Food Firsts: Falling in Love with Foie Gras

Food Firsts: Falling in Love with Foie Gras

This is a short story about the first time I ate foie gras. It is told through memories from that evening with my dinner companion, my friend Meg. Listen to us recount that night as you read the story below. 

It must have been 2010, 2011 maybe? I know it wasn't long after moving to New York City... I know it was way before Philippe came into the picture... I don't remember why this happened (I'm later told it was through a Twitter DM), but I somehow scored an invite to a (free!) tasting dinner at Chef Todd English's Times Square restaurant, Ça Va (now permanently closed).

I had met Meg through Twitter. Like countless other internet-turned-real life friends, she had popped up on my feed one day as a recommended follow. Her bio confirmed we'd hit it off: she worked in PR (I was also a publicist at the time), she loved food, and she loved writing about it (same!). After our first brunch date in the winter of 2011, I emailed her an invite to join me as my 'plus one' to this exclusive dinner.

I was so excited about the dinner, but even more nervous I would mess something up as a guest. I was anxious, really. I felt like a poser.

Why me? I’m no one. I’m not a food critic. I just have this little blog.

Anyway, we arrive one weekday evening, and it's all very fancy and elegant: tall brown velvet curtains at the entrance, candle-lit tables lined against pristine glass mirrored walls, a fireplace in the back lounge, white tablecloths draped diagonally across each dining room table. We were both in over our heads. This was about to be our first real grown-up New York dinner.

The tasting menu began and the only dish we recall to this day is the foie gras. 

Chef Todd English himself came out of his kitchen to personally greet us and walk us through his curated menu. If I wasn't already intimated, this sealed the deal.

"I just read an article that said it's been banned in California," Meg noted.

"How's it cooked?" I asked. I had never eaten the stuff. I knew it was... bad to eat duck liver. It was a controversial move to over-stuff or overfeed the animals so their livers would enlarge with fat and then be served at high-end restaurants around the world. It was and still is very much a strong animal rights issue, to some. Plus, I wasn't a liver-eating person... yet. Still, I was curious. It's considered a French delicacy! Julia Child, who once cooked with Chef English, would be proud of me eating it. The pressure mounted.

"It's fatty and cut into a round medallion and we sear it on a very hot pan for a few minutes on each side so it develops a nice crust but remains tender inside. You'll love it," the Chef assured me.

I mean, I'm not rejecting a Top Chef's recommendation. I'm not letting Juila Child down.

I decided to give foie a shot. 

What if I hated it? And then I gotta pretend to like it? How would I fake my reaction in front of him?

Out comes the dish. I could feel my mouth salivate.  The hockey-puck looking hunk of gizzard, still glistening from its fatty, greasy parts and bursting at the seams was centered on a beautiful clean white plate and placed down in front of me. It looked and smelled like nothing I knew before.

Wait —

I remember as a kid when my mom was going to cook liver for dinner, she'd warn us that the kitchen was about to stink up.

This, though —

This liver was something else. 

I felt so bougie, eating a traditional French dish, served just for me and my friend by a celebrity chef.

I split the foie with the side of my fork to cut through the charred crust at the top. Upon first bite I got a soft crunch thanks to that delicious crust, but the meaty interior, gelatinous bits were still tender and juicy. The gristle of the fat swam around my teeth and melted on my tongue like meat butter. Decadent. Rich. Salty. Silky.

I was hooked.

I no longer was afraid, I was obsessed with foie. A new-to-me delicacy had just climbed to the top of my "treat yo' self" special treat musts. I am forever grateful for that night.

Memorable Foie Meals

Okay so I have this thing with leaving the states during the holidays and escaping abroad to eat foie. Below are some of my (and foie-loving friends') best foie meals.

Méchant Boeuf | Montreal, Canada | New Years 2014

My partner and I celebrated with foie gras at the bar of Méchant Boeuf in the Old Montreal. Served on a wooden palate and presented as one would a cheese board, sat the seared foie with blackberries and jam. The blackberries burst in my mouth and their sweetness played delicately with the earthy flavors of the foie. The jam was a bonus, a choose-your-own bite combination each time: Foie with berries. Foie with jam. We sipped on cocktails in between bites, letting time stand still for just a few moments as the year turned anew. If you ever find yourself near the old port of Montreal, look for the bullhorn logo and steal a spot in the back cocktail bar.

Bistrot Chez Félix | Montpellier, France | Thanksgiving 2016

We ditched the states for a south-of-France visit this time. My first meal upon arriving to Montpellier, a quintessential charming French village, was a salade périgourdine au foie gras. Essentially, a big salad with leafy greens, hard boiled eggs, creamy dressing and yes, duck liver, but the real local kind. The Périgord foie gras is named for the southwestern region of France it hails, about a five-hour drive to Montpellier, where it became my introduction to French lunches. The liver is fried in its own fat on low heat til light brown, then sliced and arranged on top of the salad last as to not wilt the greens underneath. Try and eat a better salad, I dare you.

Salads in France are the best of both worlds: you get to say you had a salad for lunch, but it’s always so jammed with goodies that you finish truly satisfied. When I crave a salad, Chez Felix is my go-to spot. A nice terrace, plenty of room inside, and a friendly staff that won’t look askance at ordering a metric ton of foie gras and calling it a salad.
— Christine Cantera, Montpellier resident and foie enthusiast

Liverpool House | Montreal, Canada | Thanksgiving 2017

I traded in turkey for an expensive solo Canadian dinner at one of Montreal's most hard-to-get-reservations restaurants. Liverpool House delivered as expected: a delicious salty, creamy foie medley kicked off my trip perfectly. I did not miss turkey at all. This dish is best served cold and eaten at the bar while mingling with regulars over bottles of red wine.

A 'foie salad' at Liverpool House

A 'foie salad' at Liverpool House

Select menu at Liverpool House (subject to change daily)

Select menu at Liverpool House (subject to change daily)

Au Pied de Cochon | Montreal, Canada

This is the mecca for foie lovers. This is where Bourdain ate his heart out. This is where you forego your budget and let the wait staff bring out the best of the best. The entire menu is foie-based. If you don't see 'foie gras' in the dish title or description, you can bet it is still snuck in for good measure. Come with a friend. Order that bottle of wine you know nothing about. Bathe in all the foie glory. You deserve it.

Jeffreys | Austin, TX

It's changed hands, but Jeffrey's has been an Austin institution for something like just over 40 years. And even though it's older than Meg, she says, she had never been until recently. As Meg told me, she was prepared for intimidatingly fancy cuts of steak at a place like Jeffrey's, but not for the foie. When she sat down and saw it on the menu, she knew she had to order it: Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with tarte tatin of roasted plums and pink peppercorn, shaved fennel and watercress. 

Cut into the thin crust on the top, spear it with some fennel, watercress and plum, pop it in your mouth and just let it melt into a heavenly puddle before savoring it with the accompanying fixings. Definitely one of the best foie dishes I have ever had.
— Meg MacDougal, Austin native and foie companion

Fond | Philadelphia, PA

If you're a Philadelphian who wants to try foie right here in town, head to Fond on Passyunk Avenue for seared foie gras served with mascarpone, berries, and grilled brioche. I love this combination of hot foie with cold cheese and bright fruit: it's a balanced bite every time.

Love foie and got a recommendation for me? I will travel near and far for foie, hit me up in the comments!

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