As wine critics, we tend to pride ourselves on our broad tastes and openness to new flavors. But when it comes to food, there are things that took a lifetime for some of us to appreciate.
Between the oily texture of the flesh and the scent of low tide, I avoided what seemed like a garbage fish for years. It wasn’t until a sushi chef slipped some saba onto a bed of rice and passed it over to me that I had my first joyous taste of mackerel, whether or not I knew it at the time. He just called it saba, cured with salt and vinegar, with the fresh clarity of the sea.
Soon enough, I learned its true identity, as well as its cousin, Spanish mackerel (sawara). Clearly, freshness and care made the difference, but by acclimating to saba and sawara as sushi and sashimi, I have also developed an affection for more rustic preparations of mackerel. There’s a Japanese grocery, Katagiri, near W&S’s NYC offce, that sells four slices of saba to go, and I’ll often take this home, sear it and enjoy it over rice. Recently, they had a cleaned, whole mackerel, which I took home and pan-roasted with garlic and ginger. That’s something I never would have eaten years ago… —Joshua Greene
But one day, at a Sichuan restaurant, I let my chef-friend order the eggplant in spicy garlic sauce that she swore by. After my red-oil dumplings and hot pot, I needed a vegetable. So, I extended my chopsticks, grabbed a piece, and was surprised to find it delicious. It was sweet, salty, full of garlic, with an umami heat—flavors I thought eggplant could never offer.
Now, at Wine & Spirits, eggplant is a must-have for our staff lunches from La Vie en Szechuan, and I will eat a healthy portion. Maybe one day I’ll give eggplant parmesan a chance. —Rachel DelRocco Terrazas
When I went to culinary school, broccoli was often a side during family meal but rather than steam it, we threw the florets on a sheet pan with some salt and a drizzle of oil and into the oven it went. Budding culinarians, we would sometimes forget about the broccoli and it would come out of the oven a tad more than singed. This is when I fell in love—add a little lemon zest and a new food addiction was born. When I work as a private chef, I often make this as a side, with the addition of slivered almonds and Parmesan cheese. —Deanna Gonnella
I’ll never forget that fatty oiliness and lard-like sensation spreading across my tongue. Texture-wise, it reminded me of durian—my traumatized impressions of durian, at least. It was disgusting. And it made my throat itch.
As much as I wanted to spit it out, I put on my big-girl pants and finished it; “We don’t waste food in this household,” as my mother would say. After that initial exposure, I distanced myself from avocados like a Snitch from the Seeker (+10 points if you got the Harry Potter reference).
It wasn’t until much later that I interacted with avocados again—this time, in the form of guacamole and chips. I’ve forgotten when and where this happened, but the crunch of the chip with the guacamole on top—sweet, spicy, salty and tart—was refreshingly enjoyable. When I found out it was just mashed avocado with some extra stuff thrown in, my eyebrows rose incredulously. Avocados! The very thing I shunned from my youth!
Having tasted avocado now in different forms, it’s safe to say I’ve made my peace with the fruit. And to prove skeptics wrong, I made some bangin’ guacamole three weeks ago as a side with a dry-aged steak from Eataly. And it. Was. Delicious. —Vivian Ho
I assumed that this was going to be some variant of the smoked andouille sausage found in Louisiana-inspired fare—I assumed, further, that the Cajun version had probably been styled after this one, so I was in for a treat. Even the winemaker I was dining with commented on my fortitude for ordering it. I was feeling very adventurous, until I cut through the casing.
Instead, I got what remains for me one of the great mysteries of French cuisine, a sausage so resolutely fecal I could barely swallow a bite of it. I’m sure there are gourmands who adore this tangle of intestines encased in intestine, but this, to me, was over the line. Worse, I was meant to carry on a conversation with the winemaker, and do so without gagging. I don’t remember how I made it through lunch, but I didn’t manage a second bite.
For four years I swore off organ meats, until I got a Standard Poodle puppy, Louie, and started to buy chicken hearts by the pound, which served as a garnish to his kibble. One night I took a handful of hearts, marinated them, then threw them in a hot skillet. They were delicious, and the only thing they tasted like was chicken. Since then I’ve more or less recovered and now eat tripe, liver, kidney and tongue with a hearty appetite—but I’ll never order another andouillette for as long as I live. —Patrick J. Comiskeyillustrations by Vivian Ho