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Entries in Pork (8)


Kudos for a Fresno Restaurant Week Risk

I was in Trelio for Fresno Restaurant Week eating Spanish artichokes and fried frog legs, when someone asked me if I was going to try the pork skin linguini with baby cuttlefish.

“Um…no” was my simple answer.

Has The Cured Ham gone soft? No. Was The Cured Ham caught off guard? Yes.

I’m a hard-core pasta traditionalist. I didn’t try the pork skin linguini because of a knee-jerk ignorance to the concept, taking the easy path of rejection rather than understanding. Frog legs perhaps sound exotic, but frog legs are really just the other other other white meat. Frog legs were the easy, benign choice on the menu versus the pork skin.

Chef Chris took a risk, during what is arguably one of the busiest weeks in the Fresno restaurant trade. Most menus around town either served the normal menu or some truncated version of Fresno dining favorites. Why disrupt the apple cart, right? Be safe. Serve the predictable linguini and clams or spaghetti and meatballs. Hell, don't even change your menu.

Chef Chris Shackelford at Trelio challenged Fresno palates and ideas about pasta during Restaurant Week with one dish, on one night that he even tweeted about potentially “going over like a lump of coal”.

Yelp reviews and sold out pork skin linguini prove it didn’t go over like a lump of coal, but rather a swimming success. 

Pork Skin Linguini with Baby Cuttlefish - Photo by Chris Shackelford

Shame on The Cured Ham for not trying this dish!


Rib Fest 2013

Never touch another man’s grill!

The most formal, yet informal tasting of pork ribs I’ve ever had. Six different styles of pork ribs, plus The Cured Ham/Lamb’s contribution of lamb riblets and a snack of pork skewers rounded out the selection of barbeque fabulousness last Saturday afternoon at The Mermaid Lounge.

An amateur and professional exhibition/competition pitted Green Egg Zealot, Fresno Bites versus a slew of Weber Kettles, a BBQ Pro and even one gas grill against each other for the 2013 Rib Fest Champion. Competitors cooked pork baby back and St. Louis style ribs.

Our host, Tony, would often come through the BBQ Garden, the space of grass and concrete designated for pork products, for a Belushi inspired speech about the German’s attacking Pearl Harbor or a more Chris Farley channeled rant focusing on the finer points of the Brotherhood of the Grill or some such thing. Regardless of the comedic performance, Tony and his wife Linda are the inspiration for the gathering of friends and lovers of barbeque and we all thank them for it.

A note on my lamb; I only used Colorado and Sonoma County lamb; nothing from New Zealand. I know a few people mentioned it didn’t taste gamey or too strong. Additionally, I season my lamb heavily with a variety of spices, including nutmeg, turmeric, paprika, freshly ground coriander and fennel seed and a wide variety of dried herbs.

The broad brush stroke on barbeque is the need for time and smoke. But what about the little flourishes and what defines great barbeque? Wrapping in foil? When to sauce if at all? The application of dry spices and the length of marination? How often does one open the lid of the barbeque? What types of wood? One thing that was noticeable at Rib Fest 2013 was the type of rib used by the competitors, St. Louis versus Baby Back.

The top two vote getters were trimmed St. Louis style ribs cooked by Fresno Bites and Tops BBQ. All the other competitors chose to use baby backs. I personally chose, by secret ballot, #4 Fresno Bites offering, the winner of the competition. My second choice happened to be #5 Tops BBQ, the runner-up.

Why? Texture, the “pull” of the meat from the bone, flavor, smoke flavor and moisture.

What put Fresno Bites over the top was a hint of sweetness combined with a whisper of heat.  Fresno Bites chose to wrap his ribs in foil and press in some brown sugar near the end of the cooking process; again, the little flourishes and attention to details beyond just general technique.

Tops BBQ in terms of smoke quality was A+, but just missed on that “saucy” quality I was looking for; otherwise, the pull and texture was spot on. I will say, Tops "Dexter" gloves kinda creeped me out.

I gave honorable mention to coffee aficionado Leo from Café Corazon for his #6 ribs for using mustard in his sauce. Some people in the crowd didn’t like mustard, I happen to like it. Leo always pays attention to details and was sampling and observing Bites and Tops.

It was a great afternoon and evening with friends, fellow lovers of pork (and lamb), and an educational experience on what defines barbeque.

And not one mention of tri-tip all afternoon...AMEN!

In fact, I learned what starts a great barbeque fire...old phone books!


Pig versus Cow

Quick follow-up from yesterday regarding the Dusty Buns post. Last night's special at the Bistro??? Chili Cheese Fries. And I guessed PBJ. Maybe corn dogs, soft tacos, and other comfort food won't be far behind. Told you I wasn't far off...On to the final post of the week.

There was a Taco Throwdown 2, but not a Tri Tip Cookoff 3; and as usual, there was plenty of tri-tip at Bulldog Stadium Tailgates and an endless supply of uncooked tri-tip available at Save Mart for the backyard crowd. Yes, The Cured Ham ate tri-tip this year several times, usually cooked by my own hand. Personally, I'm pleased I wrote all about tri-tip this year. I even cooked a buffalo tri-tip.

I will highlight bacon, the Earth's Perfect Food for these Pig vs. Cow. This picture is a bacon wrapped buffalo tri-tip.

I’m still of the opinion that Fresno should be known for its tacos and NOT its several dry, flavorless tri-tip sandwich creations from local restaurants. I can walk into 9 out of 10 local (yes, I’m going to keep writing local, cause it’s cool and what bloggers are supposed to do, right?) taquerias or trucks at random and get a variety of high quality tacos within 50 miles of Fresno. I can’t say the same about tri-tip. I can’t even name 9 places to buy a high, quality tri-tip sandwich. If we all agree that salty fried pork skin that used to have pig hair on it is better than tri-tip, why do we keep deceiving ourselves about pedestrian cow flesh?

The Cured Ham working on the flat top at Eat Retreat 2012. That's all bacon I cured at home.


Speaking of pigs, Keith at the Boxcar has cooked a couple whole pigs and a whole cow’s head, which effectively gives him the upper hand in culinary street cred. Well done Keith on the pigs. I know a few Boxcar regulars that asked me if I was welcome at Keith’s since my Open Letter in 2012. The answer is yes and since I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, I actually had Keith help cater an event I threw this year. Dueling hotel pans of smoked brisket and pulled pork lasagna were a big hit. Thanks Keith. 

The only other place that probably cooks a whole pig is a Ramate. The Ramate is still the place for some of the best Mexican food in Fresno County. I enjoyed several trips to the Swap Meet this year and hope to continue the visits in 2013. 

Hey Shackelford Brothers, you need to cook a whole pig or do some over-the-top illegal foie dinner…I mean a Sauternes tasting. I know you want to.  Healdsburg does Pigs and Pinot once a year; how about Cabernet and Cow in Clovis? That kinda fits in with the local Clovis/Cowboy theme. I know you can pull it off. 

Here’s to eating another whole pig in 2013. Who’s up for roasting a whole lamb?


Zazu, Santa Rosa

It was a rainy night in Sonoma County and I really didn’t want to drive anywhere. However, I attended Pigs and Pinot on Friday night and didn’t know if I wanted to stay in town another night to eat either. I had a bit of a dilemma. I didn’t want fussy. I didn’t want Italian. But I wanted to stick with a porky theme. There was one place, but I had to drive. Zazu.

I’ve never been to Zazu. I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen Chef Duskie Estes on TV. I’ve eaten Black Pig Bacon at my house. I know pork will be involved in tonight’s meal. But how much more pork could my body deal with?

"I'll start with the house made prosciutto please."

Four slices of prosciutto are presented to me. Fantastic product. Rich fat, not overly salty. A real top-notch product and as good as any Italian product I’ve had. I would love to buy this by the pound and serve it to hard-core prosciutto lovers.

I suppose I can handle a bit more pork from this chef master after the perfect prosciutto. But I had to plan my dinner. I couldn’t just order the fresh pasta with rabbit, which was my gut reaction. Pasta would tap me out early. I needed to experience the atmosphere, the sense of place, the mood of the chefs; virtuoso performance on piano (the prosciutto) or a night of improvisational jazz? Smaller plates was my call; I wanted to eat a full performance.

The “Pigstrami” reuben speaks to me in many ways. I asked my server what the portion size was, as I’ve got a lot of eating to do. He said it’s a single reuben slider. Done deal. When my slider sandwich was presented, I was told that the Pigstrami was made with pork heart. Oh yes. My little slider came with side of potato salad. This little bite was outstanding.( I recently was forced to eat a pastrami slider at Yard House and I didn’t like it then and I really hate it now.) The side of potato salad was perfect to match up with the slider.

Next up was a single pork rib with pork hash. I eat a lot of pork ribs and this rib was underwhelming. Sure it was tender and reasonably seasoned, but it just wasn’t at the level of the Pigstrami or other more traditional BBQ places. The rib tasted more like an oven roasted rib than a rib that had been BBQ for 8 hours. The pork hash was ok, but again, nothing to write home about.

As my meal was lacking any ruffage, I decided on the frisee, bacon, egg, and asparagus salad as a "greens" course. The flavors were fine, but the dish felt and looked a bit like a list of ingredients placed into a plate, dressed, and an egg placed in the middle. Lazy? Maybe. More of an afterthought I think in the grand scheme of the menu. Sort of like my choice on greens. I should probably have greens, but I really want the farm egg and bacon that come with it.

All was forgiven when my main course of fried red rice with foie gras and roasted duck, topped with pan seared and tamarind glazed Liberty Farms duck breast was presented. Asian inspired perhaps, but French-like in its richness and execution. The whole dish came together like nothing else that evening. While the rice on its own could have been a meal, a slice of breast with each fork of rice was absolutely wonderful, along with the occasional dollop of tamarind to accent the flavors. Well done.

The staff at this point actually encouraged me to have dessert. I think they wanted to see if I could actually eat more. Or they’d taken out a term-life policy on me. I asked a few questions about the desserts and said that the “Better Butters” looked great, but that I couldn’t do a full order. “We’ll cut it in half for you.” Done deal, Better Butters it is.

Better Butter or a peanut butter cookie sandwich with peanut butter gelato and dark chocolate dipping sauce was fantastic. I have always loved Nutter Butters from my youth. Zazu’s Better Butters are certainly an improvement on the original.

There’s a sense of home cooking here, country sensibility and a sense of place about it. For comparison, Petite Syrah was refined with cleaner lines and a deliberateness about the food but with a sense of simplicity. Diavola also has a sense of choreography about it. Zazu draws outside the lines, that was evident from my first step in the door. But that’s its edge up here, a little outside of town.

So, was my experience at Zazu classic piano or a free jazz saxophone solo? Zazu is a bit more improvisational jazz than I would have expected. Not every part of the solo is brilliant, but it feels good, there is heart (pig heart) behind the cuisine and the next solo will be better than the last one as long as they keep performing night in and night out. There is a certainly a virtuoso at work.

I’d be happy to eat another performance from Zazu.

Zazu Restaurant & Farm on Urbanspoon


Locanda, San Francisco

I don’t normally head to the Mission for food. From parking issues, I have no reason to do business there, friends I’m with don’t want to go there, whatever the lame ass or legitimate excuse, I don’t get to that part of town much. Too bad really. When one looks at the number of great restaurants in the City, the Mission can lay claim to several and Locanda is one of them.

Valet parking was the first plus when I drove up on Valencia St. Parking…check.

I arrived at roughly 5:55pm to an already packed bar, save for one seat, mine, at the far end of the bar right next to the kitchen. Best seat in the house as far as I’m concerned; I get to watch food coming out. And this semi-crappy picture of the kitchen is the only one of the meal.

The menu has lots of fresh pasta, both hand-made and extruded, as well as several selections of offal, which means I’m in heaven. Offal and Pasta…Amen. I figured I’d have a light meal of stewed tripe and radiatore with lamb ragu. Oh, and roasted turnips as my fiber.

A quick note on the four bartenders, they’re hustling. Good crew of guys tasting their drinks and keeping customers happy, including the hungry ones like me.

Not shortly after my wine order, I’m presented with fresh bread sprinkled with olive oil and salt. Bread in a San Francisco restaurant that I didn’t pay for or have to request? Stunning. And it’s good, fresh bread as well and completely perfect for all the red sauce I’m about to eat in my two courses.

I asked my bartender what the difference between the big and small servings of tripe were. “I won’t lie to you, the big is real big if you’re going to have pasta.” Well then, the small tripe it is. Hell, the small was a pretty good size when it was presented to me. A bowl of steamy red sauce and tripe, garnished with fresh, long grated cheese. My second spoonful (yes, spoonful because a fork won’t do with all that sauce) reveals more than just tripe; chickpeas, mint, and guanciale for an added bonus of flavors and textures. The mint adds pop to the dish, while the chickpeas a moment of texture; just that moment of al dente bean in your mouth, before another mouthful of tripe. In the Pantheon of Tripe, Diavola in Geyserville reigns as king for domestic tripe I’ve eaten.  Maybe if I eat at Locanda 3 more times, I can crown a new king of tripe; because it was that good.

As if a bowl of tripe wasn’t enough to eat, and normally it would be, radiatore with lamb Bolognese is up next. Again, the familiar long grating of cheese garnishes the top of the dish. My first bites around the edge of the plate reveal an Italian al dente texture, not American.  Bravo. The gravy, or sauce if you’d like, exhibits a creaminess from slow stewed flavors of lamb. The flavors aren’t as strong as many expect from lamb, rather a well integrated stew of tomato, lamb  fat, and cheese. Yes, the cheese over the top of the sauce and pasta makes a difference; cheese amalgamates the  dish. This is a simple dish, a simple dish that could easy go wrong without balance.  I loved it. I paired the pasta with an N2 Sangiovese from Italy. It was fresh, with crisp acidity and straight from the tap.

For a minor bump in the road, my roasted turnips with pancetta and greens were inconsistent. Some of the turnip pieces were cut large, others small; resulting in an inconsistent texture in the turnips. And, yet, I have nothing but praise for Locanda. The floor manager walked by and asked how things were. He said that he noticed that I cleaned up a plate of tripe and was moving through my pasta, but left my turnips nearly untouched. I showed him the various cuts of turnip. He immediately removed the dish, spoke with the kitchen and chef, and reported back that corrective action is being taken both on the floor and in turnip prep. This is where front-of-house and kitchen come together and how the top restaurants keep their game tight. Well done.

To finish my hour of eating, an Affogato with espresso and Amaro. This is a twist on a classic and it works wonderfully. The non-licorice sweetness of Amaro was a brilliant substitution for Sambuca. I’m going to make this at home.

A great experience at Locanda in both the front and back of the house; one I hope to repeat in the near future.

Locanda on Urbanspoon