Of course, because I am irretrievably juvenile, I immediately thought of this:
But, after that, I remembered the sage words of Carrie Bradshaw in that episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie is trying to convince Samantha to go to Connecticut to crazy Laney Berlin’s baby shower: “If you’re driving down the road, and you see a sign that says ‘Two-Headed Snake,’ you pull over!” I figure, a four course testicle tasting menu pretty much qualifies as the culinary equivalent of a two-headed snake, so I got my phone out right then and made a reservation. (This mindset is also how I ended up taking fire-eating/breathing lessons, but that’s a story for another post.)
So, on the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA and Prop 8, when Mr. Pollo’s rock star chef, Jonny Becklund, busted out his teste-centric celebratory menu, I had a VIP seat, front and center. I can’t say I’d ever eaten Rocky Mountain oysters, Prairie Oysters, Bull Berries, or whatever you want to call them, before. I’ve eaten grasshoppers, ant larvae, all manner of organ meats, and something unidentifiable that was dug out of a hole in the ground with a stick in India, but never testicles. It wasn’t really on my bucket list, either, I must say. But, I went with an open mind, and Becklund’s sense of humor, as much as his cooking, really won me over. Gentle friends, I can honestly report, Becklund’s balls were delicious!
The first course–and my introduction to testicle cuisine–was what Becklund called a “Ball Matzo Ball Soup,” with ground bull teste meat in the matzo ball and a lemon tea bag steeping in the broth. That’s right. Tea baggin‘ broth with testicle meat balls. I could tell this was going to be a humor-filled menu. I had a seat at the counter, and got to chat with the chef as he prepared each course. When I laughed at the tea bag flourish, he explained, with an impish smile, that it wasn’t just for comic effect; the lemony tea bag also gave the perfectly seasoned, light broth a sort of pho-like quality that was really surprising.
As for the Ball-Ball, well…it wasn’t bad. I was worried about what the texture of testes might be like (I’m big on textures), but the meat was ground up in the matzo mix, so I couldn’t really tell. The ball was dense, like you would expect from a matzo ball, and had a vague sort of organ meaty note that might have bothered me if I didn’t know what it was. But, since I did, I was able to process it just fine. You know what I mean? Like, if you think you’re about to drink milk, but you actually take a swig of Diet Coke, it tastes ghastly, but if you know it’s Diet Coke before it goes in, it’s fine. Kind of like that. But really, the broth was what made the dish. Very nice.
To follow the soup, Becklund made a love child between an arepa (which Mr. Pollo is known for) and a pizzetta–a pizzepa? I dunno. But it was good. I watched him hand press out the little arepa crusts and cook them on the griddle; he’s an arepa makin’ machine. Then he topped them with sautéed chopped testicle meat, mushrooms, some cheese, threw them under the broiler, and then served them garnished with sam-ball (har har, get it?) oelek chili aioli and arugula (an inside joke, Becklund said, between him and Will, the server, because suddenly, in SF, every chef in town is topping pizza with arugula). So, this super-fragrant dish had the testicle meat in pretty much it original state, but for the chopping. I didn’t hate it. Kinda reminded me of Vienna Sausages. The combination of flavors and the spices on this one made it my favorite of the four courses.
The humor of the main course was less subtle than that of the soup. Foreplay was over by that point, and Becklund was gettin’ down! Crispy fried balls, unapologetically perched atop grilled zucchini, resting on a bed of arguably the most perfectly executed grits west of N’awlins, and garnished with alfalfa sprout pubes. I know…gross, but funny!
I was a little disturbed by the angry red sauce drizzle. Not sure what kind of nightmare inspired that. I would have gone with a buttermilk sauce, I think. When asked, Becklund told me he was trying to put a Buffalo hot sauce flavor in there, so it wasn’t an aesthetically chosen ingredient. And the flavor was a nice addition.
What would a family jewel themed menu be without a phallic happy ending? Well, fortunately, I’ll never know, because dessert came in the form of a semi-frozen chocolate banana. Why only semi-frozen? Because Chef Becklund likes them that way. The fully frozen ones hurt his teeth, he said. I have to agree, I have to gum the frozen solid ones to a pulp before I can bite through them, so I was pleased these were still sort of soft. The chocolate mantle was lovely and dark and bittersweet, with a delicate whisper of an orange blossom infusion that lightly hit you right in the back of the throat, just like a surprise of that kind should. (Dad, if you’re reading this, please don’t infer too much from that last statement.) The whole kaboodle was then rolled in cracked malt balls (“because, ya gotta get balls in there somewhere,” Chef Becklund said), and treated to a drizzle of a perfect caramel sauce and a pixie dust sprinkling of espresso salt. (He let me smell the jar of espresso salt, and it was really deliciously smoky and…um…espresso-y.) All in all, the perfect way to finish off this truly memorable fertility rite of a meal.
I asked Chef Becklund how many balls he had to buy to make this special, two-seating, event. Seventeen pounds worth, was the answer. All beef, because he had a hard time locating any other kind from local purveyors. If you want testicles from other species, you have to have them shipped up from L.A., apparently. So, given Mr. Pollo’s diminutive size–three seats at the counter, and four dinky tables–and only two sold out seatings, that calculates to a half pound of testes per person, or, about one full-sized bull ball each. I think that’s enough, don’t you? I just hope it doesn’t cause me to grow chest hair or give me road rage or something. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, if you are in the neighborhood, Becklund does a different, non-testicle-based four course menu at Mr. Pollo every day for only $20. You can’t beat that. But get there early, or you won’t get in. I’m telling you, this boy can cook. I know there has been some dreary Mission District hipster drama about the changing of the guard at Mr. Pollo, when Becklund took the helm at the beginning of this year, but I can’t be bothered with all of that. All I care about is the food, and Becklund really turns it out. Plus, he’s a hoot and a half to chat with while he’s working. He has “foie gras” tattooed across his knuckles (as well as a neck tattoo of someone I think might be Edward R. Murrow), and literally threw a guy out of the restaurant one night for asking him to make him a vegan arepa. (No disrespect to the vegans out there, but come on, you don’t ask a chef with “foie gras” tattooed on his knuckles to make you a vegan anything.) He pairs a wicked sense of humor and a white trash sensibility with a truly sophisticated palate and an artist’s creativity, and he really seems to have fun with his work. It’s a beautiful thing. I’ll definitely be back.