Used to be that if you ate beef tongue at all—in deli sandwiches or lengua tacos from a truck—it was because it was cheap. But lately, chefs in upscale restaurants across America's cities have reconsidered tongue, putting its velvet texture and concentrated beef flavor to work in a variety of dishes.
At ink.sack in West Hollywood, Michael Voltaggio makes corned beef tongue the star in his remake of the Reuben, while at The Gorbals in downtown LA, Chef Ilan Hall slow-braises tongue into a meaty confit that is served with romesco, a Spanish sauce made from almonds, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Meanwhile, in New York City's sprawling Italian food hall Eataly, Chef Michael Toscano serves warm calf's tongue with potatoes, leeks, and Barbaresco at Manzo.
In Chicago, Longman & Eagle chef Jared Wentworth features tongue in a hash with black truffles. Across town at Girl & the Goat, Stephanie Izard braises beef tongue and serves it with a vinaigrette made from Dijon mustard, pickle brine, and beef fat. And at San Francisco's Alembic, Chef Ted Fleury garnishes beef tongue sliders with wild arugula and fried green tomato pickles.
Turns out the biggest challenge with tongue might not be making it delicious, but getting squeamish restaurant diners to order it. "It's one of those things that people are kind of turned off on because they don’t quite get it," says Aaron Rocchino, a longtime Chez Panisse cook who recently opened The Local Butcher Shop, a whole-beast meat shop in Berkeley, California. "It’s easy to find subpar tongue, but when it’s thought of more like an ingredient rather than just something to use up, people are surprised by how good it is."
Image source: CHOW.com