Piedmont (Durham) blog dinner
I've had a cold most of the week, which explains why I've only just gotten around to posting about the excellent dinner I had at Piedmont this past Monday. It was a prix-fixe dinner put together by the local BlogTogether folks (http://blogtogether.org/).
The draw for most peeps was presumably the chance to have dinner with writer/blogger/[Duke alum] Michael Ruhlman, but I'll confess (and no offense to Michael, who seems like a really nice guy), the draw for me was the chance to see what Drew & Andy could do with a 5-course menu and a Cane Creek hog.
We began, not surprisingly, with a selection of cheeses and charcuterie. I'm lactose-impaired, so I left the cheeses to the others at the table & focused on the meats, all pork: pate, lomo, rillette, and head cheese. I assume by now you've all had the Piedmont country pate, so I don't have to tell you how great it is. The lomo is a little more recent addition to their repertoire: it's air-cured pork loin. I think Andy said that it's first salted, and then at some point the salt is rubbed off & replaced with smoked paprika. In any case, it's dry, sliced paper-thin, and divine.
The rillette (shredded pork slow-cooked in fat, basically) was sort of the Platonic ideal of pork, or like an arteries-be-damned French interpretation of Carolina BBQ. The head cheese was thin-sliced, subtler in flavor than the rest, and so scarce on the platter that I didn't get enough to really fully explore it.
The second course was actually my favorite: a simple white sweet-potato puree with pancetta. Understated, mellow, perfectly-seasoned.
The puree was followed by an arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, pickled shiitakes, and herbs. This was a slight misstep (and not just because there was no pork in it); there was nothing to balance out the vinegary tang of the pickled mushrooms, and in combination with the peppery arugula, it was too much for most of the folks at our table. Would've been nice with some creamy cheese, perhaps (or just without the pickled mushrooms entirely).
I ate at Blue Hill in Manhattan recently, and ordered the "Blue Hill Farms pork". The cut wasn't specified, and I was disappointed when a loin came out. Was even more disappointed when I tasted it; it was kind of lacking in flavor, and the texture was a little mushy. I actually wound up sending it back.
So I was apprehensive when I looked at the Piedmont menu and saw "pork loin with butternut squash polenta, braised chard & jus" as the main course. I needn't have worried. The loin was tender, suitably porky, and didn't commit any of the [dense/dry/mushy/weird] faux pas that I usually associate with restaurant pork loin.
More importantly, I think, the butternut squash polenta was amazing. The ratio of squash to polenta was so well-balanced that it wound up seeming like a single miraculous substance (and I love the circuitous route that these two vegetables took, from their position as staples in the pre-Columbian North American diet, en route to being reunited in this form).
Dessert was a scuppernong granita, which was great. It seemed to take full advantage of the flavor shift that took place as it melted from ice to slush to juice in the bowl, as we all sat around talking and sighing after what had been a most excellent meal. Many thanks to Drew, Andy, Michael Ruhlman, and to Anton Zuiker of BlogTogether for putting the evening together.
401 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701