It all began when my foodie friend invited me to dine with her at Cockscomb
, a newish restaurant on Fourth Street. Once I was through giggling at the name, I gladly accepted, blissfully unaware of the menu and the Giants schedule.
Thus I encountered two surprises that night. One was the excessive traffic impeding a punctual arrival to the restaurant, and the other was walking into a gauntlet of Difficult Food Decisions. Not easy decisions like, “which of these two excellent dessert selections do I choose from” — the answer is both — but tougher ones like, “Must I pretend to eat this body part I have no desire to try, or may I come up with an excuse that lets me politely leave the table to throw up?”
I should have known what was coming based on the name. Surely the majority of Cockscomb’s diners are more mature than I, so it’s likely their motivation when naming the restaurant was beyond generating giggles. The true reason dawned on me once I realized the name refers to that weird thingy on top of a rooster’s head, which based on the rest of their head-to-tail menu, is sometimes served. As food. To eat. By people.
My shock and awe at the situation was well-contained upon confronting the menu. I enthusiastically agreed to my adventurous eater of a friend’s suggestion that we order beef hearts, pig faces, and other items from the nightmares of vegetarian children, not wanting to appear fazed in any way (I am a food reviewer after all). Meanwhile I struggled internally with the concept of eating animal parts that made me feel more like Hannibal and less like Michael Bauer.
It occurred to me that what I needed to make it through this meal was sitting right in front of me for $12 a pop, an answer that Homer Simpson famously described as “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” Alcohol.
That’s right, the devil’s elixir; the sweet, sweet nectar of lowered inhibitions would get me where I needed to be. I pondered only for a moment that it’s more appropriate to get wasted than to eat the nontraditional parts of animals we enthusiastically dine upon daily, but wine and gin didn’t let me linger too long.
Cockscomb’s Maltese Falcon packed exactly the kind of punch I was looking for, which surprised me considering the gin cocktail didn’t taste very boozy at all (just the way I like it). The bottle of Spanish wine really sealed the deal, making me ready to take on whatever Chris Cosentino threw at me, which was presumably anything since one menu item is literally just “fall offs.”
Like the good journalist I am, I had my notebook on hand to relay my experience to you, since I can honestly say I don’t recall a lot of it. This was apparently my intention, as the first thing I wrote was, “I need to black out so I don’t remember any of the food I eat.”
Done, and done.
First came the roasted beets
($7): “Oh they’re warm! Very good beets. We got the beets.”
Next we stepped it up with the beef heart tartare
($16): “They should shape it like a heart…this is a real missed opportunity.” “It’s hearty, lol!” “I don’t want to get mad cow heart disease and fall in love with a bull.”
Despite the drunken jokes, it actually was quite delicious, eliciting a note of "this is bomb dot com," and more descriptively, "it's the most tender tartare you've ever had."
We also ordered the “hot mess” for $28, a combination of foie gras, strawberries, and pig trotters (their little footsies!). That led to a Cockscomb-exclusive conundrum when “I got goose liver in my beef heart.” Our waiter, who I insisted sounded like a 1920s private detective but was really just from Rhode Island, described the "Hot Mess" most accurately: "Rich & decadent, am I right?" He was right.
There’s nothing about this restaurant that pretends they aren’t serving you dead animals, yet it seems the design features were giving me cognitive dissonance: “There are taxidermy chickens next to a painting of a man cuddling a chicken. HOW DO THEY FEEL ABOUT CHICKENS??” I also remarked that the “stuffed bison is TOTES judging us.”
The $69 oven roasted pig head was the pièce de résistance of the meal, but the thought of eating it left me troubled: “Worried I won’t have enough room to eat the pig face…I feel conflicted about saying that. HOW DO I FEEL??” A lot of challenging emotions surfaced that night.
I knew how to feel once I tried it. I noted that "I am not upset, this is awesome," and even at the end my friend added that she was "sad we can't eat this entire pig face."
Other notes on the pig head: “His name is either Wilbur or Wilfred.” “I asked the waitress if I should eat the teeth, she did not recommend it.” “My dog loves pig ears and so do I!” “We need to put this pig in our wedding.”
It was cooked exquisitely and the flavor was unreal (in a good way). It even had an aioli made from its own brain, which the waiter playfully referred to as “Brai-onnaise.” Neat. It also had gold foil on its snout, so you can feel like a real rockstar while eating it, and a leaf covering the eye, because apparently looking into the soul of the animal you’re eating makes some people uncomfortable.
Ultimately I rated it at “-1/10 Bens,” named for my vegan brother-in-law. While SF Weekly did cover how a vegetarian could manage this menu
, I don’t think Ben would enjoy watching people going to town on a face, Wilbur or otherwise.
Even though I lacked the courage to eat the food sober, and admitted “being drunk makes this easier,” it was a step in the right direction for more deeply appreciating the animal lives that are given for me to eat meat. I can wholeheartedly admit that flavor is not the reason we don’t eat nontraditional animal parts, it’s just a bogus societal tradition, so I’m glad Cockscomb is challenging the way we view our food. I'll make sure to remember it next time.
, 565 Fourth St., 415-974-0700
I ate a pig’s face this week. Not cheek meat, or some dish disguising the source of the meat. No: The actual face with its dead eyes, hopes, and dreams.