Dec 2007: Why is every new and good restaurant offering a starter of a plate of house-cured Salumi? How did bringing in a whole hog become so popular with chefs? Really, I don't know!
The age-old tradition in Italy and France of using every part of the pig has become a passion here and now. Maybe, it was started with Mario Batali and his “lardo” or his love of his father’s sausage business in Seattle. Maybe, it was Paul Bertolli who started the trend with his Whole Hog dinners at Olivetto’s in Oakland. Certainly, it has been enhanced by Chris Cosentino at Incanto, and many others. It was just a few years ago that all we knew about was the differences between prosciutto and pancetta, and now we have a host of new culinary terms.
To begin with Salumi in Italy generally refers to salted and dry-cured meats, such as salami. Charcuterie in France is generally cooked meats, for instance, pates. However, nowadays you may find both on what a restaurant calls a Salumi or Charcuterie platter. And, as you probably know, prosciutto is a back leg of a hog that has been salted and air-dried (not smoked.) Pancetta is essentially the same cut as our American bacon that has also been salted and air-dried (rather than smoked.)
This little write-up is about three of my favorite places to eat Salumi or Charcuterie; namely, KULETO’S, A16, and SPRUCE. I had the most amazing time last week with Bob Helstrom, the Executive Chef of KULETO’S. What a fabulous story! There are 65 cooks in the kitchens of KULETO’S. The breads they make each day are first rate. However, in the past they had a problem with overproduction. That’s when Bob took it upon himself to take the excess bread to a pig farm not far from where he lives. In his endeavor to fatten up the pigs he also takes them Parmesan rinds. The same pig farmer delivers a whole hog to KULETO’S once a month. And, Bob takes charge of breaking down the carcass himself. A tour of the subterranean kitchen showed me all kinds of cuts of pork in various stages of curing, including prosciutto and pancetta. Look carefully at these photos, to offer two plates of such a variety of cured meats is fantastic! On the two plates, you will see Mortadella; (fine-ground and cooked pork): Coppa (of pork shoulder); Soppressata; Lonzino (pork loin); Ciccioli (pork pate); Coppa di Testa (head cheese terrine); Bresaola (air-dried beef); and Finnochiana (salami with fennel seed).
At A16, Nate Appleman also starts with the whole hog. In addition to Coppa di Testa; Pork Liver Terrina; Ciccioli (served here with mosto); and Lonza, the cooks at A16 make some really great sausages and often offer cooked dishes with various cuts of pork. Yum!
Next to the entrance to SPRUCE is a separate room where you can see the platters of Charcuterie for tasting and platters of cheeses for tasting being assembled. Peter Temkin takes great pride in his cured and cooked meats, and so he should. In addition, to Country Pate; he offers Fromage de Tete; Cured Beef Tongue (with Gribiche Sauce) Bologna; Pigs Ear Terrine; Saucissons Secs (with Pear Compote) and Duck Liver Mousse. Beautiful!
To summarize, KULETO’S is a must for pork lovers. It is a thoroughly well-run restaurant with the utmost authenticity and absolutely delicious food. A16 is still a wonderful, warm, friendly, place on Chestnut Street where I always order anything made with pork. The wines are outstanding. And, the new very popular hot spot for Pacific Heights is SPRUCE. It is both elegant and fun at the same time, a splendid setting for the fabulous food of chef/owner, Mark Sullivan. A great place for a holiday dinner!