[NOTE: I wanted to explore my recent restaurant encounter with a sausage that smelled and tasted of excrement. Please note there is a profane word in this article, but I found it almost unavoidable--it's used not to inflame, but to describe. If I need to recast this article to avoid the word, I'll be happy to do so. --Peter Wells]
Burke and I sifted through our Paris food bible, Patricia Wells's The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, the best and most reliable guide we've found. It almost never leads us astray, so without hesitation we made reservations at a nice Lyonaisse place near the Arab Institute in the 5th. Lyonaisse cuisine is hearty, earthy, filling, precisely what we love about our mainstay, Cartet--see my recent review of Cartet.
At this place (which shall remain nameless) we enjoyed a fantastic cold salad buffet--ten individual bowls heaping with Lyonaisse specialty salads like lentils, red cabbage, museau of beef, lardons of bacon, a killer mushroom salad in a tomato sauce, many more. Delicious! For his main course, Burke ordered the boudin (blood sausage), another unusual European comestible we've both come to love. I ordered the Andouillette.
I know that Andouillette is chitterling sausage--pig intestines bunched and folded together and stuffed into sausage casing (which is itself nothing but intestine), grilled or boiled as you would any sausage. I love it. We've both ordered it several times in other places, enjoyed the layered texture, the pleasant chewiness, the gelatinous flavor. Burke and I have no fear of barnyard foods: some cheeses we've come to love flood the room with awful stench but taste delicious. This time my sausage arrived in a lake buttery white wine sauce beside a mountain of potatoes Lyonaisse (thinly sliced with cheese and cream, cooked in an earthenware dish in the oven until heavenly). It was plump, moist, perfectly cooked and tasted strongly of excrement. I don't actually know what excrement taste like, but the smell was powerful and clear. I found myself sitting in a nice restaurant, deep into a meal, with delicious potatoes and this turd-flavored sausage steaming up at me from a warm plate.
"So how's yours?"
"Delicious! The boudin are beautifully cooked. These aren't potatoes beside it, they're sauteed apples, a perfect compliment. How's yours?"
"Mine tastes like shit."
"Potatoes are delicious, but this Andouillette tastes like shit."
"No, I mean it tastes like shit. LIKE shit. Here."
Then I sliced off a slender wedge and fed it to Burke. Cruel? Perhaps. I had to do it; I had to know I wasn't imagining this astounding aroma and flavor. I covered his piece in sauce, but the distinction came through.
"Oh my God, it does taste like shit."
Horror and amusement gripped us both. It was impossible not to laugh. We cracked up, we whispered countless jokes to eachother, we washed our mouths out with water and wine. But then what?
I'll confess what I did and then try to explain my reasoning. I ate half of it--I choked down half of that massive tripe sausage, drenching it in sauce and chasing it with potatoes. I was also careful to leave half the potatoes, delicious as they were.
Why? Because if I signaled for Madame to send it back, she would ask, "What's wrong, sir?" I couln't have brought myself to say it. How do you tell someone that they have served you a turd? It's not like an underdone steak or an improperly seared salmon. I don't think there is a polite way to say it. Even if I managed, I foresaw only two possible outcomes:
1) Either she will inform me this is a "barnyard flavor" prized by those who truly appreciate Andouillette, that I'm displaying a terrible lack of sophistication, that sending it back just proves once again Americans don't know how to eat; or,
2) She will realize she served an excrement-filled sausage to a customer. I had fantasies, horrible visions of the look on her face, the terror, the revultion, her carrying the thing to the kitchen, the chef bursting into the dining room to fall on his knees apologizing, the French authorities closing them down, tears from their faces, disaster.
I was so sure the outcome would be #2 I was trembling. So I found a third choice. The sausage was already almost half done (my first bite was a big one, I took a second to verify, and a slice went to Burke), two more bites would bring it to half. So I ate two more bites, to Burke's astonishment. Now leaving half of anything is a problem in a restaurant like this. As expected, Madame came up to our table.
"Monsieur does not like?"
"Oh no, Madame, I simply filled up on your delicious all-you-can-eat salads! The fault is mine. Now I'm so full it's either finish this plate or save room for dessert, and I must try your desserts."
I wasn't lying, I truly did need dessert--something heavy to blot out the taste of the Andouillette. Madame understood, felt complimented, even smiled; face was saved, we enjoyed a nice dessert, finished our wine, had coffee and left.
Did I do the right thing? I don't know. One the menu this Andouillette was listed with the coveted AAAAA rating, a must for quality (and government controlled) tripe sausages. Perhaps I could have done the restaurant a favor, showed them they needed to inquire into this producer and get that 5A rating reevaluated or switch suppliers. Perhaps I doomed some future customer to food poisoning. Perhaps I put myself at risk by taking those last bites (I'm happy to report I felt no ill effects, nor did Burke, but it was a risk at the time all the same).
I feel this episode highlights one of those fracture points between cultures. I suspect a native French, a gormet perhaps, would have known instantly if this sausage was bad or merely strong on a highly-prized flavor and aroma element. As Burke said later, "If there is a level of gormet where you learn to eat shit and appreciate it, I don't want to go there." Agreed, but then, we're from North America. I saved face, theirs and/or ours, at a price, thankfully not a high one. Was this right? I'm not sure. If it happened again, would I react the same way?
I won't soon order Andouillette again, that's for sure. The experience put me off it, hopefully not off tripe entirely. I wonder what other people would have done, if there were other alternatives: could I have sent it back and simply said "I don't like it," have them bring me something else; should I use this site as a forum to decry the restaurant, put its name in bold letters and urge the world to avoid it?
These are the subtle dangers of aggressive food experimentation, but considering how much joy it's brought Burke and I so far, the risk is worth it.
A Burke and Wells essay