One of the most frequent questions about my job (especially among school kids on Career Day) is what is the weirdest/grossest/strangest food I’ve ever eaten. The truth is, I try not to think that way. I’ve always found it weird that some people will eat a pig but not a rabbit, an animal’s flesh but not its organs, or a mammal but not a reptile. Nonetheless, when asked to recommend some of the Valley’s most “bizarre” dishes, I managed to push my envelope and add some new choices to my old favorites. How many of these have you tried?
The taste of brain has always reminded me of the mineral flavor I get from sweetbreads, another challenging food. But brains are much more mushy. You can find them in tacos at various Las Vegas restaurants, including Tacos El Gordo (3260 Losee Rd., 702-641-8226), which offers beef brains in its sesos tacos. But if you really want to see them elevated to gourmet status, wait for Mario Batali to re-introduce his lamb’s brain francobolli at B&B Ristorante (in the Venetian, 702-266-9977). The postage stamp-shaped ravioli filled with poached lamb’s brain, ricotta, anchovy and lemon zest are a signature dish that rotates on and off the menu fairly regularly.
I’ve eaten various animal testicles in several forms over the years: stew, deep-fried chips, even Buffalo-style. And while they have the potential to be tough, if cooked properly, there’s nothing really scary about them—other than having to voluntarily put an animal’s balls in your mouth. So I was surprised it was so difficult for me to find a local restaurant that’s currently serving them. But after polling my chef friends, they directed me to Gabriella’s (8878 S. Eastern Ave., 702-912-1111), where the so-called “lamb fries” are sliced thin, breaded, fried and served with ketchup and lemon.
Aji Head and Skeleton
Most sushi lovers know aji, or Spanish mackerel. But when they get it at Naked Fish (3945 S. Durango Dr., 702-228-8856), they are offered something different. After the fish has been fileted, the chefs take the remaining skeleton (head and tail included) and flash fry it. It’s then served alongside the sashimi, with a ceviche. While it may sound strange, the skeleton is easy to break apart and eat like a chip—at least until you get to the head, which is packed with flavor and texture thanks to the brain and the eyeballs!
I have to admit that before this assignment, I’d never eaten insects (at least not on purpose). So when I heard that El Dorado Cantina (3025 S. Industrial Rd., 702-722-2289) offered chapulines (grasshoppers), I immediately headed over to try them. The large dish of sautéed bugs reminded me more of crickets than the grasshoppers I knew growing up—no more than a half-inch long and one-eighth of an inch wide. And while the legs and antennae can be a little off-putting at first, they make nice little bar snacks. They’re available in a spicy habanero seasoning, but I opted for garlic and lime, which allowed me to still taste their earthy bodies.
Grasshoppers are one thing, but scorpions scare me. Still, I drummed up my courage and visited one of the local Nacho Daddy locations (NachoDaddy.com), where they’re available at the bottom of a tequila or Fireball shot. Even dead and with the stingers removed, these guys are way too big and intimidating for me to swallow whole without fear of choking. So as I threw back the shot and saw the long tail hanging out of my mouth through the corner of an eye, I forced myself to chew through the body. It had been softened by days of marinating in vodka, but was still a tough exoskeleton. A minute or so later, I swallowed the ball of mush and washed it down with a beer. Because—whether balls, brains or bugs—everything’s better with beer.