Friday, November 27, 2015

best thing i ate last week: pork braised in milk at Eating House

As I groggily arise, still digesting last night's Thanksgiving feast (while simultaneously plotting what to do with the leftovers), it occurs to me that I'm still a week behind on "best thing i ate last week." So let's catch up.

Sometimes for no good reason, restaurants fall off your radar screen. That had happened to me with Eating House. Though I've always had good meals there, somehow more than a year had passed without a visit. I've been back in twice in the past couple months, and it's been better than ever. The old "standards" are still around – the tomatoes with coconut ice, the chicken and "foiffles" – but much is new as well, including roughly half the menu now being taken over by vegetable-centered dishes.

(You can see all my pictures from the restaurant in this Eating House 2.0 flickr set).

Many of these have been very good, like the burnt cabbage with fried garlic and egg vinaigrette, and the red wine risotto with bitter radicchio, pistachios and dried black olives. But the star of my last visit was a pork dish.

The starting point is maiale al latte: pork braised in milk, an old school Italian dish that is about as traif as you can get, which yields fork-tender meat in a rich brown sauce of pork juices and fat emulsified in reduced milk that is almost like a porcine dulce de leche. But then chef Giorgio Rapicavoli does a few things his nonna wouldn't do. He adds crumbles of raw cauliflower, which sounds odd but works, the squeaky texture and fresh, vegetal flavor providing some contrast against all that richness. He adds meaty seared mushrooms and petals of charred onion, upping the umami quotient. He sprinkles it with charred vegetable ash, an intensified iteration of the caramelization that produces the sauce.

(continued ...)

It was the best thing I ate last week. But there were a couple other things I enjoyed as well. First, during these latest visits, I see signs of Rapicavoli really finding his own cooking voice. His food has always been fun, and interesting, and usually delicious, but it could feel a bit like a grab bag. Now there are real themes starting to develop: the focus on vegetables, and using them in every way from raw to burnt; the incorporation of his Slow Food background into modern dishes. Second, maybe I shouldn't be talking about Giorgio so much; during both of my recent visits, he was out of the kitchen at events, and my dinner was prepared by this fine crew:

The kitchen at Eating House is in good hands.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

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