Tongues, livers and glands are not usually on the menu at Chevy Chase restaurants. But, on Halloween, Lia’s Restaurant made an exception—the restaurant showcased the variety meats used in Italian cuisine that are often left out of dishes prepared in the U.S. I decided to try out this menu to find out how scary these dishes could be.
Offal (pronounced like “awful”), also called variety or organ meats, are incorporated into many dishes in traditional Italian cuisine. Lia’s Executive Chef Cefare Lanfranconi wanted to showcase this food to the Chevy Chase community on a day residents would be most likely to experiment with seemingly scary dishes.
Lanfranconi’s playful approach to presenting offal to customers could be seen in special menus sprinkled with puns that presented the dishes to guests. The holiday gave Lanfranconi the chance to introduce the dishes he grew up eating in his native Italy to his customers at Lia’s. Halloween was a “good way to bring these traditions back,” Lanfranconi said.
Before the official menu began, I was served fois gras with chicken liver mousse wrapped in bacon, on fresh spinach with a few grape tomatoes, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. It had a rich, sweet taste, and combined with the bacon, it was a great start to the offal menu.
The first official course was beef tongue salad. The tongue was topped with salad and pickled celery root. A generous amount of pesto was poured in a circle on the tongue. The flavors of the pesto and pickled celery root complemented the tongue, which was cut into bite-sized pieces and arranged in a circle underneath the salad.
The second course of roasted veal fillet and sweetbread was the most challenging for me to try. The veal fillet was arranged on creamy polenta, with four pieces of sweetbread arranged around it. The sweetbread—the thymus gland—had a taste and texture unlike any meat I had tried before—firm and creamy. It looked different as well—light in color and with a texture that looked like what I imagine cooked brains would look like. Despite this, I managed to eat the largest sweetbread and started on another.
Not only was the sweetbread creamy, but it was quite rich as well. As I continued to eat the second piece, I kept thinking about what I was eating. I was unable to finish it or the remaining pieces of sweetbread, but finished off the veal fillet and some of the polenta and mushrooms.
The dessert course of gingerbread and brioche bread pudding with vanilla ice cream was a nice finish to the meal, but with all the food I had eaten prior, I only managed a few bites of the bread. The combination of gingerbread and brioche gave the bread pudding additional texture, but the buttery sauce was not applied evenly, so some bites were rich in the sauce, and others were dry.
Overall, Lia’s Restaurant’s offal menu presented a not-so-scary introduction to types of meat that I would not usually be tempted to try. If you want to try offal, you haven’t missed your chance. There are plans to introduce special menu items that incorporate some of these meats, like sweetbread tacos.