The first time I visited the local Asian markets in D.C. I was struck by how many great cuts of meat they carried. Not as surprising, but equally impressive, was the selection of fish and other seafood. So while I remained mystified by the isles of Asian products, I was right at home with the animal proteins.
When I lived in Chapel Hill, the best lamb was to be had at a bodega in Carrboro. In D.C., the Korean grocery H Mart reminds me of all the great animal products Harris Teeter and Safeway do not and will not carry. This includes pig's ears.
Lest I'm accused of issuing a dining dare to my readers, I should note that offal is the hottest meat in the dining scene. For good reason, I may add. The rich, deep flavors of liver, heart, gizzards and other bits and pieces maybe new to our American palates, but they're familiar as morning to the rest of the world. During a recent trip to Chicago -- a city I could love if it weren't for the brutal winters -- I got the opportunity to swing by The Publican, a new gastro-pub from Paul Kahan, the restaurateur behind the popular eateries Blackbird and Avec.
One of my favorite dishes at The Publican, a beautiful space nestled in Chicago's industrial neighborhood, was the little gem salad. Rather than finish the salad with lardons or bacon bits, Kahan used crispy pig's ear. Kick ass. The rest of The Publican menu is a exploration of all things swine and oyster.
Speaking of swine, I also swung by The Silver Palm, a diner Tony Bourdain featured on his Chicago show. Following Bourdain's lead, I had a "Three Little Pigs" sandwich: pork tenderloin, twice-smoked ham and bacon, topped with cheese, an onion ring and a fried egg. That sandwich was the reason I went with a seafood dish for my latest D.C. Foodies recipe.
I wrapped up my time in Chicago with a visit to Mercat a la Planxa, a Spanish restaurant that was one of Esquire's top restaurants for 2008. It was good, but I have too much access to Jose Andres. Mercat was a fine restaurant -- maybe even the best Spanish restaurant in Chicago -- but no better than Andres' Jaleo. I should note, however, that Mercat offers a full roasted suckling pig to any party of four or more who call 72 hours ahead. That might put Mercat over the top. I gotta try that pig.
After my dining tour of Chicago (I was technically there for other business), I'll be eating soup and seafood for the foreseeable future. But it was worth it. Totally worth it.