I went with friends on Saturday night to a French restaurant in Berkeley. I tried a little of the foie gras appetizer, despite foie gras definitely being among the official Top Five Foods Liz is Unlikely to Eat, Ever--that rare combination of ethical squeamishness and general liver-y grossness being especially potent.
One of my favorite books, Julie Powell's Julie and Julia, has this to say about liver: "Now, this is going to be a stretch for some people, but I believe that calves' liver is the single sexiest food that there is. This is a conclusion I've come to relatively recently, because like almost everybody else on the planet, I've spent most of my life hating and despising liver. The reason people despise liver is that to eat it you must submit to it--just like you must submit to a really stratospheric f**ck. Remember when you were nineteen and you went at it like it was a sporting event? Well, liver is the opposite of that. With liver you've got to will yourself to slow down. You've got to give yourself over to everything that's a little repulsive, a little scary, a little just too much about it. When you buy it from the butcher, when you cook it in a pan, when you eat it, slowly, you never can get away from the feral fleshiness of it. Liver forces you to access taste buds you didn't know you had, and it's hard to open yourself to it."
I thought about that passage as I cut my portion into tiny pieces--my parents will recognize this maneuver, called "surgery" in our house--and ate it. The good news is that foie gras doesn't taste anything like creamed chicken livers on toast. It tasted like the caramelized onions it was cooked and served with, but Julie is absolutely right: the underlying flavor is, all at once, delicious and disgusting, too much in a way that makes you think, "that's really tasty, and maybe I shouldn't be eating it." It really tastes like a body part in a way that is spookier than any meat I've ever eaten.
The thing is, too, that afterwards, the sensation sticks with you: after the foie gras, I munched on mesclun with grapes and blue cheese, pommes frites, and a really delicious coq au vin, followed by part of a pear poached in wine and served with ice cream. This was a meal not to be trifled with, including some totally justified Altoid action at the end. And yet, coming home pleasantly full, what taste wouldn't quite go away? The foie gras. And here's the weirdest part: foie gras invaded my subconscious. I woke up in the early morning on Sunday and realized that I'd been dreaming of fatted goose liver and caramelized onions, and wondering whether I was somehow being haunted by the spirit of some really angry (and overweight) goose. No joke. Submit to the liver, indeed.