Goin' Hog Wild

I recently had the fortune to be invited to a Whole Hog Dinner at Town restaurant in Honolulu
(Kaimuki to be exact). What's a whole hog dinner anyway? Well, taking a step back, one of the
regulars of our informal wine group won a silent auction benefitting the culinary program at
Leeward Community College. The item for auction was a Whole Hog Dinner prepared by
Chef/Owner Ed Kenney of Town restaurant. "J" who bid on the item first asked the chef if he
could bring his own wines to the dinner perchance he outbid the rest of the attendees. "No
problem". Of course that set the wheels in motion with "J" placing the winning bid and yours
truly eventually savoring the spoils at this spectacular dinner event. So what's a whole hog
dinner? It's basically a dinner where the chef tries to use as many parts of the animal as possible
- not just the "good" parts. Actually in many of these "whole animal" dinners, you'll hardly see
(or eat) any of the "good" parts. And it was befitting that Chef Kenney hosted this dinner since
he's one of the few chefs in Hawaii (if not the only chef in Hawaii) who can actually butcher a
whole pig. And since I was in the company of six other wine aficionados (including Hawaii's
latest Master Sommelier), we paired each course with a couple of wines.

The Menu (and wine pairings)

Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne

Shinsato Salumi
J Lasalle Rose Champagne
2010 Cleto Chiarli e Figli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena
Chef Kenney made 7 different types of salumi along with a pork liver pate paired with pickled
vegetables  and toast points. While all of the salumi were outstanding rivaling salumi from
"name" producers, my favorite was the testa or head cheese. It had a perfect balance of meat, fat
and connective tissue with a pleasing crunch and the perfect amount of salt. I actually find
name brands have too much salt and that Chef Kenney used the perfect "hand" in salting the
meats. Another revelation was the dry Lambrusco paired with the salumi - enough earthiness to
balance pork flavors and enough red fruit so it stood up to the cured flavors.

1997 Au Bon Climat Isabelle Pinot Noir

Amuse Bouche of Roasted Pork Heart on Crostini with Lardo
Though this dish wasn't on the menu, it was one of my favorites! Tender slices of roasted pork
heart topped with lardo (cured pork fat back) that was torched just until it started melting
served on crostini. The heart had a flavor between pork ribs and liver with a touch of minerality
and the minerality in the Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir was the perfect partner.

Pickled Pig’s Feet, Lum’s Watercress, Kim Chee
2009 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Gueberschwihr
2006 Hiedler Riesling Maximum
I know what you're thinking, that stuff in the bottles at the supermarket. NO! Not even close.
In this case the pickling refers to simply brine curing the flesh. Chef Kenney made a panko
crusted cake with the pig's feet and served it with fresh watercress and a kim chee sauce. Crispy,
fatty, gelatinous then slight heat from the sauce and herbaceous watercress to balance the rich
flavors. By itself, a great dish but with the wine... In years of attending and trying to find the
ideal food and wine pairings, usually one wine is the clear winner. In this case, both wines were 5
out of 5 winners! The fruit in the Zind Humbrecht was forward enough to stand up to the rich
flavors of the pork while the Hiedler's minerality played off of the earthiness of the dish to bring
out the fruit in the wine. And since both were Rieslings, the abundant acid cleansed the palate
between bites.

Pork Belly, Turnips, Savoy Cabbage, Mustard
2007 Diochon Moulin a Vent
2001 Alvaro Palacios Priorat Finca Dofi
I'm a sucker for pork belly so you know I enjoyed this dish! Crisp on one side, succulent on the
other with sweet baby root vegetables and mustard seed to cut through the richness. I also
believe the sauce had a touch of Asian spice (five spice?) partly mimicking rafute or shoyu
braised pork belly. The two wines while coming from different vintages and countries both
worked with the pork belly though I gave the Diochon the nod.

Pig’s Blood Pasta, Guanciale, Rapini
1999 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva
2005 Amativo Cantele
Another food epiphany! I have tried morcilla or blood sausage before but this dish didn't have
that same iron minerality that you find in blood sausage. The pasta itself had the appearance of
a milk chocolate pasta with the subtle flavor of a good pork liver mousse. Add some rich
guanciale (pork jowls which resemble pork belly and are used interchangeably with pancetta) for
another dimension of porky richness and balance it with slightly bitter rapini (broccoli rabe). If
this wasn't another perfect dish, it was 4.95 out of 5 good! And perfect with the Taurasi!

Longanisa, Beans, Farm Fresh Egg
2000 Roda II Rioja Riserva
2001 Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero
While this was a good dish, I didn't give it it's due attention mainly because some of the
preceding dishes were such food epiphanies. You know something's wrong when a runny egg
doesn't catch my attention. But you couldn't lose with a dish when you pair fresh pork sausage,
white beans and slow cooked egg. And both wines paired admirably!

1986 Chateau Lynch Bages

Tacos de Cabeza
2006 Tempier Bandol Rose
1996 La Spinetta Barbaresco Vigneto Gallina
And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, Chef Kenney presents a roasted pig head,
fresh tortillas and all the fixins' for tacos. Golden crispy skin on the outside and rich, succulent
flesh within, the heads were served with tongs so the diners could literally tear at the head
Neanderthal style. This was served with a tray of sliced cabbage, radishes, avocado, cilantro and
spicy pepper slices and fresh salsa.  Though one of the wines was from one of my favorite
producers - La Spinetta - I hardly paid any attention to the wine at this point. NEED. MORE.

Brown Butter-Quince Tarte

Pork Tails

I have to say that this was one of the BEST dinners I've had in quite a while. Though different in
approach, it was up there with The French Laundry, La Mer and Mavro in that I know I will
remember individual dishes for quite some time. And make comparisons in the future.
Therefore, if you have the fortune to attend one of these "Whole Animal" dinners, don't be
squeamish and just go for it! I guarantee that you won't simply be served a plate of "guts"!
Chefs are professionals and they do want your return business so each dish will be artfully crafted
and plated. And I'm sure you'll be amazed of the tastes and textures of those "other" meats.
And if you think about it, restaurants in the Motherland serve an array of those other "parts"
whether it's grilled hamachi collar, soft roe, yakitori chicken gizzards or intestines. What's the
difference with our four legged quarry? Though you may be accustomed to simply seeing steaks
and burgers on those Styrofoam trays in the supermarket, there's a lot more flesh to the animal
than what's found in the supermarket chill case. And it's a waste to use those parts simply for
pet feed or fertilizer. Kind of like cutting a 1000 year old redwood simply for the sprigs to use
for air freshener then turning the rest of the tree into sawdust. Remember that these "other"
parts are offal good!