A Chicken and a Thymus Gland
My wife, child, and I were in Kansas City for a family pre-Christmas get together. We had an open night, and my wife’s aunt and uncle volunteered to watch the baby. SOOOO, where else would I want to go while in Kansas City other than Chef Celine Tio’s restaurant Julian? Ummm, Nowhere. Of course we called the day we wanted to book the reservation. I fully expected to hear, “Sorry, we are fully booked tonight.” Much to my surprise, The kind voice on the phone responded to my plea with,” Yes, we can seat you then.” I hope I didn’t hurt her eardrum as I squealed like a young girl encountering her 1st frog. It was all set! Julian here we come.
It goes without saying that I love food. I really love good food. Kansas City, Missouri is home to Celene Tio’s restaurant, Julian. Watching The Next Iron Chef, my wife and I quickly started routing for Chef Tio. She was funny and entertaining and seemed like a genuine person- and she cranked out some killer looking (and sounding) food. So, we knew the next time we were in KC we were definitely going to visit her restaurant.
If you watch any food related TV, you have heard of sweetbreads. For those that don’t know what they are- it is not a bread at all. Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a calf (this isn’t always the case). To an average American psyche- daunting to eat to say the least. Through the wonderful world of the internet, we knew the menu options at Julian before we arrived. Sweetbreads were on it and my mind could not stop thinking about them. I was wondering about the texture of them, how accurate Jeffrey Steingarten’s account of them are, and could I actually eat it. The balance to this was- “When can you get a A+ Chef’s recipe for sweetbreads again?” I could not let this opportunity pass.
I talked about sweetbreads all day and all the way there. Everyone in our party was well versed on what they were and forming their own opinions of them by the time we pulled into the parking lot. We arrived and were quickly seated. When it was time to place our order and the sweetbread request was to be made- I ordered caviar. Yeah, I chickened out. My table gasped when they realized I passed on the sweetbreads. All of my talk- apparently it was hot air. My trepidation of eating a gland made me order fish eggs. As delicious as the caviar on homemade chips was, I immediately felt like a wussy. I felt like a coward. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t order sweetbreads in this perfect setting to try them. I started convincing myself to order some- to be in the moment- to take a chance- to do what you wanted to do from the start. After my internal Dr. Phil moment passed, I asked our server to please add an order of sweetbreads. He smiled and nodded. A calm pleasantness suddenly came over me, it could have been the wine, but I doubt it. It was the expectation of the sweetbread magic that was on the way.
The sweetbreads arrived at the table in an oval bowl with a red and white checkered paper surrounding them. They resembled something fried. To a southern boy like me…perfect. I selected one. I smelled it. I noticed my party’s eyes trained on me. This was the big moment. All the talk came down to this. Here I sat, with great company, in Celine Tio’s restaurant with a sweetbread in my hand. All that was left to do was bite it. So, I did and it was wonderful. It was fried crisp on the outside yet soft and meaty on the inside. The flavor was unexpectedly sublime. My face lit up with pleasure as the taste registered. Now, my table mates wanted to taste one. After the guinea pig lived- everyone wants one. I offered them all one. They all tried it – and liked it. The oval bowl was quickly emptied and savored.
On my “culinary bucket list” a check mark instantly appeared by “sweetbreads” and “Eat at Julian.” Two accomplishments in one delicious bite.
You should not assume that the meal in total it was any less delicious. The crispy pork with the tamarind sauce was greatness on a plate. The wine selection was amazing. Not to mention the fact that Chef Tio visited our table, agreed to take a pic with me, and was completely a real human being was MONUMENTAL!
It is nice to know that our assumption about Chef Tio and her food was correct. Her food and personality are both great. We will definitely go back as soon as we get back to KC.