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Brains - i'm ready.

After recently trying lamb's heart and bone marrow for the first time I think I am officially ready to take it to an even deeper level and try brains.
Now, I know that they're sometimes referred to as sweetbreads, but i also know that sweetbreads in the U.S. can sometimes mean kidneys (or something) whereas in Europe they're usually brains.

Anyone have suggestions on where i can go for a quality brains tasting experience, or - should i make them on my own?

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  1. Actually, I believe brains are brains. Sweetbreads are either thymus or pancreas. As far as where to have, I'm not certain where they might be regular menu items. I'd guess ethnic places catering to their particular clientèle would be one likely place to look. In the realm of non-ethnic places, Spotted Pig or Babbo are two of the better know Manhattan restos who often feature "the nasty bits", as Bourdain often refers to them...

    1. Devi-but it seems to only be on tasting menu. They may serve it to you outside the menu if you call ahead and ask, though.

      1. Chez Napoleon. Read the following inquiry and my response.


        And as noted in the first post above, sweetbreads are NOT brains, here or in any other country. They are the pancreas and thymus (when you see sweetbreads on a menu it is normally thymus).

        3 Replies
        1. re: rrems

          Echoing rrems, I have never heard of calling brains or kidneys as sweetbreads in any countries. I think the distinction is very clear no matter where you go.

          I have tried the lamb's brain francobolli at Babbo but it was very mild which might be good for your first attempt of brain. Devi used to have a lamb's brain (or calf's brain) salad but I believe they took it off the menu.

          Of course, if you order fried squab or quail in Chinatown, often time they will serve the whole bird with head, and what you do is to pop the whole thing in your mouth, brain and all.

          1. re: kobetobiko

            I've had that dish at Babbo and it was so subtle you would not have any clue that there were brains in the pasta. Brains have a very mild flavor so I don't think OP will find anything offensive about them. Chez Napoleon's version is the classic French way, calf's brain with brown butter and capers.

            1. re: rrems

              I've also had brains in black butter at La Lunchonette in Chelsea. Brains form a small component of the pork plate currently offered at Bar Blanc - but only a small component.

        2. The only time I've had brains in NYC was at Per Se, and they were *beyond* stellar. I don't think they're normally on the menu, but I'm sure that if you requested them in advance, they'd prepare them. It is Per Se, so if you have a special occasion AND want some brains, it's a good place to have them....

          1. Not wanting to incur the warth of the Chowhound Board monitor, I'm reluctant to tell you that you can get great brains on the reguar menu at a certain Uzbeki/Kosher restaurant in Rego Park on 63rd Dr. Check the outer-borough boards.

            1. well, now i have a reservation at Chez Napoleon and my friends and i got very excited about this culinary adventure.
              ...until... people started mentioning mad cow's disease.

              so what do the foodies say - is it worth the potential risk?

              3 Replies
              1. re: ElenaRS

                I am not sure how much more likely it would be that you could get mad cow disease from brains than from any other part of the animal, but since mad cow is generally not a worry in this country, I don't think there is much risk. That is just my opinion, as I am not an expert on this by any means.

                1. re: rrems

                  mad cow is mostly in the brain and nerve tissue, so brains and marrow are in fact more likely to carry the disease than other parts of the cow. i've read that ground meats can be more likely to carry the disease since they can contain parts mentioned above.

                  agreed that the known infection rates of cows in the US are next to nothing (but i, personally, still wouldn't eat brains or marrow)

                2. re: ElenaRS

                  If you stick to 100% organic or grass-fed beef, the risk goes down to about zero, as its really feed-contamination that is the problem. However, I have yet to go to a restaurant that labels its organ meats as fastidiously as its does, say, its steaks. So I guess you'd have to ask if you really want to be sure/safe.

                  The official line is that mad cow is not present in the US, but with our less than strict controls on feed, lack of regular cattle surveillance, continuing use of downer cattle in slaughterhouses, and lack of regular human autopsies, that's probably not true. On the other hand, even with mad cow present, your chances of getting it are still pretty small. In the UK, supposedly almost half a million infected cattle entered the human food chain, yet the total number is human mad cow cases there is still less than 2000. The only caveat is that the incubation time is estimated up to something like 20 yrs, so no one really knows yet....

                3. I've seen calf brains as an appetizer on the menu at Sip Sak. Have not yet been able to pursuade the bf to order them for us.