a delicious lesson in post-colonial history

I love a good sandwich. I don’t discriminate (except against seitan) – I love all good sandwiches equally. Sound disingenuous? Of course it is. Some sandwiches rise mightily above the rest and we all know it. So let’s stop pretending everyone’s a winner and bask, for a moment, in the savory glow of superiority. The banh mi is a winning culinary argument for colonialism. Well, at least by the French, because lord knows no one has ever thanked Britain for invading their native cuisine. Tantalizing Vietnamese staples like cilantro, carrots and cukes nestle inside a Vietnamese baguette, airier than its French cousin and spread with mayo.

Then things get interesting. Some banh mi lovers like it hot, with lemongrass grilled meats. Some play it cool, with Vietnamese ham or sliced meatballs. Some are weak of spirit and get tofu. I keep the post-colonial fusion theme going with grilled pork and peppery country-style pate.

Is your mouth watering? It should be. The banh mi is a seductive dance of contrasts – crispy and chewy, savory and sweet, hot and cold, sultry and bright. It handily surpasses ordinary sandwiches to join such lunchtime titans as the lobster roll, the bacon cheeseburger, the chicken parm, and the BLT on the lofty pedestal reserved for none but the finest combinations ever to cozy up between two slices of bread. Colonialism never tasted so good….

Kitchen Toys

Confession of the day: I have a kitchen gear problem. You’re stunned, I know. But it’s true. Rare is the gear I don’t genuinely believe I can no longer live without. Some of it is neglected (including, to date, my clay pot, because I am a bad Asian), but one that’s actually gotten a surprising amount of use is the pizza stone, and of course the peel that goes with it. I’ve gotten good enough with it that I no longer dump my creation cheese-down on the stone…most of the time. At the last pizza night, this was the only one I was patient enough to photograph before devouring.

Summer BBQ in Berkeley

Call it laziness, call it preoccupation…we prefer to call it summer vacation. Yes loyal readers, all four of you (hi mom), we are back! Or at least we’re going to try to be…It’s August here in the greater bay area, which means Yuan and Little Miss are shrouded in fog and probably developing vitamin D deficiencies, while the Princess is roasting to a crisp in the scorching Central Valley. Thankfully we have great friends in Berkeley who let us take over their house and yard in exchange for grillables and a little manual labor in the garden!

Heirloom tomato caprese salad

Assorted grillables

Wild sockeye salmon

whole hog 2009

Oliveto, a pillar of the Bay Area Italian dining scene, does various theme dinners throughout the year, one of which being Whole Hog. True to the name, the menu celebrates the beauty of all things pig, tip to tail. It should have long ago become clear to our eight loyal readers that we are unusually obsessed with pork, and this dinner is simply the annual climax of said obsession for us and those like us.

Princess was sadly unable to make it to town for the glorious event, and Yuan experienced an extremely ill-timed bout of poor judgment and turned down the chance to join. So I headed off with a small band of die-hard food lovers to worship at the temple of the hog…

We started off with the “whole cuts” plate of dry-cured salumi, which included prosciutto, coppa, lonza, lardo, pancetta, and another one the name of which escapes me. Standouts included the lardo, which was cured with rosemary and simply sublime, and the meltingly rich and delicately salty coppa.

Next I moved on to the terrine of pickled pig ears with horseradish, celery hearts and frisee. This is the only thing I had the wherewithall to photograph, before becoming lost in a porky fog of bliss. (Also the lighting was a little low for my trusty point-and-shoot.)

The terrine was soft and silky, in oh so pleasing contrast to the crisp frisee. The whole dish was perky and memorably whimsical, and I was convinced I’d ordered the best appetizer until one of my dining companions turned to me on the brink of joyful tears over his fritto of pork tripe, sweet onions and cardoons with meyer lemon and caper mayonnaise. Sweet heavenly lord was that delicious! Tender, crisply fried, unexpectedly a little bit clovey-cinnamony-warm, dunked in a little perky mayo…. The stuff, literally, that dreams are made of.

My entree was a hearty peasant-style braise of borlotti beans, gloriously fatty pork shoulder, little cotechino sausages, and assorted other little pork bits. Others had blood sausage, ravioli in brodo, and choucroute garni featuring perhaps one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard – pork “pastrami.”

Even the desserts were pork-tacular. Mine was a caramel and Valhrona chocolate tart with candied pancetta. The salty pancetta balanced nicely against the sweet caramel, both melding perfectly with the rich dark chocolate ganache. Also devoured: blood orange and bacon ice creams, and an apple strudel topped with candied bacon bits that was easily the best dessert of the three.

I tell you, this whole hog business is sheer genius. Thank god it only happens once a year, or I’d be dead broke and weigh two hundred pounds. Aside from those, though, I’d probably be quite happy.