Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Best Bites #4-See You Later Alligator (On My Fork)

My grandmother kept her lips an unflinching shade of “Hawaiian Red” for 50 years. She kept black and white photographs even longer, and could always put her finger on any specific one when needed for proof regarding a date, or a fashion, or the actual existence and appearance of a person discussed. She kept silver squares of foil for a second or third use later, and kept the swirlingly colored, bell-sleeved outfits she wore to weddings in the 70’s. She kept lists, newspaper articles, in touch with people, track of people, a running tally on the prices of things, promises, and every recipe she ever clipped. She kept a Kleenex in her bra. And when I absolutely, positively, would NOT eat alligator, she kept trying.

It was one of many spring breaks spent in Florida with my grandparents, and we had all spent the day in their backyard pool, smoothing our way down the slide like purchased gumballs in a machine, eager to meet our crashy, splashy end.

I had spent the day precariously contained in my 12 year old food-adoring body’s worst nightmare: a bathing suit. My lack of interest or knowledge in sports (at that age, anything requiring “going outside” was a sport, as far as I was concerned) had produced a child with no muscle. My whole body represented the atrophy of a summer broken arm, just released from its cast. Pale from a New York winter, the cumulative effect of putting a bathing suit on me at that age was visually similar to putting several tight rubber bands around a slightly softened wheel of brie. I loved food, almost all food...

There we sat, slotted around the dinner table, wearing varying shades of sunburn. On the menu: ALLIGATOR. It was Taurus v. Taurus as my grandmother and I assumed the combative composition of a photograph never taken. She held the fork 3 inches from my shut-tight mouth, cocked and loaded with a recently cooked and totally alien to me chunk of alligator.

For, like, hours.

It was a standoff I remember vividly. Almost as vividly as a dish I ate around Christmas last year that made me recall with sly amusement this earlier boycott.

The Alligator Schnitzel at Son of A Gun is really quite worth losing a standoff. A bit suspicious to meet my old nemesis face to face, and ready to claim a maniacal “a-HA!” when it was predictably awful, I was outgunned. Because damn, this stuff is delicious.

It is a perfectly crusted plank of gator-which is, I think, much sweeter than chicken and not at all tough or chewy. Piled high with a slippery soft hearts of palm slaw and strewn with sunny orange segments, it is such a well composed dish. It’s fresh, fried, crunchy, tender, and bright. And the whole lovely beast sits upon a vanilla rum sauce/gastrique/lagoon of warm sweet punctuation.

It is a “character building” moment when you look up from a plate in a nice restaurant to see if everyone heard the screeching of your fork on your plate, refusing to be done until every last vanilla seed and heart of palm scrap and sliver has been captured and sacrificed.

They all heard, and now you have to pretend it was an accident.

Lose this standoff willingly. Throw this fight. Happily dive your knife through a smooth pile of shaved hearts of palm, a crunchy slab of gamey protein, and a sweet warm sauce whose rumminess is somehow perfect. Savvy?

Son of a Gun
8370 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA

1 comment:

  1. Ohhh I haven't had the alligator schnitzel there yet! My go to bite is the oyster "loaf," which incidentally isn't a "loaf" at all, but rather a discreet little slider that is unacceptable for sharing and only available for lunch. Son of a... well, you get the idea. ;)

    Your writing style is so infectious! You make wearing a sunburn sound very chic!