), I was stuck in a bind.
Bryan looked at me again, smiled mischievously, and said, "pasta tasting?"
I sighed. . . defeat . .again. How does this always happen?
So here is a detailed summary of my first offal pasta tasting ever.
Lamb’s Brain “Francobolli" with Lemon and Sage
Honestly, if no one had told me that the pasta was filled with lamb's brain, I would have had no idea. The brain itself is mild, and when mushed up and mixed in with the ricotta, it basically tastes like it is part of the cheese. The pasta texture was absolutely perfect, and the lemon sage sauce was light, yet bright and crisp at the same time. I hate to admit it, but it was really good.
Spaghetti Neri alla Chitarra with Ricci di Mare
The second course was our favorite entree by far. The pasta was a handmade squid ink pasta with a lovely chewy texture. It was mixed with uni (which is only arguably "offal" I think) and a surprisingly amount of hot peppers. The pasta had quite a bit of kick. It was great. The combination of the strong squid-ink flavor with the creamy uni and the spicy peppers was perfect. Really really delicious. I sincerely believe this is the best dish.
Tomato Conserva “Gettoni” with Ragu Norcino
The third dish is an interesting melange of various organs (liver, hearts, cockscomb, and "duck fries" - more on that later) stewed for three days into this gloriously rich and flavorful sauce. I was surprised that I actually liked the cockscomb (the red comb on a rooster), which I had never had before. It’s sort of gelatinous not unlike cow tendon. The sauce is then tossed with fresh coin-shaped mini-raviolis filled with a beautiful tomato sauce (made from fresh tomatoes jarred in the summer), which was absolutely spectacular. All of their homemade pastas were nice and al dente, super chewy, and just all around perfect.
Heh heh, silly us - we understood everything the waitress said except for "duck fries." What are duck fries? I was highly suspicious that it was a euphemism for something really awful. Bryan thought they were French fries cooked in duck fat. I was NOT convinced, and was even more suspicious when the dish that arrived had no fries in sight.
We finished the dish and it was truly delicious. While waiting for the next course, I whipped out my Blackberry and searched the term "duck fries."
I almost spit out my drink. Are you ready for this? Duck Fries are duck testicles. I couldn't believe it. I was soooo glad I had already finished the dish. I had always avoided "Rocky Mountain Oysters" (cow testicles) because the idea grossed me out. Oh my . . oh my . . I’m so glad I had already eaten it . . .
Pici con Cibreo
This dish consisted of thick chewy spaghetti-like pasta tossed with various livers. Because I don’t like liver, this was one of my least favorite dishes, although Bryan really liked it.
Goose Liver Ravioli with Balsamic Vinegar and Brown Butter
I'm not a big liver fan, and thus the liver flavor turned me off a bit, but I must say the sauce was fantastic. Though quite sweet, the strong, balsamic vinegar reduction worked beautifully with the strong liver flavor. And of course, the ravioli texture was perfectly chewy.
Blood Orange Sorbetto
This was the perfect palate cleanser to a very well-executed rich and satisfying meal.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
The dessert was good. The pumpkin bread pudding was nice and custardy. The entire dish had a pumpkin theme, including toasted pumpkin seeds that added a deliciously toasty crunch to the dessert, cutting through the rich creaminess of everything else.
Concluding Thoughts - was the Offal Awful?
Well, what can I say? B&B surely knows its pasta and competes, if not surpasses the top restaurants we've tried in Boston's North End. The dishes here are more unique, exotic, and expertly executed than most that I've tried. All of the pastas are homemade, and they all have incredible texture. The sauces are also top notch. Bryan, who loves liver and loves pasta, says this is one of the best pasta eating experiences he has ever had.
This tasting is not cheap - it's $99 a person and the whole table has to order the tasting. If you want a cheaper option, go to Babbo in NYC, where the pasta tasting is only $69 a person, and is mostly likely just as good, if not better. For some reason, there is a premium on everything in Las Vegas. It's not a place for "value" dining, although you can't deny the quality. Despite the fact that the offal sounded really gross to me, B&B was able to execute these dishes beautifully, and I have to concede that the meal was stunningly good.
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