Over the last two weeks I had the good fortune to go to both of Olivetos and Incantos special dinners that take on a large variety of animal parts (i.e. offal) not normally seen on menus. Olivetos, per the name of the dinner, focused solely on the pig, while Incantos happily took one on a tour of the entire barnyard. In summary, Id give a slight nod to Olivetos on the food and a slightly bigger nod on overall ambience/décor/service + food; however, if you are an adventurous eater, it is hard to go wrong at either. Long summary of menus below. Fair warning: If you arent into at least reading about let alone eating offal, Id stop now. Lastly, my apologies for being a few days late in writing this up. Hopefully you'll still find it an interesting read.
Olivetos Whole Hog Dinner Thursday Feb 23rd
Hog Heaven or Why Im not Kosher
I happily managed to sneak myself and my friend Steph in for a last minute 9:15pm reservation. When we got there, the place was still hopping. Lots of diners were still left several hours later when we departed. The wait staff, including the roaming head chef, was always in a good mood and made us feel warm and comfortable. Everyone was clearly excited about the dinner and their exuberance rubbed off. The hardest part of the meal by far was picking what to eat for the two of us from the large menu.
We started by asking for some lardo instead of butter. I had read about this in a previous chowhound post on the WHD 2003. This was a brilliant suggestion. There is nothing like lardo silky smooth essence of bacon to start a meal of pork, pork and more pork. This produced one of the highlights of the meal. Slightly later in the meal, the head chef, Paul Canales, dropped by and we had this exchange:
Chef: Is this the lardo table?
Jonathan: Yes. It is delicious. Thanks so much!
Chef: You know it was funny. A waiter came in and said chef, I hope its not a problem, but a table wants a little lardo instead of butter. I replied Problem, no problem! Of course they want lardo.
Chef: Great performance gentleman, great performance.
Our first course was a trio of pates. The first was a rough Pâté Capriccioso, consisting mainly of pork and fat. This on top of a piece of bread dipped in lardo was pork heaven. Second, was ciccioli with pork cracklings and cornichons built in. Last was a pork liver and black trumpet mushroom pate spread over toast that literally forced involuntary exclamations of joy from me.
For our pasta dish we had Triangoli of Pork Shoulder Cooked Around-the-Clock. I dont think we could have picked better here light homemade pasta surrounding meltingly soft pork ragu. Our second primi was the Fried Pork Trotter and Brains with Blood Orange-Tangelo Salsa. While the brains were small chunks and relatively light, the trotter came in a huge fried wedge that was gelatinous and quite rich. Dont get me wrong the whole dish was delicious, but we needed another 2 or 3 people to get through it.
For the main course, I couldnt resist ordering us the Pork Bacon Chop with Fava Bean Purée and Salsa Rustica. Think bacon, now think pork belly and now think the entire chop with a delicious gremolata salsa on top. Oh, and they threw a scoop of fava been puree to make you think you were having a little vegetable with your pork. This took a while to plow through, but the combination of the fat (you could take as much or little of that as you want) with the tender pork off the bone was an incredible combination.
Lastly, for dessert we got comped a small scoop of the bacon ice cream along w/ two other dishes Ill get to in a minute. Everyone was having a good time that night and the tables were talkative. Plus everyone was checking out what each table was having since there were so many tantalizing items on the menu. The tables to our right and left were a little ahead of us, which greatly helped our ordering. On my right, the four guys straight out of Queer Eye for a Straight Guy were dead set against the bacon ice cream. On my left, the slightly older couple were split she was for it, he against. So with that, we asked our waiter, who also was not a fan, for a taste. The best I can describe it was how our waiter put it: You know when you get some maple syrup on your bacon when eating pancakes.
For our real desserts, Steph mainly devoured the Chocolate Banana Cream Pie, which was as perfect a rendition of this childhood dream as you can imagine. I mainly finished the Blood Orange and Prosecco Gelées with Tangelo, Blood Orange, and Oro Blanco Grapefruit. While Im not sure the pie had any pork (although maybe lard in the crust?), the gelées were made with gelatin from boiled down pork. More to the point they were a perfect light end to a rich meal and some of the tastiest slices of citrus Ive ever popped into my mouth.
Incantos Head to Tail Dinner Monday 3/6
Tour of the Barnyard and Beyond
Yet again we managed to get a last minute reservation. This time though it was unfortunately because some larger tables had cancelled last minute. Seems the menu was a bit too much for them. This however happily got us my brother, wife Naomi and myself in and then was followed by a warm welcome from the owner who thanked us for our enthusiasm at coming in last minute. They were also happy to accommodate my wife and I sharing one order since neither of us were overly hungry and we were staring down a 5 course prix fixe dinner early on a Monday night.
We started off with a little gift from the kitchen. Normally at this point in the meal you get a little light creative creation to awaken the appetite. Instead we got some deep fried tripe with preserved lemon, coarse salt and marjoram. Its hard to go wrong with anything deep fried, and these were a delicious way start to the meal.
The first course was Beef heart tartare pattanesca, aka chopped up beef heart with capers. This of all the courses was the most disappointing and actually had us a little worried. Rather than melting in the mouth like regular beef tartare, the heart chunks remained a bit chewy and I never felt that the flavors melded together.
Next up were Marin mountain oysters with pancetta affumicata & capers. Any guesses on that one? Think rocky mountain oysters but with lamb. Surprisingly small (ok, I had to write that) and meltingly tender, these little lamb morsels were delicious. Paired with the smoky pancetta, a bit of capers and a light brothy sauce, these produced a wonderful mix of flavors and a good bridge between courses.
The middle course was seemingly the strangest on the menu: Finanziera, Piedmontese market stew, of cockscombs, ducks tongues, sweetbreads & sanguinaccio. That last one in case you are wondering is blood sausage. That collection of meats was laid over rice and surrounded by a hearty broth sprinkled with long thin lemon zest. Each of the cuts was surprisingly good: blood sausage was rich and hearty as expected; sweetbreads were left unadorned as opposed to the normal fried variety; ducks tongues were the least interesting but still tasty with duck flavor; and then there were the cockscombs which were like a medium bodied gelatinous embodiment of rooster.
The main course was Spring lamb trio of Roman haggis, kidney & tongue with spicy lentils, lemon & mint. This course just got better with each bite. Starting with the best lentils Ive ever had coated with juices from the meat plus the lemon and mint flavors they were extraordinary. The tongue was grilled to perfection. The kidney had the strong organ flavor, similar to a very hearty chicken liver. The Roman haggis was done inside out with the tripe sautéed and then built into the haggis, which came as a small cylinder. Since it was inside out, they got the cylinder of meat quite crisp on the outside while leaving the inside tender. The Roman style referred to it being sweetened with pine nuts and golden raisins. We had a hard time deciding what was the best bite on this plate, and it was the only course my wife and I were sparring over forkfuls.
Last up was Suet pudding with chocolate blood gelato. Think thick boiled pudding with smooth texture throughout. As my brother put it there was none of the usual snap on the outside of pudding slices. Instead it was rich and smooth throughout. The gelato did indeed have pasteurized pigs blood in it, but we had to ask, as it wasnt very noticeable. According to our waitress it helped give the gelato more body. Regardless, the dessert was an excellent ending.