Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Porkapalooza

by Xani

I travel often, and I of course I eat when I travel, but I don't often travel just to eat.  This past weekend's visit to Boston was the exception to the rule.

A few weeks ago, an email arrived from Dave's Mom, M.  Attached was a scanned copy of an article from The Boston Herald, all about how Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar does a pig roast for groups of 10 or more, and Boston foodies are raving about the experience.  She had scheduled a dinner with a group of local friends for April 10-- was there any way we could join them?


Wow, what an invitation!  Were we really going to travel a few hundred miles for roast pig?  Well, in a word, yes.



As the date grew closer, we got more and more excited for our trip.  This is not just any pig roast!  The Herald article explains how the 26+ pound pig is first slow roasted for 14 hours, then presented, apple-in-mouth, to the party, before being whisked back to the kitchen for carving and additional cooking. The article also indicated that the feet, some organs, and various parts of the head would be served as well.  This REALLY got us stoked, as regular readers know, I can't resist offal.

About 2 days before our trip, someone realized that the restaurant is about one block from Fenway Park, and our reservation was exactly 2 hours before a home Red Sox game against the Yankees-- whoops!  Well, now we were sure there would be a lively crowd in the place!  Luckily, all parties navigated the anticipated parking hassles with ease.  Dave and I got especially lucky and got street parking right in from of the restaurant-- the pig gods were smiling on us.  We were early for dinner so we sat at the bar and enjoyed a cocktail or two while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive.  We were starving and all the food coming out of the kitchen looked amazing, but we were resolved NOT to snack- we knew a lot of food was coming very soon.
Jameson? check. Pickle Juice-check?

Instead we quenched our thirst-- a Cucumber Collins for me (Rain Organic Cucumber-Lime Vodka, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, soda) and a Pickleback (Shot of Jameson & a Shot of Pickle Juice) for Dave.  Finally the rest of the party arrived (all 15 of us!) and we sat at a long table along the backside of the crowded bar.  Manager Ryan was taking care of our party and had bread and butter on the table and filled everyone's drink orders as we got settled and waited for the real food to arrive.


I was ready for another cocktail and ordered the Cherry Cobbler (except we're in Boston, so remember to drop that R!) which contained Plymouth Gin, fresh lemon juice, soda, house made grenadine, and brandied cherries.  It was fantastic-- barely sweet and you could taste fresh cherry flavor as well as the herbaceous quality of the gin.  I figured a little sweetness would be nice to cut through the salty, fatty pork, and I was right.  Other folks tried a couple of the 70+ types of whiskey Citizen's carries. They serve the good stuff with spheres of imported ice.  Apparently this is all the rage-- the sphere has the lowest possible surface area, and therefore melts more slowly into your whiskey.  Man, I love science!
Cherry Cobblah
whiskey with ice ball
But before the pork, there was shellfish.  The waitstaff brought out big ice trays loaded with raw oysters and clams, and large steamed shrimp.  A great start!  Everything was fresh and delicious.  I could have eaten an entire plate of this stuff myself, but I was happy to share, knowing there were literally a dozen preparations of pork coming my way.




Finally, with great fanfare, the whole roasted pig was brought out on a massive platter-- it had to be carried by two waiters.  The restaurant was still packed, and everyone in the place turned to see what all the fuss was about.  It was about this:



What a beauty!  Everyone was taking pictures and looking over at us with either horror or extreme jealousy.  It was an exciting moment which really made the evening feel like a special event.  Then, the pig was taken away, and we sat, drooling, waiting for its return.


just a little something....
to fill in the corners...
around the pork!

We knew it was on its way back and the main course was imminent when the side dishes started to arrive: gorgeous roasted carrots, a huge plate of asparagus, and a massive bowl of mashed potatoes (Side note: these mashed potatoes were amazing.  When I first saw them I expected them to be gluey- anything served in a VAT that size can't be good, right?  WRONG.  They were beyond creamy, not gluey or pasty at all, and had a fantastic flavor that may have included pork fat and/or garlic.  I want the recipe for those spuds! Ryan, I'm looking at you...).  There were also roasted potatoes but I didn't get a picture, nor did I get a chance to try one!  But any thought of potatoes was pushed out of my mind as soon as the first platter hit the table:
A thing of beauty...
is a joy forever (or til it gets eaten).

This platter held the center cavity, which was stuffed with various ingredients which change seasonally (I believe ours contained pineapple and pea shoots), and sliced into roulades.  You can also see the belly, slow-roasted into chicarrons,  on the lower right hand side.  In the middle, a pile of the ribs, highly-spiced and flavored.


The next platter, set on the other end of the table, was a little more... dramatic:






The whole head was in the center of the platter. surrounded by the hams, sliced butt and shoulder, as well as the trotters (feet), which have been fried until crisp.


With all meat and sides on the table, we DUG IN.  Plates were loaded, platters were passed, and much pig was consumed.  Here are my thoughts, as best I can recall:
Roulade: Excellent.  The stuffing was very tasty and the pork was moist and flavorful.  The skin was a bit tough, I much preferred the crispy skin on the....
Chicarron (belly):  This was, not surprisingly, probably one of my favorite cuts.  Crispy, crunchy skin and juicy, fatty meat.  Enough said.
Ribs: Unfortunately these were not my favorite-- they had very little meat and an aggressive flavoring that didn't do it for me.
Trotters: Another one that was a little disappointing.  Perhaps they were overcooked, the little meat that was on them was tough.
Shoulder and Butt: Sadly, it's all a porky blur.  These probably fell to the middle of the back, not the favorite, but not a disappointment.
Hams: Surprisingly, the bite I pried off one of the legs was one of the most delicious!  Very moist, nice pork flavor.


But, we're not done! We grabbed Ryan as he walked by and somewhat sheepishly asked "what about the brains?"  Apparently about 80% of pig roast patrons want the pig head and other innards served.  We let him know we were VERY interested and the pig head, which had been on one of the platters, was brought back to the kitchen and quickly reemerged like this:



What you see there is the pig skull, brain exposed, surrounded by all kinds of interesting little bits: tongue, kidney, cheek oyster, cheek and collarbone meat, crispy ear, and the eyeballs.  A few in our party politely declined, but it seemed most folks wanted a taste of the weird stuff.  The brain was served with lemon wedges, sea salt, and homemade crackers-- it was very light and tasted a little like fois gras.  The crispy ear: delicious; the tongue and kidney: mild, slightly organ-y taste; the cheek and collarbone: meaty, moist, with crisp skin- the essence of pig.  Dave was brave enough to try the eyeball, mostly to amuse the other guests-- he reported it didn't have much flavor, and was pretty fatty.


Finally, we had had our fill of pig and the table was cleared.  It was a very special birthday for one of our dining companions and M had a lovely cake made to celebrate.  Thank goodness it was a light, vanilla cake with airy buttercream icing, as stomach space was at a premium!


When we had eaten everything and dinner wound down, people started to say their goodbyes.  I took a moment to thank Ryan for being such a patient and helpful host, and slipped a little extra money into his hand as we talked about the upcoming blog post I was planning on writing.  Of course, I hadn't planned very well and all the cash I had amounted to a whopping $15!  So, my suave move turned out to be a little less Bond, a little more Bozo.  But, I was glad I showed my appreciation to Ryan, who took great care of us.  And of course a HUGE thanks to M for the invite and the opportunity to attend such a wonderful event!  This was my first, but hopefully not my last, pig roast.  I wonder if restaurants in other cities will start to serve a similar meal (hint, hint, Bmore restos!)?  We can hope.  


Would YOU eat a roast pig, brains and all?


Xani

5 comments:

  1. hrm, we did have a roast pig at the wedding and no one was brave enough to try the brains. I think we threw them in a stock pot and let me tell you that was NOT the best idea...

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  2. I love the image of Xani and Dave sheepishly asking the waiter, like zombie Oliver Twist, "Please sir, may we have some more...brains?"

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  3. Agreed Erin. That looks like a super good group eating experience.

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  4. that looks AMAZING.......I am currently wiping the drool off my keyboard. if you have a chance eat some filipino roasted pig even the great anthony bourdain said it was the best he ever had on No Reservations

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