Can diners learn to love a dish through repeated exposure? Not if cow tongue's on the plate, says Chef Point Café owner Paula Merrell.
The Watauga cafe this month started offering an "Acquired Tastes" menu, featuring an array of items most of its customers didn't like or hadn't tried. Liver and onions, oxtail and cow's feet are still available, but the restaurant gave up on a tongue sautéed with onions and bell peppers.
"We got really weird reactions to that one," Merrell reports. "It's hard getting over thinking about what it is."
Merrell says the tongue tasted "just like regular food," but guests were far too many orders shy of acquiring a fondness for it.
The promotion's been most successful in connecting diners with favorite dishes pigeonholed as unpopular. On a recent Thursday night, the kitchen ran out of liver and onions by 7:30 p.m.
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"The liver and onions have been a huge hit," Merrell says. "I didn't realize so many people liked liver and onions."
It's unclear whether those enthusiastic eaters were born liver and onion fans, or if they learned to like the stuff at their parents' insistence. Merrell firmly believes tastes can be acquired, and science seems to back her up.
While people's tastes are shaped by a variety of factors, including their upbringings and the number of fungiform papilla on their tongues, researchers suggest the brain is susceptible to self-deception. As Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner recently pointed out in his blog for the New York Times, cilantro detractors - he included --who make a point of eating cilantro-spiked Indian chutneys and Mexican salsas can become accustomed to the bright green leaves, which don't seem so strange or soapy after dozens of decent meals.
Dubner didn't say whether he'd experimented with cow tongue.