Olvieto Whole Hog 2008
We went Thursday night:
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.
Met up with pane and two other friends for an excellent meal. I think the first half was stronger than the second half... but it would be asking a lot to have an entire meal of dishes as consistently strong as the apps and pastas.
Apps were the pork tongue/artichoke/truffle starter, the pig ear terrine, and the pork shoulder crostoni. I loved them all, but the ear terrine had a very delicate flavor that became a little muted next to the extremely robust flavors of the other two.
Pastas were the gnocchi with meatballs (very large, round spinach gnocchi that somehow managed to not be gummy, despite their large size) and the spaghetti with cracklings. Both were excellent.
Our main was the pork bacon chop, which is billed as being "for two" - for two WWF wrestlers, maybe. It was a massive thing, comprising both belly and loin. I'm ashamed to say... the thick layer of fat defeated me. I love pork fat, I really do, but this chop took me down. The pork was tasty enough (maybe a touch overbrined, and the lean parts were a little tough) - in retrospect I would have ordered more apps and pastas instead. As pane said - if you're reaching for the potatoes fried in pork fat to clear your palate, you know something's not quite right.
The quince budino with pancetta was very good; we also had the sponge cake with blood oranges (after the pork chop, I was craving some fresh fruit). What I really needed was a big bowl of blood orange segments, I think - after eating all the fruit, I couldn't eat any cake.
Anyway, I remember last year, I saw dishes from Whole Hog on the menu for almost a week afterwards, so a lot of these dishes will probably still be available tomorrow, and a number of them will probably still be around early next week.
I was also there tonight. The four of us had an excellent meal. I'd agree with you on the appetizers and pastas being the highlight, but none of the mains we ordered were anything less than great.
We went with the crostoni, blood pudding, fried trotter & brains, and tripe frito. The crostoni was very well-received, if quite salty. The fried trotter and brains was even better than last year and the frito was good too, though as lexdevil noted above, the batter tended to mask the flavor and crunch of the tripe. The blood pudding was the real standout, however. Intensely seasoned, earthily saline, and built on a base of mouth-wateringly tender ciccoli, this was not a dish for the narrow of artery. The four of us together couldn't finish it.
The two ladies in our party opted for the butternut squash soup with porcine toppings, while the two gentlemen went for the spaghetti with cracklings and breadcrumbs. The soup was apparently excellent; both tureens vanishing rapidly. The spaghetti, as I and others on this thread can attest, was a dish that even Dr. Atkins would have gladly made an exception for.
For our entrees we went for the Tofeja, a mixed Piedmontese braise of assorted pork cuts; choucroute, tofeja's sauerkraut-laden Alsatian cousin; and the brontosauran bacon chop. The tofeja had a nicely pasty bean base with a sumptuous gravy enrobing several different meats. While this was more than tasty enough, it didn't quite have the complexity or the sheer shock value of some other menu items. The choucroute featured great contrast between the fleshy, fatty pink meats within and the palate-cleansing acerbic nature of the long-braised cabbage. In doing so, it was as a choucroute is meant to be, naturally.
What was quite far from nature, however, was the mammoth heft and antediluvian decadence of the bacon chop. Having ordered the same chop last year I was shocked to find that this year's chop was not only half again as large [2.5lbs w/bone said the waitress] but served with the rind on! The very best efforts of two hale males could not denude this lardo-laden bone of its gelatinous garland. This is the sort of meal one can only contemplate eating once a year, if that.
Dessert was limited to a plate of tasty cookies and the bergamot ice cream, both of which were lovely, if not nearly as memorable as the plenitude of prior pig-products.
I was at Daveena's table. For me the highlights were the pork tongue with truffles, crostone, and both pastas. The tongue was luscious, I loved the texture and the rich sauce. The texture of the ear (sort of crunchy and gummy at the same time) was not to my taste.
We practically licked the last of the cracklings off the plate, so I think the spaghetti was a winner. And the gnocchi were maybe the best I've had in San Francisco--I agree with Daveena about being amazed that they were perfectly toothsome and not chewy at all.
Oh, pork bacon chop. What did I do to not deserve you? We knew we were defeated when we sliced the meat away from the Flintstone-sized bone and saw that each portion for the four diners at our table was probably 200% the size of an average entree.
The belly was so thick each bite was like eating eight back-to-back thick-cut slices of bacon appended to a little piece of meat. Delicious, but much too rich for sustained consumption. I would have liked a little piece of this as an app.
Both desserts were good; I favored the unique budino, which was like a loose panna cotta. The strong pancetta flavor overshadowed the muted quince, but it was still a strong end to our meal.
Certainly I'd like to return next year, and it's likely that I would try more of the appetizer section and perhaps avoid an entree altogether.
I was there tonight, and overall, it was a great experience. I've read a number of complaints here about Oliveto's service, but the service was really warm and friendly, which I appreciated. We started with the Crostino of Preserved Pork Shoulder and pancetta with chanterelle mushrooms and the pork liver and pancetta with beets. The crostino was my favorite dish of the evening, I could have had only this and gone away thrilled. The pork liver dish was well done, but it made me realize that I don't really like liver, so I can't really discuss it in detail. We then shared the spaghetti with pork cracklings and Calabrian hot peppers, which was great, especially the hot peppers, and the pork belly with olives which was good, but the olives didn't really add anything to the dish (and I love olives in general). We also had the potatoes fried in pork renderings, and they were everything that fried potatoes should always be. We finished up with the apple cream and pancetta tart, which was delicious, though I wished the pancetta laid over the top was in slightly smaller pieces, it wasn't quite so easy to cut and eat, though the flavor was great.
We have reservations for a big group on Saturday. (Curious that you said it ends on Friday, hmmmm?) My gf, who organized the thing, cooked at Oliveto for about 4 years. She's excited. I (the lapsed vegetarian) am fearing pork overload. Fortunately, in a big group, you can eat as much or as little as you want and no one notices.
Yes, had a late reservation last night. Overall the food was good and the service was wonderful, some of the best service I've had at Oliveto. We didn't feel at all rushed and were at our table for over two and a half hours for a two top, though this might have just been because they weren't seating anybody after us. The server was great at explaining everything on the menu and once we told him what we had eaten at the whole hog dinner last year, steered us towards some new things to try.
Had the tripe fritto to start, which was good, but as lexdevil said, it was hard to pick out the tripe flavor once it had been fried. But it was perfectly fried and the cardoons that were served with the tripe was delicious.
Had the spaghetti with pork cracklings and potato mezzalune with lardo as our pasta courses. The spaghetti was good and very porky, though the pasta itself I found a little heavy (the dish was cold by the time I got to try it), my boyfriend loved it though. The mezzalune was plain on its own, but really came alive with the lardo.
I had the zampone braised in saba. It was described as a boned out pig foot stuffed with sausage and braised, the leg essentially acted as a casing for the sausage. It was really tasty, but extremely rich. I found it hard to eat more than a few bites, and the servig they gave me was huge. I didn't get to try the other entree on the table, some sort of pork sausage with a fennel blood orange salad. My boyfried loved the sausage, but said the salad was really bland (though it didn't stop him from eating everything on his plate).
For dessert we had the apple cream and pancetta tart which was tasty. The pancetta flavor was not as strong as I hoped, but the tart itself was good. We also had the lard basted butternut squash strudel. Once again, it was tasty but the lard flavor didn't really come through all of the other spices that had been used on the butternut squash.
I think next year I might skip a main course and instead order a few more apps and pastas, which I find a lot more interesting. But overall the food and service were wonderful.
re: potato or yam
We had a similar experience with the zampone last year. Almost ordered it again this year, but decided it would be too rich. It's also very same-y...palette fatigue does set in before you reach the half-way point. It would be an excellent shared main course, if two people wanted to do more on the antipasti/pasta end of the menu. It says a lot that I ordered choucroute in order to have something lighter.
Yes. The Wild Boar Milanese was great (they do a wonderful job w/ this preparation regardless of the protein involved...I thought the hen was the star of the 2007 tomato dinner). I enjoyed the Choucroute (featuring the best hot dog aka frankfurter ever), and my olive hating hubby loved the pork belly despite the olives. This is probably the first time he has ever enjoyed green olives (Philistine!).
The lardo on the "Whole Cuts" platter was very special. I thought the hot coppa also had a nice funky flavor.
I had the tongue/artichoke/truffle starter, which I have a hard time passing up. My father's tripe fritto was less successful. Nothing wrong with it, but once fried the tripe could have been anything. We prefer the Trippa alla Romana they've done in the past. Of course if you've got someone who fears tripe, the fritto would be a good training wheels introduction. My hubby thought that the spaghetti with pork cracklings was the best spaghetti he's ever had.
We shared two desserts of bacon-y goodness. The apple cream and pancetta tart was very nice, but the quince budino with candied pancetta was really special. I need to figure out how to make candied pancetta...though the consequences would be dangerous.
Service was, as usual on the first night of a major event, somewhat overwhelmed. One wrong dish delivered and a looooong wait before the main course. Worth it regardless for the great food.
The Foxen Chenin Blanc available by the glass was a really pleasant surprise. Stood up shockingly well to the choucroute.
There was a lengthy thread on the Home Cooking board in December or so of 2006 about making bacon brittle (I made it, I loved it, I forced it upon many friends and family who loved it), so I would imagine that making candied pancetta may involve some of the same methods.
I'll be there Thursday night, thanks for the report!