Why I love New York: on a Friday afternoon, I dined with a Slovene in a likable little place called Cemi Café, owned by ethnic Albanians from Montenegro. The friendly line cook was from Ecuador. The meat was seasoned with a spice blend from Croatia. The beer was from The Netherlands. And our server was from Kazakhstan. Nice!
During our meal, my Slovene friend told me about a night he spent partying with some people from Iceland. They drank a licorice-flavored liquor called Black Death, and they ate… drum roll please… putrefied shark. Awesome!
Apparently, a certain type of North Atlantic shark has no urinary tract, so it basically secretes uric acid (the active ingredient in piss) into its own blood stream. The flesh of the shark is therefore entirely unfit for human consumption. Unless, of course, you let it rot in the ground for a season or two. And then it reeks of ammonia but is somehow edible, despite tasting like a fermented, cheesy bottle of Windex.
My Slovene friend is an impressive guy: in a party filled with Icelanders, he was the only person who managed to eat the rotten shark flesh, called hakarl (which, perhaps not coincidentally, seems to sound a lot like “hot carl”). Somehow, he choked down five pieces. Nice job, Slovene!
Even more impressive: he met his wife while waiting in line at the Brooklyn Museum when he lost a contact lens. She helped him look for it, they started chatting, and now they’re married. Dude deserves serious points for picking up a woman with a lost contact lens—which turned out to be stuck inside his eyelid, but he managed to get her to crawl around on the floor, anyway. And then he ate
hot carl hakarl at a party, and she didn’t dump him. Major stud points right there.
Our Montenegrin (yes, that’s spelled correctly—Montenegrin, not Montenegran… weird, right?) meal was pretty good, but not nearly as interesting as the Slovene’s tales of
hot carl hakarl. We ate a cheese burek (pastry made with phyllo dough, similar to a Greek spanikopita) with an pleasantly doughy crust; a shepherd salad with feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions; some crusty, slightly stale white bread; and tons of grilled veal, chicken, and cevapi (sausage), seasoned with vegeta, a lovable Croatian seasoning mix. Our meal tasted like a burek, a salad, bread, and grilled meats. The grilled meats were not the best I’ve ever had. They weren’t the worst, either.
But at least they didn’t taste like putrefied shark. Not even close.
61 Church Avenue, Brooklyn
Subway: Church Avenue (F, G trains)