Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dinner Lab - Nose to Tail

Most of the time when I write about a restaurant, I will start out talking about the design of the place where I am dining because atmosphere can be very important.  When you are participating in an underground dinner party however, while atmosphere is still important, it is important in a different way.  I participated in an underground dinner club recently called Dinner Lab.  While I have participated in things that were called underground dinner parties before, they were held in a restaurant, and while the food served wasn't normally on the menu, it wasn't terribly different from dining at a restaurant that I have never been to before.  The dinner served by Dinner Lab was very definitely not in a restaurant.  In fact, the building used was formerly a factory.  Admittedly, someone had previously rehabbed the space into a loft and had been living in it so many of the necessities needed to hold a dinner party were there already.  For the diners, the only thing that they needed to bring in were tables and chairs.
 The space was large and open with a bar, a large kitchen, and a large skylight.  THey brought in 12 large communal tables and hung a string of hanging lights.  The walls were old brick, the floor was hardwood, and the ceiling was unfinished.  It was a very nice space that felt unfinished for a restaurant, but would be great for a large dinner party.
 The dinner that they were doing was a nose-to-tail dinner.  That is, they were going to build a menu featuring parts from an entire animal, in this case, a pig.  The pre-published menu had 5 courses, but when I arrived, they were serving passed appetizers.  Talking to the chef before dinner, he said that after preparing the pig for dinner, there was a lot of meat left, so they decided to do a few appetizers.  The first of these was a Pate which was served in a jar with Ground Peanuts and Strawberry Jam and served with White Bread on which to eat it.  It was like a more savory and open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
For the other appetizer we had either a PBR braised Belly or Shoulder with Mustard and Micro-Arugula on a skewer.  It was very good, tender, and flavorful.  There was a lot of fat so I am more apt to believe that it was belly than shoulder, but in any case, it was pretty good.  There were a lot of skewers so it might have been that there were both belly and shoulder be passed around and what I got was belly.
After the appetizers were passed around several times, it appeared that everyone was there and had their drinks so we found seats at one of the large communal tables.  We sat at the end closest to the kitchen so we could better watch what was going on.  For our first course, we were served what was essentially a meaty salad.  It featured Porchetta (a cured meat made from a pig's face), Arugula, Pickled Watermelon Rind, and a Rambo Radish.  The vegetables were crisp and fresh tasting with a little bite from the radish and a little pepperiness from the arugula.  The porchetta was tender and juicy and very flavorful as good pork is and it gave me confidence in the progression of the meal.
The next course was essentially a soup course.  It was Confit Pork Belly Rillette with Garbanzo Beans, Chervil, and Bone Broth.  With the garbanzo beans and the spices used, it very definitely had a North African flavor to it.  The rillette was rough ground as rillettes are and had a definite bacon flavor which added to the savoriness of the broth and garbanzos.
We then went to the first of our entrees which was a porky spin on Vitello Tonnato, a cold sliced veal served with tuna flavored mayonnaise.  This dish used Thinly-Sliced Olive Oil-Poached Pork Shoulder served with a Tuna Aioli, Watercress, and Lard Bread.  The pork was very tender and light, and it was served cool.  The tuna aioli, which was served on the side, was also light and added a tuna flavor.  The lard bread was dense and kind of heavy, but was good bread and provided a good counterpoint to the lightness of the pork shoulder.  
The second entree was decidedly heavier both in flavor and in feel.  We were served a Hickory Smoked Pork Leg with Green Onion Pesto and Olive Oil Potato.  Ham comes from a pork leg and I was kind of expecting this to taste like ham but I am guessing because of the preparation and the fact that it was not cured, it tasted more like a smoked pork chop.  The mashed potatoes and the pesto added some strong flavors that complemented the smokiness of the leg.
With the previous dishes we had had head, belly, shoulder, leg, and innards (with the pate).  For the dessert we had the skin.  The skin was deep fried to make Chicharrons, rolled in Powdered Sugar, and served with with Peanut Butter, Guajillo and Arbol Chiles in a Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Tuille and Brandied Cherries.  I liked every part of this but the pork.  I am not a fan of popcorn, and texturally, that's what the chicharrons reminded me of.  This was a flavorful dish with a lot of variety and if the chicharrons had been a little more crunchy, it would have been great.  In any case, overall dinner was a lot of  fun and I would definitely attend another diner held by Dinner Lab. 

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