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Friday, June 02, 2006
14 Ways to Eat a Pig

Yes. I know. I've been gone for a while. So what better way to return than with the recent 14-course Pig Dinner hosted by Manresa last Tuesday evening. Actually it kicked off one of the most decadent food weeks of my life, which I may tell you about someday, but let's start with all things piggy.

Manresa's chef de cuisine, Jeremy Fox, has a way with the pig. Having staged with one of my culinary heroes, Fergus Henderson, at his London restaurant St. John, Jeremy's interests and talents have blossomed into expertise. He makes me like parts I didn't think I would ever truly enjoy. And alongside Jeremy was Manresa pastry chef Deanie Hickox, who can make pastry submit to her every whim. Deanie is equally at home with a fresh peach souffle as she is with her stunning black olive madeleines. And she certainly delivered on this night (I was wondering how she would incorporate pig into the sweet courses. She did not disappoint).

Here's the menu. Read it and weep.

First course. 8:09 p.m.
Saucisson Sec. Three kinds of thinly sliced saucisson: fennel (hands-down my fave), black pepper, and red pepper. Served alongside crunchy French radishes with creamy butter and sea salt.

Second course. 8:18 p.m.
Bacon. House-cured bacon with soft potato, green garlic, creme fraiche, and a pile of shredded local cheddar. Served straight up in a martini glass with the crispiest fried potato skin you ever did munch.

Third course. 8:31 p.m.
Tortino di ciccioli. A stuffed pig's ear served atop bacon brioche with fresh strawberry jam. That's right. Bacon brioche.

Fourth course. 8:46 p.m.
Tripe. Who wouldn't love tripe that's been chopped up and served in a fried hush puppy? Hmmm? Hmmm? oh, the best part: pork fat mayonnaise.

*Side note: We are not even a third of the way through the dinner. I realized we must be in Rome.

Fifth course. 9:02 p.m.
Lardo. Cured fat. Served with crunchy, vinegary celery, carrot, and fennel. Drizzled with honey. Refreshing.

Sixth course. 9:14 p.m.
Lomo. Thin-sliced, dry-cured pork loin draped over a wedge of many-layered crepe, shards of manchego, and a smattering of fresh peas. I could have eaten that all day.

Seventh course. 9:27 p.m.
Tongue. I've never eaten tongue before, can you believe it? Thin, thin, oh-so-paper-thin slices of the tongue. Perched on caprese salad of milk skin and tomato with a drizzle of aged balsamic. It melts in your mouth.

*Side note: Just reached the halfway point. I'm starting to slump in my chair. Must remember to sit up.

Eighth course. 9:38 p.m.
Trotters. Feet, people. Shredded feet meat. Tender little shards tucked into a glass jar, topped with a silky oh-so-illicit layer of foie gras and duck fat and served alongside roasted grape salad.

Ninth course. 9:54 p.m.
Jowl. Braised and cured guanciale, frenchified and served over sauerkraut. An ode to Alsace.

Tenth course. 10:14 p.m.
Belly. Oh how I love a brined and roasted belly. Meaty, creamy, fatty, salty. Nestled in hearty gumbo z'herbs. Hello New Orleans.

*Side note: I'm starting to not remember the details. I know it's delicious. It's incredible. What? Sure I'll have another glass of wine.

Eleventh course. 10:27 p.m.
Boudin noir. You either love it or you hate it. Or you just can't get past the fact that it is bloody rice encased in an intestine. Get over yourself, if you eat pork, eat it all and don't let anything go to waste. I'm a big fan. Bring it on.

Twelfth course. 10:45 p.m.
Leg. Jeremy's ode to his Southern heritage. Slow smoked with coca-cola BBQ sauce and smoked salt. Served with a swig of the hot-damned best sweet tea I ever did see. Or drink.

Thirteenth course. 11:00 p.m.
Pancetta. Surprise! This is the first dessert course. A thin crisp disk of pancetta capped off a quivering, creamy brown butter panna cotta. Swoon.

Last course. whew. 11:14 p.m.
Bacon butter. Okay, well, the menu actually read "Medjool date muffin" but since all the other courses listed piggy parts I couldn't help myself. Best damn muffin I ever ate with the best damn butter slathered on it.

*Side note: I feel woozy. I need to lie down. Is it the wine or the pig? I will never eat again. Well, until the next night when I'm bound for A16...

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane (just off North Santa Cruz Avenue)
Los Gatos, CA 95030

**A final note of confession: Yes. I know Deanie and Jeremy, they are friends of mine. However, before you give me a lashing, I have not until this very special dinner which was attended by numerous local culinary luminaries, written about Manresa. And one other thing. I realize I have no pictures. There is no excuse. So slap me.


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