HAGGIS – POGGIO’S PETER McNEE – COCHON555, San Francisco 2009
June 0f 2009 was the cruelest month, for there were some unbelievable dining events. The best of these, far and away, was Cochon 555. A friendly competition between 5 of the Bay Area’s best chefs, each of whom had a different breed of heritage pig to cook and make dishes from. Unbelievable. I could write 100 posts on that event alone. And I just might…
Poggio’s Peter McNee took the title, and he definitely had a few very memorable pork dishes. His haggis was really incredible. Haggis is pig viscera with onions over oats, a traditional Scottish fare, and something you’ll rarely see at a restaurant. (Kinda hard to pitch it to most folks.) Safe assumption that not many people like offal (animal innards and such), but I love them when leveraged by a great chef. There’s so much interesting texture and flavor in the ‘weird’ parts of the animal; it’s a great exploration for the palate to venture into new territories.
Haggis – Haggis – Haggis from Peter McNee, Poggio
The haggis was indelibly delicious in McNee’s capable hands. My funky little haggis pile didn’t win over compadres at my little standup dining circle during Cochon555, but after I raved a bit about it, two guys went over to get a plate before the Poggio team ran out.
You could say I loved the haggis, which I did, but you can obviously see the subliminal messaging in the photo: the dark, heart-shaped pig innards thumping out from the yellow oats, yellower than a pirate’s teeth but just a bit less salty. Arrrg, it was good, matey. Haggis. Yes, haggis.
The prospect of eating a meal comprised of many unusual animal parts was exciting. I’m a big fan of Chris Cosentino. who enjoys toying with and serving innards and other ghastlies and crumbs, officially called offal in the culinary world. Chris was born into a winemaking family and was probably custom built to grow into his current status as one of America’s most interesting chefs. He’s not as famous as, say, Boulud or Andres or others, but he’ll probably get his TV show one day and then all hell-fame-and-flame will break loose for him.
Again, the concept alone of eating the oddities thrilled and, while the dinner was even more challenging than I expected, it was still a fun and wonderful ride. Not all the dishes were great, but the entire meal was a great experience (hence the great grade). But, to be sure, it’s not the multi-course meal to suit everyone; not even those who are flesh fanatics.
But hey, how many times do you get to have beef tendon and berries? Or sheep’s bladder bruschetta? So if you think you’re adventurous, I highly encourage you to visit Incanto for the annual Snout-to-Tail dinner. You’ll have a party-starter conversation for the rest of your life.
Course 1: PIG EAR TERRINE
Beautiful presentation; just gorgeous. Pig ear, being really chewy (cartilage), can be a challenge.
Course 2: CHORIZO & DUCK EGG
I enjoy a good spicy chorizo, in combination with just about anything you hit with it. The presentation of this was a bit messy, perhaps because duck eggs are big and unruly. This was pretty good, but excessively portioned and not as well balanced as some of the other courses.
Course 3: TONGUE PASTRAMI (and rye seed) SALAD
I love pastrami, too. This was a super-clever reinterpretation of pastrami on rye, with the tongue pastrami (excellent) and sprouted rye seeds on a light salad. This was a terrific course, perhaps my favorite of the evening.
Course 4: SHEEP’S SPLEEN BRUSCHETTA
Now when you go to the grocery store, I’ll bet you a zillion dollars you have never gone up to your butcher and said, “Hey I’m really in the mood for sheep spleen. Do you have some fresh spleen today?” Incanto is an Italian restaurant and Chris Cosentino’s quirky bruschetta had its high points but, for me, the earthy chewiness of the meat involved made the portions again too large. We ate about half and that was plenty. Gold star for originality, though.
Course 5: GOAT POT PIE
Again, a terrific idea from Chris here, to invert the chicken pot pie All-American concept with goat meat. I’m not a huge fan of desconstructed dishes, especially when the deconstruction takes away the best part of the dish. In the case of a pot pie, a crusty pie is paramount, even beyond what’s put inside. So the flaky top was good, but I needed more. The onions, potatoes, carrots, peas, also good.
Now I actually am one of the few people I know who’ll seek out goat meat. Having chivito (baby goat) in Argentina opened my eyes to how awesome goat can be. Unfortunately, the goat procured for this meal had a bit of dirty funky taste that some goat meat can have. I’m not sure what causes it; one day I’ll find out. I think Chris will fare better in the next batch but again, this was an excellent reinterpretation of a classic, and given a beautiful presentation.
Course 6: DESSERT – BEEF TENDON & BERRIES
My girlfriend couldn’t deal with this. One could say it’s like chewing on a torn prophylactic (and someone did), but I thought it was a pretty good dessert. And fun. You know, considering we were eating beef tendon. It did have a similarly bland, chewy textture that the pig ear did, but not as intense. The beef tendon was a nice textural balance to the berries and cream.
This certainly won’t win over the breakfast at Wimbledon crowd but, who knows….stranger things happen.
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