This post has absolutely nothing to do with my cooking (though this meal will be an inspiration for next month's Winter Feast). It also has no pictures. But read on anyway if you like pig.
Every year Oliveto's hosts a "whole hog dinner" in which the entire meal features pig parts in various forms-- potted, braised, stuffed, fried, etc. Last night, our intrepid Team Pig (Jesse, Katie, Ridwan, Gabe, Angela, and I) ventured out into bougie Rockridge to begin our attack.
After a half-hour wait, we were treated to two comped appetizers-- paper-thin slices of pickled pig ear terrine and an incredibly flavorful kidney salad. The chef also sent a dish of lardo-- essentially lard with salt and herbs. We actually took it home, though I doubt I can face it again. Then we split the potted & formed pork-- the stars were the mortadella, the ciccioli (like rillettes), and-- by far the winner-- the liver pate.
We also split the zampone braised in saba, a whole pig's trotter (about the size of my forearm), "glove-boned" (deboned) and then stuffed with sausage, so that the trotter skin, which was delicious, acts as the sausage casing. The whole thing is then braised in saba, a wine reduction, and served with surprisingly tasty lentil puree. This was so, so good.
Then the individual appetizers (which we pretty much all shared anyway). I had the fried pig's trotter and brains-- the trotter was very good but the brains were delicious and had a soft brainy texture that made me very excited for the fried brains we will make for our Winter Feast. There were also two tongue salads-- tender and absolutely delicious with our wine (we started with a Pinot Noir and then had a 2005 Crozes Hermitage). There were two fantastically rich soups-- velloutatas of roasted butternut squash with fried pancetta, proscuitto and cracklings (possibly the meatiest soup I've ever had). And finally, Ridwan did what we were all too timid to do, and had the blood pudding. I have to say, it was one of my favorite dishes of the entire night. I expected a gelatinous minerally blob-- instead it resembled a mound of flavorful, moist pulled pork. Mmmmm.
On to the main courses: There were two Tofejas-- to quote from the menu, a "Piedmontese Peasant-Style Braise of Pork Shoulder, Little cotechino Sausages, Wild Boar Spare Ribs, and Pork Skin rollattini with ‘borlotti’ Beans". These platters were pretty much a medieval feast in and of themselves. There was also tiny spinach-stuffed gnocchi with tiny pork meatballs-- by far the best gnocchi I have ever had. And a pappardelle di sangue with pork heart and wild mushroom ragu-- firm, chewy bites of heart and mushroom in a thin, rich sauce that covered the dark pasta. And, finally, the spit-roasted pork belly-- I agonized over whether to order this, but am so glad I did. It was unlike any pork belly I've had or made-- it wasn't fat/meat, but a uniform, custardy, tangy, sweet concoction dressed with green olives (that did not, oddly enough, taste like olives), chestnut honey, and small chunks of almond. Needless to say, this was fantastic.
Of course, being the piggies we are, we had dessert. I managed to get (thanks to our wonderful waiter) a piece of candied pancetta. Bacon candy, much discussed online (probably due to its presence on Oliveto's Hog menus), is quite simply delicious. Smoky, tangy, sweet, and crispy. We also had a quince budino (an intense little pudding) served with candied pancetta strips; bergamot-prosecco sherbet with candied lavender blossoms; and a blood orange spongecake.
I did not feel very well after this meal. About 10 hours later, I feel better, though I might pass on the Chinese New Year feast I had planned to attend tonight. But don't get me wrong-- this was worth it. In fact, if in some horrible parallel universe, I could only eat one meal a week, it would probably be this one.
If you want to go next year, they've already started taking reservations.
Here's the menu, for reference: http://www.oliveto.com/wholehog08.pdf
P.S. Kudos to Jesse for being way more adventurous than he thought possible :)