Report: Incanto Chowdown, Whole Pig Dinner, April 14th [San Francisco]
A belated report, but since no one else has posted, I thought I would start the topic and I hope that my fellow Chowhounds who attended the dinner will join in to add more details, their own impressions and more photos.
First of all many thanks to our organizer, who arranged the dinner.
Sunday evening, at 5:30pm sharp we arrived at Incanto on Church Street in SF. Most of us were assembled outside when the restaurant opened its doors. We had the maximum of 17 people for the Dante Room at Incanto, which is a small alcove behind the main dining room. It affords privacy, but is not completely removed from the rest of the restaurant.
The menu was four courses:
Boccalone antipasto platters
Salad course: Choice of
Redleaf Little gems, herbs & ricotta salata
Rucola, radish, pecorino & lemon vinaigrette
Whole Roasted Pig
side dishes, young turnips with their greens with lemon and chili
Bloomsdale spinach, guanciale & shallots
Pig and side dishes were served family style for the table
Dessert: Choice of
Milk chocolate-caramel bonet & cocoa nib brittle
Tahitian vanilla cake, Albion strawberries & vanilla ice cream
Two wines were served. A Nebbiolo rosato with the starter courses and a Sangiovese with the main course. I did not note down the specific wines, but I am counting on other diners to supply that information. Both wines were very good and worked well with the courses.
As the pig was carved, We were first served the moist delicious meat and crispy skin. There was also a bread stuffing which was rich with the flavors of roast pig. Then later the offal parts were presented and passed around the table.
Our main server made the evening a delight, he was informative, entertaining, efficient and attentive to individual requests, even with the large group.
The chef who cooked our pig came to the dining room to talk about the cooking process and then carved it for us.
(I am sorry that I did not get the names here, can anyone else fill in?)
The food was delicious, as was the wine. The company was also great. Most of us had not been part of a chowdown before and it was a lot of fun to meet and talk with everyone.
Everyone received a take home bag with more porky goodness.
I have a video (461 MB total, but it streams to QuickTime) of the chef serving up the pig.
If you look carefully, as he gets towards the tail end, you can see the steam escaping from under the skin. Speaking of which, we had them take some of the skin back to the oven to crisp it up as it did not retain its crispiness for very long. That may be, in part, because they poured some olive oil over the plates of meat and skin, but I'm not sure. Chinatown roast (suckling) pigs certainly seem to have crisper skin.
I particularly enjoyed both the Little Gems salad and the spinach dish. The bonet reminded me of a chocolatey flan, although the brittle sprinkled on top added a nice crunchy texture that really made that dessert. Some folks tried the vanilla cake and added some of the pig jus that was served with the pig. They reported that non-standard combination to be pretty good.
A big thanks to Ashwin for organizing this chowdown.
PS The attached photos are our little friend and the bonet.
re: Peter Yee
Just want to add that very few Cantonese delis offers roast suckling pig, because it costs about twice as much. I found a deli on Stockton in SF Chinatown last week that offered 3 types of roast pork (on a weekday no less!): around $5 for belly, $6 for white meat, and $12 for suckling pig. Prices were, surprisingly, negotiable, and there were these older women trying to get the white meat at the belly price, and the server would try to mix the white meat and the belly part in order to accommodate the lower belly price. A bit excited (because upscale restaurants charge $15-20 for a small plate of suckling pig), I got half a pound of suckling pig and warmed that up in the oven at home. Oh well the skin wasn't even close to the restaurant quality (should be very thin and crispy). But it only cost me $5-6. ;-)
This was a fun experience and well worth doing. The salumi plate was a nice way to start though it was hard to stop picking at all of the offerings even knowing what was coming. The salads were fine, nothing particularly memorable. I absolutely loved the turnip dish. They had a great crunch and slight bitterness set off by chili. Ate lots of this and didn't want to stop.
But it's all about the pig and it was a success. It was a 40 lb, four-week old specimen and seemed to have a smile on its snout when it was wheeled in. The skin has that killer crunch and the meat was incredibly tender. The pork jus was intense, more like a demi-glace, and moistened and deepened the meat. It also lifted the stuffing. A platter was passed that included the tongue, ears, brains, cheek, snout and other tasty morsels. The brains were creamy and yummy and would have been perfect spread on a baguette slice with sea salt.
Each of us received a 'piggy bag' to go that contained easily over a pound of meat which I gnawed on for days at home.
The only downside was the space. We were tightly packed around a conference-style table in a relatively small room. Though the conversation was great at my end of the table it would have been even more fun to sit at a circular table and able to see everyone. Think dim-sum table.
Many thanks to Ashwin for stepping up and organizing.