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What's the logical thing to do the day after a Thanksgiving spent gorging on turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, ham, caramelized brussels sprouts, succotash, creamed onions, pie, and more pie? Eat a whole roast pig, of course.*
So off we went last Friday, a party of far-flung family 13 strong, to Incanto, Mark Pastore's rustic Italian restaurant and wine bar in San Francisco's Noe Valley. The occasion, the synchronous birthdays of both my aunt Jacqueline and cousin Peter. Executive chef Chris Cosentino, as the name of his personal Web site attests, is one of the most visible and articulate stateside champions of nose-to-tail eating--and this fall he may have lapped Fergus Henderson in popular recognition thanks to his almost-ran appearance on The Next Iron Chef. He may have been knocked out in the penultimate round, but based on the satiated looking crowd in the dining room, he's not hurting much. Still, since I've never eaten at Lola, or Restaurant August, I can also say with confidence that he was totally robbed.
The meal started with platters of stupendous salumi from Cosentino's side project, Boccalone (and, yes, he appears to not sleep). My memory's a little Chianti-fogged, but I remember buttery mortadella and nutty prosciutto, plus, I think, some tangy cappocollo and slabs of pate di Campagna, dished up with sides of grilled fennel, ramps, and heads of roasted garlic. A deeply satisfying carrot soup with tarragon creme fraiche or a crisp and refreshing dandelion, celery, and apple salad (diner's choice) came next, followed by ropes of bucatini dressed with rich and salty lingcod. And then, the main event: a golden brown, 46-pound Duroc pig whose appearance prompted a frenzy of flash photography.
Locally raised in Manteca, in nearby San Joaquin County, and slow-roasted on site special for us, this was some pig. Tender, with a surprisingly delicate flavor, crispy skin wedded to a layer of firm, glistening fat. (It was even better the next day, when I had two pork sandwiches on toast for breakfast.) It was served with sides of braised Indian red carrots, sweet little roasted beets with fresh ricotta, and some devastating duck-fat stuffing in the face of which I could only groan.
There was also dessert--a swell panna cotta spiked with bay leaf and a dense chocolate ganache tart--but after the pig there's not much more to say. The only other time I've had a whole roast pig was in college, when a couple of overly ambitious premed students decided to spit-roast one for Thanksgiving, stayed warm drinking Jack Daniels by the fire all day, and promptly passed out once the task was done. That was surprisingly decent, but this was . . . is it just too corny to say "the bomb?"
The pictures say it all (click on the images below for more)--as does the fact that when I slipped out to the ladies' before dessert I discovered, hovering above my navel, a large hunk of pigskin glued to my shirt.
*And thanks Bruce and Sarah, for a 48-hour bacchanal of a Thanksgiving not to be soon forgotten.