This past weekend was a whirlwind of adventure, both food and otherwise! I hope to capture all of it, but for now I will just address the events of Friday night, and the triumph of myself and my good friend Nandi.
It all started, as so many of these things do, with a trip to Craigie on Main. For those of you who don’t know, Craigie is a Cambridge restaurant that prides itself on the use of locally-sourced, organic, and seasonal ingredients. The cooking has its roots in French cuisine, but working with those local ingredients and with the occasional eye toward fusion. Originally known as Craigie Street Bistrot, the restaurant started life in a tiny, living-room sized space in the basement of an apartment building located, appropriately enough, on Craigie Street. Almost exactly a year ago they traded that space for a much larger one over in Central Square, on Main Street (you can see how they’ve kept the naming convention simple). In addition to quite a bit more seating and a more convenient location, Craigie on Main (COM) has the advantage of a fully stocked bar, with accompanying bar menu. It was here that Nandi and I were headed; we are both avid proponents of the bar menu in fancy restaurants. This philosophy may be the basis for entirely its own post, in fact. In the meantime, here is a picture of the lovely Prospect Park cocktail that I had when we were seated:
Now, in addition to serving very local, very fresh food, the owner/chef at COM, Tony Maws, is known for his fondness for utilizing the less common cuts of meat. His “Chef’s Whim” prix fixe menus often include sweetbreads, or kidneys, and one of the appetizers on the bar menu are crispy pig’s tails, a delightful little harmony of crispy skin and soft fat. This is a restaurant for adventurous eaters.
When we sat down, the bartender gave us menus and told us there were two specials that night. The first, brand new, was a whole roasted chicken, served on a bed of soft polenta. This sounded excellent, and we were tempted, until he told us the other special.
Half of a piglet’s head. Roasted.
Well, there was no question about which way we would go! (Actually, that is totally untrue. We deliberated for what felt like hours, and made the poor bartender strain his adjectival repertoire describing each of our choices. Never have I heard the word beautiful so often in the service of food.) In any case, the pork won out in the end, aided by the fact that it is confited before it is roasted, and the idea that the opportunity might not present itself again. We also ordered a side of Brussels sprouts cooked in duck fat, for health reasons.
The head takes half an hour to prepare, during which time we nibbled bread and speculated on whether Nandi’s husband, the Panda, would disown us for undertaking this adventure without him. We concluded that it was worth the risk. With a certain degree of pomp and circumstance, the head arrived.
Nandi took on the task of dividing the meat perfectly, starting at the chin. The skin offered some resistance, but the meat beneath could have been cut with a spoon. The crispy skin crunched in perfect opposition to the buttery fat and sweet, perfectly porky meat. This was the tails turned up to 11. This was pig nirvana.
We made our way through the entire head. The ears were fantastic – not quite as soft as the marinated version at the Gourmet Dumpling House,, but not nearly as chewy as I feared. While the cheek is generally considered the n’est plus ultra of the pig head eating world, we were particularly enamored of the snout. It seemed to offer the most variety of tastes and textures.
The Brussels sprouts were also amazing, but alas, didn’t stand a chance against the sheer onslaught of pork.
This was a particularly rich indulgence, and certainly one I wouldn’t partake in too often – god knows what our cholesterol levels were at the end of that meal. We were proud to have done it, however, and if you are a lover of pork, I can think of no truer expression of it.