If you’ve been following my columns, you probably know that I treasure fine dining.
In fact, it’s my favorite hobby.
I can’t be sure why I have such a passion for food, but I do know that I’ve had it since day one.
I have distinct memories of refusing to eat fast food at age 3, and I’ve never liked junk like french fries, potato chips and processed soda..
And I stopped ordering off the kids’ menu at age 4 because—let’s face it—mac ‘n’ cheese is so basic.
My older sister wasn’t the same. She abhorred eating her vegetables and loved fast food until her teens. So perhaps my food-forwardness was an attempt to differentiate myself from my sibling.
Whether or not that’s the cause of my admitted food snobbery, I can surely say that I use my outlook on food to define myself.
And thanks to cooking shows like “Chopped,” “Iron Chef America” and “Top Chef,” my curiosity has been piqued and expanded since I started watching them in the fourth grade.
“Chopped,” in particular, has pushed me to try new ingredients. On the show, contestants are given four ingredients to make a dish. (There are three rounds: appetizer, entree and dessert.)
And these are often very tough ingredients. How does a chef create a composed appetizer of grapefruit, tuna, hen of the woods mushrooms and graham cracker cereal?
But often ingredients pop up that I’ve never heard of before, such as chicha morada, huitlacoche and black chicken.
These ingredients caused me to create my culinary bucket list.
Essentially it’s a list of obscure foods I need to try. And it dominates my food ordering. If there is something on the menu I’ve never sampled, I’ll order that dish, be it jellyfish or stinky tofu.
I’ll even search out restaurants that serve these exotic foods.
Last weekend was an excellent one for my bucket list.
My dad took me to a Napa restaurant to celebrate my birthday.
I chose La Toque (1314 McKinstry St.) by Ken Frank for three reasons: frog legs, skate wing and white asparagus.
Yes, three more things to cross off my list.
And I found all three delicious. If you discover one of these on a menu, it’s worth your time to capitalize on the opportunity.
Frog legs are a(n) (in)famous “obscure” food. Frog meat always yields disgust from the squeamish.
My take is rather unoriginal: frog legs taste like chicken for the most part. But there’s a subtle piscine flair, and the texture was more like undercooked poultry.
They’re tiny, though. The amount of meat per leg is comparable to a Dum Dums lollipop.
Moreover, I’m not sure why frog is a delicacy because it’s nothing too special flavor- and texture-wise.
The skate was much more interesting.
A relative of sting rays (and very similar in appearance), skates have a flaky meat that separates like other fish. But the flesh itself is much meatier than most fish, verging on mushy but in a pleasant way.
The chef prepared mine with a peanut curry sauce that was to die for. And the outside was crispy, a great contrast to the meat’s heavy texture.
In addition, the white asparagus was especially exciting because I’ve searched for it in markets for years now.
White asparagus is the same plant as green asparagus, but it’s grown differently.
A process called etiolation keeps the asparagus from photosynthesizing and producing chlorophyll (which makes asparagus green and gives it a vegetal flavor). This is done by covering the asparagus in mulch and a tarp.
White asparagus is extremely mild in flavor, but when poached in salt water and wrapped in bacon, as Ken Frank does, it becomes a very composed, balanced dish. The asparagus was mainly there for texture, providing a great foundation to the bacon and shallots on the dish.
The dinner was a huge success for me and my list, as I rarely knock out three ingredients in a single meal (unless I’m in Asia).
There is excitement in going out of my comfort zone when dining.
Why order the chicken when squab is on the menu?
My goal is to have tried pretty much every food or dish out there, so that one day I won’t force myself to opt for heavy organ meats over the rack of lamb.
Once I’ve tried everything I can order food the normal way—based on what sounds good to me.