A Prosciutto Martini Proverb: Chef Jason Balestrieri Knows the Power of the Pig
December 13, 2011
If pressed to pick between bacon or hot sauce—just one—for the rest of my days, I might chose bacon. Given the fact that I go through Tapatío the way Tom Brady does Gatorade, that’s saying something about bacon.
Put differently, long before the buzz over things like bacon-wrapped bacon and bacon chocolate chip cookies at this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine, I believed in bacon. Last Christmas, when I discovered NorCal's Bacon Hot Sauce, I immediately ordered some online, blew through two bottles ($14.99/three-pack; www.baconhotsauce.com) and wrote this on the blog: “I was attacking bacon-wrapped dogs from L.A. food carts before Tonya Harding's goons were attacking Nancy Kerrigan's leg. I've believed a breakfast joint is only as good as its bacon since I could say ‘over easy.’ I once named a kitten after a Baja California dish that wrapped prawns and jack cheese in you know what. (The little guy's name was Shrimp Papagayo.)”
So I’ve watched pork popularity soar (Bacon-crusted whoopie pies! Bacon donuts!) with amusement. I’ve taken particular joy in seeing a Grilling.com writer Clint Cantwell make a Thanksgiving “pig” out of pure pork, with hot links for legs, a sausage body, ham ears, Vienna sausage nose, a pork rind tail and a bacon wrap, and just hoped the trend would stick around long enough for more people to come to enjoy the other white meat as much as I do.
I found one dude who certainly does: Chef Jason Balestrieri of Cantinetta Luca (625-6500). Last week I found several worthy expressions of the obsession at his fourth annual La Maialata, or Dinner of the Pig.
First up: the pleasantly surprising prosciutto martini (pictured above), a slightly sweet, mild and smooth martini made with cured meat-wrapped olives and Italian vodka. It’s no longer on the menu, but it’s still available for the discerning pork lover by request.
Other highlights: the earthy fireworks of flavor found in Balestrieri’s cotechino sausage served with a sweet chutney and Umbrian lentils ($8); the braised pork cheek ravioli with chanterelles and Swiss chard ($18); the European wine choices which sliced nicely through the rich spaghetti carbonara ($15) and amplified the ravioli; and the must do olive oil and caramel sea salt gelato desserts, a full-blown bargain at $5 each.
It was all good enough that we didn’t even tempt the signature housemade salumes, which remain on the menu beyond the special once-a-year evening and deserve their status as the restaurant’s signature plate. The pop music playing felt like a funky fit, but with all that pork in play it was easy to reserve my attention for the divine porcine.