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Posts Tagged ‘gluttony’

“We’ll call you about 48 hours before your dinner to confirm the number of guests to ensure that we have the right size of pig for your party.”

To be honest, my heart was somewhere between aflutter, smitten and several other adjectives that are typically reserved for emo kids during prom season. My juvenile excitement was simple: I had ordered a whole suckling pig that was going to be cooked at one of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants and devoured by a hand-picked squad of the some of region’s most ardent swine enthusiasts, The Society of Gluttony.

Special moments like this call for the creation special things. And by special things, I mean bad-ass logos with bacon banners:

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This coat of arms was created by my colleague Mike Burton, a super talented graphic designer who understands the power of pork. His still-in-progress work was unveiled the night of our pig feast and was met with rave reviews by the Society members, who at that point had begun to get slightly rowdy.

Amada is typically thought of as the place that taught Philadelphians what tapas meant. Or it’s seen as a restaurant where an eager fellow will take his lady in an attempt to gain premature admittance into her britches. It’s a place where Philadelphians prove to out-of-towners that Philly is a seriously boss food city. To be honest, I thought it might be a bit too high-brow for nine guys likely to argue over who deserved the jowl meat.

Then I entered the restaurant and nearly tripped over a massive pig statue. Immediately, my fears shrank; my hunger grew.

We were seated front and center in Amada’s dining room, perched atop the restaurant’s largest table. We ordered a healthy round of drinks and waited for the most important guest in our party to arrive. And just like that, he was triumphantly wheeled to our table:

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That’s a half of a baby pig, split length-wise, ready for carving (the other half was carved in the kitchen). The little guy’s only food source was his mother’s milk — hence the “suckling” moniker. That commitment to the healthy world of breast-feeding results in a more tender, flavorful swine. You see, I may be a savage, but I’m a savage with access to Wikipedia.

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The pig was carved table side, and deposited on our plates. With absolutely zero hesitation, we all dove into our plates.

Holy. Mother. Of. Swine.

To be honest, going into this dinner, I thought the pork would be good. I figured it would be more of an event — a curiosity where we got in touch with our inner Cro-Magnon and enjoyed an animal slow cooked over a fire. But it was far, far more than that. It was, quite simply, the best pork I had ever eaten. It reminded me of the first time I went to a great steak house, where I entered with a “I’ve-had-steak-before-so-how-good-could-it-be” attitude and was utterly blown away by the quality and preparation of a simple meat. This pork had a similarly transcendent quality. It was salty, tender and had a lasting flavor that lingered on your palate far more than a supposed white meat ever should be able to.

A quick look on the internet shows how Amada’s Jose Garces gets this pork to be so damn good:

“Chef Garces brines each suckling pig for 24 hours in a salt water and sugar solution, to ensure the meat is tender and flavorful. Then he confits the pig in pork fat for up to three hours. After roasting it at 250 degrees for another hour, to crisp the skin and lock in its natural juices, it is finished with sea salt and arbequina olive oil.”

All that labor was well worth it. In particular, we appreciated the attention paid to the skin, which quickly became the most sought-after scrap at the table. Salty and hearty, this pork rind had bacon-like qualities, which can only be considered a good thing. By the end of the meal, I had an increased interest in porcine dermatology.

The meal, which is an absolute steal for $32 a person, also included four sides: Charred Green Onions, Herb-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Chickpeas with Spinach, and Rosemary White Beans with Ham. The sides rested, fittingly, in dog bowl-like dishes, and were consumed with wild abandon. The white beans were particularly great (they had pork in them, natch) and the green onions were surprisingly addictive.

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Our pig provided each of us with a portion of food for our plates, as well as three extra heaping plates of pork that were placed strategically around the table for communal consumption. Being the gluttons that we are, we actually finished the entire feast, a feat that would likely cause post traumatic stress disorder to cardiologists and vegans alike.

And like that, the Society of Gluttony had enjoyed a feast for the ages. Now, it becomes a matter of topping it.

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My wife is expanding nightly with a child somewhere in her stomach, and I, as a good father-to-be, am supposed to pork up as well. This is what hefty fathers tell me, at least. Heretofore in my life, I had admirably met the challenge of gaining girth during the one time it was presented to me. In other words, I returned from college fat and bloated from cans of beer. However, for whatever reason, I was not meeting the obligation of gaining weight with my pregnant wife.

Apparently, I just didn’t have enough house guests.

The middle of October in 2007 was filled with out-of-town visitors from California, London, Massachusetts and even Havertown. As the majority of these visitors had some degree of Irish heritage, that meant drinking. And eating. And talking about drinking and eating.

And I will now share the highlights of the venues in which we ate and drank, and leave out details like drunken uncles playing Nintendo Wii in my living room in between shots of Jameson at 1 AM. Har har.

Because we had a wide range of guests, we mostly took them to our tried-and-true haunts. These are the places where a good meal is nearly guaranteed, the price is right, and good times will be had by all. But to mix things up, we also had a night at a white-hot, crowded newish restaurant (Tinto) and one massive splurge (Barclay Prime) because it was a group that rarely sees one another and wanted to blow it out for a night. Without further ado, here are the impressions that I waddled away with:

meat, stick, shot glass, sauce, bliss.

Tinto: Everyone in the world loves this place, and I now know why. Small plates are like the skinny jeans of the restaurant world, but I think this cooking trend works far more successfully than that damned fashion one. For one, you get to sample a lot more of the chef’s cooking. In the other, you’re exposed to some second-rate hipster’s chicken legs and/or ballsac. But I digress. Tinto’s Basque menu is loaded with tons of temptations (around 50 small plates), and nearly everything we had was stellar. Among the standouts was a Clam Rice dish with shaved artichoke, a great cheese plate and an obscenely decadent dish of Kobe beef and truffle poached egg. The only thing I regretted was that we didn’t order enough of their skewers, which are perched in shot glasses filled with sauce. Take that in for a moment. It’s three great things (meat on a stick, shot glasses, sauce) all on one plate. Service was great, and they have a totally interesting menu design. As someone in the advertising/design industry, I tip my hat to their menu designer. Good show, Mac Monkey!

Barclay Prime: Everything here is big. The steaks, the wine, the sides, the bill. Especially the bill. Not much needs to be said about this popular place, but I ate probably the best steak of my life (a dry-aged porterhouse) and downed a lot of great wine. The standout side dish was the Lyonnaisse potatoes and the Kobe slider appetizers were a crowd favorite. Our server was friendly and attentive, but her penchant for up-selling grew a bit old. This place is pretty amazing and I had a blast with my rollicking Irish family here. The neighboring table’s opinion may differ.

La Viola: After a night at a place as big, over-the-top and expensive as Barclay, we took my Dad and stepmother to a place that was as conversely small, intimate and cheap: La Viola. This walk-in closet-sized Italian restaurant is a favorite of my wife and I, and we wanted to show our California guests what a Philly Italian BYOB is all about: good food, cramped quarters, low prices and unintelligible Italian waiters. We had it all at La Viola. I tend to experiment on entrées there, but I always find myself ordering their grilled calamari as an app. It’s laced with lemon and capers and is super tender, but has a great grilled flavor. Apropos of nothing, I ended up getting accidentally rocked off my ass at this dinner. Thanks for bringing the boss bottles of wine, Dad!

North Third: We’re into group two of house guests: my mom and sister-in-law, who was visiting from across the pond, which is how irritating people refer to London. Anyway, the first night she arrived, it was a torrential downpour, and my wife and I think of N. 3rd as our rainy day restaurant. This gastro-pub is built for damp weather–it’s dark, homey and the food is hearty and awesome. The soups here are top-notch, but big enough to be a meal by themselves. So I opted to simply order a special I had loved there one time before : an Asian-spiced tuna burger. To be honest, this sounds like something that I would hate: fish masquerading as a burger. However, it has tons of flavor, as wasabi and cilantro brighten the sandwich, which feels like you’re devouring a gigantic spicy tuna roll. This is a good thing, I reckon. My sister-in-law ordered the wings, which I think are among the best in town. If you’ve never been to this place, well, you’re probably a dork. And if some idiot with a blog is calling you a dork, that makes you like a dork of the highest order. Let’s move on.

Lolita: This is a great place to take out-of-towners. The food’s flavorful and exciting, the bring-your-own-tequila gimmick is unique, and the vibe is pretty raucous for a BYOB (mostly because everyone is ripped to the nipples on margaritas). I love the food here. It’s got all the flavor and spice of Mexican food, but with refined cooking techniques and fresh ingredients that steer the dishes clear of the heavy, leaden, rice-filled dishes of too many Mexican eateries. I had an entrée of veal cheeks with shaved Brussels sprouts that was the most memorable dish of my entire 9 day binge. The meat melted in my mouth, and the flavors were spot on. Just a great dish. And a fitting end to a wonderful 9 days of food, drink and family, where I was thankfully able to spend time with great people from all over the world, who could see my beautiful wife and the child that is amazingly growing inside of her every day, and share in this miraculous time of our lives. It all makes me say to myself:

Savor it while you can, fat boy.

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