No-fail foods to cure a picky eater
The picky friend is the bane of the food-lover’s existence. It can be tough to accept that someone you like and respect could be so stubbornly opposed to something you love, like finding out your best friend thinks Prince is just a short weirdo with an unhealthy attachment to the color purple. More friendships have ended over dim sum meals gone south than loans gone unrepaid—at least in my circle.
But while the first instinct of any food evangelist is to apply reason (ie. argue, loudly), these poor lost souls are too far gone to be receptive to facts. Yes, dark-meat chicken is more flavorful than white meat, higher in tasty fats and therefore less prone to becoming dried-out, stringy sawdust, but white meat lovers are as entrenched as fourth-generation Chicago Cubs fans, still holding on after 103 years of disappointment.
No, the tactic to take with these people is a sneakier one: gateway dishes. Unless they’re allergic or one of those genetic mutants who can’t taste cilantro, no one hates a food wholecloth. They hate the idea of it or the way they’ve had it prepared in the past; for years, a friend hated asparagus because as a child his mother had only ever served the canned version—he thought those colorless, water-logged spears were the vegetable’s natural state.
Present your pal with an creative preparation or one that downplays the food’s more objectionable qualities and let him come to the realization on his own that it might not be so bad after all. If necessary, order out of earshot and let the offending food arrive at the table incognito—but don’t play coy if he asks what it is; these people are highly attuned to trickery and will run at the first sign of a trap. Given a light push by a caring friend and one of the following amazing dishes, any irrational food resistance will melt away faster than Otto’s olive oil gelato on an August afternoon.
Though sushi hasn’t been a gross-out food since The Breakfast Club, for some reason raw oysters remain a bridge too far for some. Maybe it’s their soft, moist texture, which comes across slimy for those who need to poke and prod food before trying it. Or maybe it’s the technique for eating them, which can be intimidatingly Neanderthal—and, in the wrong hands, leaves you spitting flakes of shell. Ease into the experience at a sushi bar like Blue Ribbon Sushi (119 Sullivan St., blueribbonrestaurants.com), and get your friend drunk on high-quality toro before ordering a couple of West Coast oysters, traditionally more fully flavored and robust than East Coast versions. If he’s still reluctant, get them to add spicy masago on top to add a textural counterpoint and a hit of heat.
At Hakata Tonton (61 Grove St., tontonnyc.com), the base for every one of their rich, unctuous hot pot soups is pig trotters—or, as they so delicately put it, collagen. The connective tissue and fat that make up the majority of this indelicate cut melt away into the stock, leaving no tell-tale bits behind to tip off your companion. The restaurant itself is a temple to the trotter, with odes to the part’s healthfulness inscribed on the menus and walls to assuage any squeamishness—it’s great for the skin! Once you’ve made headway with the soups, push the boundaries by ordering the grilled pork tonsoku, the trotter itself brought out into the open. The (admittedly scanty) meat is tender and deeply flavored, like short rib taken to the extreme.
Great-Aunt Louise has a lot to answer for. Almost every Brussels sprouts objector has the same childhood trauma driving their hatred of the unassuming crucifer: overboiled, sulfurous balls of mush forced upon them yearly at tense family Thanksgivings. Hell, even those who love the veg have had to overcome that to get to where they are today. Casa Mono’s (52 Irving Pl., casamononyc.com) Spanish-inflected Brussels sprouts are grilled a la plancha, keeping the leaves fresh and green while giving them a nutty, roasted flavor from the hard sear on the grill. If your pal has ever enjoyed the char on a street fair corncob, these sprouts will be the perfect therapy for her PTSD.
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