February 4, 2014
I know what you are thinking: “man I could sure go for some pork!” Well thanks to Oliveto’s, (on the Oakland-Berkeley border) and the talented, creative mind of Chef John Rhodehamel, it’s time for the annual Whole Hog Dinner.
And talk about an amazing menu array of delectable pig parts. Okay, that doesn’t sound like something you may get excited about, but judging by the sounds of gastronomic excitement around me right now from the other guests, it could be. All my senses are abuzz and I haven’t even tasted a bite.
Looking at all of the appetizer choices can make you thirsty. The Three Little Pigscocktail was just what I needed. A perfect balance of bourbon, sweet apricot bitters, and house dried cherries. The temptation was to try all three, but this is about eating, right? I suddenly realize that one of the biggest questions I have to answer as I am about to begin this journey is “how much can I really eat?” because “what to eat?” is going to be really hard.
Really feeling the Terrine, as would normally be a must, but oh the Coppa di Testawith salsa verde and frisse. Who doesn’t love a little pig head? Pairing it with a Kerner, Strasserhof Alto Adige 2012, crisp notes of red apple, Meyer lemon and honeycomb. Rather unique as it’s a cross between a red grape, Schivia, and Riesling.
As the dish arrives it is beautifully arranged with 4 thinly sliced circles of meat, drizzled with the salsa verde and finished with the frisee. Oh my this is the most delicately balanced flavor of head cheese I have ever had. The salsa verde is a blend of tarragon, parsley, chervil and a bit of acid (yes Sparrow Lane) that sets so well with the bitterness of the endive.
As I finish the last bite with a deep inhale of bliss, my plate is quickly swept aside to make room for a dish that I can honestly say I have never had, but when was the last time you had a heart? Let’s see…I have had it, at one time or another, broken, ripped out, stomped on, filled with joy, enriched and overflowing, but I have yet to enjoy it charbroiled to a perfect medium rare, topped with Calabrian chili and garlicky white bean puree on crostini. Uniquely delicious. Now this is not, dare I say, a dish for the faint of…, oh you get the point. Rich and flavorful, much like a tenderloin, with more texture and flavor, a little chewy. The garlicky beans and baby arugula add such a nice subtle balance. Very rich and filling.
And paired with a Valpolicella Ripasso 2008 “Bosan” that favored a deep red and purple with notes of berries, cherries, and fudge spice. The tannin finish cleansed as it brought out the flavors of the meat and the garlicky bean puree. Yum x 3.
For the secondi (second course, or typically a pasta course) the idea of stinging nettle pappardelle with milk-fed braised pork shoulder just spoke to me. I really like nettles and the varied uses that chefs have used them over the last few years with their rise in popularity. And braised pork shoulder can be so good, but milk fed, is, well, heavenly. And this dish was just that. It was as if the meat had been soaked in milk. It was so soft and delicate with a buttery, creamy texture and earthy green nettles in perfectly prepared pasta–not over sauced, just enough to taste with each bite and still just enough to leave you wanting more.
It was here I had to decide to go on or move to dessert. As much as my taste buds were up for the challenge my stomach was not so much. So, not to make a complete pig out of myself, I waved the napkin and called for dessert.
The olive oil gelato with candied prosciutto sounded just light enough, and there is always room for gelato. The rich creaminess of this smooth delicacy accented by the buttery olive oil and the lightly sweet but salty prosciutto were a perfect combination. Simple and delicious. Throw in a cup of rich dark roasted coffee, need I say more….
As you can imagine this is quite a bit of rich food, but the portions are just perfect for sharing without overindulging and I highly suggest doing just that. This allows you to order a couple more dishes because you will want to try it all.
Of course even if you decide to take it on solo like I did, pace yourself and savor each dish and be adventurous. The wine is offered in half glasses which is nice because you can try several as a flight. I would highly suggest taking the time out to experience this true artisan dinner where it is all about “pigging out.”
Till the next meal,