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.

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