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Nov 30, 2012 10:08 PM

Enough with the pork fat

Had a birthday dinner at Flour + Wine last night, and it was fabulous . . . mostly. Wife and I each had celery root soup with crab, apple, and almonds, and we agreed it was about the best soup we ever ate. Wife had celery root tortelli with brown butter, walnut and balsamico. This, too, was incredibly delicious. A perfect marriage of flavors.

I ordered the squid ink spaghetti with tesa, clams, fennel and pecorino. Now when I looked at the menu I focused on the squid ink spaghetti and clams, which sounded fantastic. Only when the dish arrived at the table did I think to ask what tesa might be. The answer was pork belly. Now I can't blame the restaurant for my failure to inquire about an ingredient I wasn't familiar with. But I just don't understand why anybody would pair pork belly and clams, let alone fennel, and expect anything but the pork belly to be discernible. I'm not sure I see the point of pairing pork belly with anything and expecting to taste anything but pork fat. I ate about half the pasta before reaching the point where I was unable to swallow another bite, and it was enjoyable in an indulgent, over-the-top sort of way. Obviously, a lot of people like it, because pork belly seems to be showing up all over the place. Me. I've had enough.

I will definitely go back to Flour + Water. It's a fantastic restaurant. But I'll make sure I know what I'm ordering the next time.

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  1. Pork and clams is a very typical Portuguese (Alentejan) dish.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DagingKuda

      Agreed. And, yes, tesa is pork belly, but it's cured so more like pancetta than uncured pork belly. We used to have a favorite restaurant that served a cured pork meat with clams in a wonderful garlic broth.

    2. I have to agree - and I love pork fat. But too much is just too much. I'm getting less enthused about "authenticity" and more focused on the dish itself. We don't spend 12 hours working in the fields, all of us sit practically all day long!

      Decades ago a friend brought me a Nicaraguan tamale. He adored these things and could eat four of them in a single sitting. Have you ever had one? "Authentically" it is rice cooked with so much lard it turns creamy, like risotto; then it's filled with fatty cuts of pork and in the middle....a prune! Gotta keep yourself regular after a fat-laden bomb like that, LOL.

      The diet of the poor, which evolves into street food and then percolates up into 'ethnic', then 'authentic', is heavy with starch and fat. Although often tasty, it isn't something any of us, including the chefs, should be eating on a regular basis.

      The chef at Post Meridian/Berkeley used to do the most amazing pork belly dish. She rendered off all the fat - must have taken hours and hours - leaving a wonderfully flavored chunk of pork that didn't grease up the inside of your mouth. Auberge/Rutherford accomplished the same, but Post Meridian charged about half as much. PM is now gone, sadly, victim of a difficult location and a clientele that couldn't support her great bistro food.

      I love pork and cook with it all the time - just made a pork butt and barley risotto dish last night, in fact. A pork dish doesn't have to be greasy to be full-flavored.