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When I think back to some of my culinary shortcomings, Denny's often comes to mind. I always used to order Moons Over My Hammy, which was an egg sandwich of extreme-calorie proportions. Keep in mind this was over a decade ago, when you could still order a cocktail at Denny's to go along with your meal. My, how times have changed. Does Denny's even give you a free meal on your birthday anymore?
We've all had countless disappointing dining experiences, but, of course, there are those occasions that hit the opposite end of the spectrum. Personally, most of my top culinary pleasures have had to do with lamb. Every opportunity I get to eat at a top-ranked restaurant, I always pleasure myself with lamb (don't analyze that phrase too closely). Maybe it's because I'm typing this with the smoky tang of the grill still lingering in the air and a full moon overhead, but I can't stop thinking about the moon over my lamby!
I often order the most expensive lamb dishes because I know they will (generally) be prepared right. The secret to lamb is not to overcook it and to cut off the extra fat, which can give it a gamey taste — like moist barnyard dirt.
Most cultured and experienced dates love lamb. If they don't, then you should probably think twice about dating them. My friend Cathy is an exception to the rule because, throughout her childhood, she was served lamb that was overcooked and gamey. It's not unlike serving a screwdriver to someone whose first experience with OJ and vodka ended with hugging the throne.
Besides bad firsts, there should be no excuses for not liking lamb, especially if it's prepared right. Lamb can be the most satisfying of meals. It can put to shame the best cuts of beef and pork. The sacrificial lamb is meant for important events — believe me, it's a religious experience.
I sometimes used to spend special occasions with a Croatian family who reveled in putting a lamb on an open spit as the crown jewel of the celebration. After many feasts with the Croatians, I began to understand why they're always dancing and singing up a storm — their mouths are about to be crammed with lamb!
A full moon is a great excuse to get the grill going, and the next best reason is love. Any romantic will swoon at the idea of sipping a glass of wine at sunset with that glowing orb of mystery and longing hanging overhead.
A year ago, I was dating a woman who was all class. She had just flown in from New Mexico, and I treated her to Claudio's famous lamb pops. You might ask, "Who the hell is Claudio?" Claudio just happens to own several top-rated Italian restaurants in Boston, and — just my luck — he happened to be in town for the weekend. My girlfriend couldn't stop talking about the delicious lamb pops we ate. She went on and on about it into the night; thank God, Claudio was married or she would have moved to Boston in a heartbeat. I half-expected her to call me Claudio as we rolled around later that night. (Hell, I almost called her Claudio.)
Claudio's lamb pops are a forgiving, tender lamb dish to throw on the grill. I'm talking about a lamb rack that is Frenched (a butchering method that exposes the bone). The rack will come with six to eight bones attached to the meat. I take time to cut off excessive fat or skin in order to minimize the gamey taste. You simply cut between the bones and you'll have six to eight little meat-lollipop-looking things. I let them marinate in mint, basil, garlic, and olive oil with ample fresh-ground salt and pepper for at least 45 minutes. (Use fresh ingredients, if you can.)
When your date arrives, just fire up the grill — I prefer the smell of charcoal in the air to aroma-lacking gas. Hey, don't underestimate the olfactory experience to any great meal; every time your date smells charcoal, it will remind him or her of that romantic "first" you experienced together.
Just beware: Don't overcook the pops! Lamb is best served medium-rare to rare. When I first started eating lamb, I experimented on myself for a week straight. I tried seven different marinades and rubs. At the end of the week, I was sick of lamb and I had certainly screwed it up a few times, especially when I overcooked it. If you don't cook it right, then you might as well hit up Denny's for a strong cocktail and some eggs, like in the good ol' days.