Snout to Tail
Can you eat a whole animal? Certainly, you can eat most parts of a fish. Crispy fish skins, fish cheeks, crispy fin and tail, fish roe, and fish stew. How about most of the parts of a hog?
Well, that is exactly what we did on a recent Sunday night at the Admiral Restaurant. The Admiral is a funky place that has garnered a well-deserved reputation for excellent food. I have spoken with many visiting chefs who come to Asheville, and when I ask them where they ate while in town, they will reply “At the Admiral.”
It was at this special wine dinner called “Snout to Tail” that folks had the opportunity to eat the whole hog. This was a brilliant offering by the Admiral Restaurant, Appalachian Vintner, Haw River Wines and Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Jamie and Amy Ager from the Hickory Nut Gap Farm were on hand to witness the gusto with which their product was appreciated. Their hog was a 240-pound beauty that the chefs butchered and cured in the week prior to the dinner.
It was great to see old friends and new faces, and to make new friends. As you know, Asheville is such a small world! Turning to the person at the next table, I asked him where he was from and he replied Chicago. Then I asked, “Do you know Mark Lindsay?” and he replied, “Yes, he's one of my dearest friends!” Mark lived in Asheville for several years and is now a wine distributor in Chicago. Of all the people in Chicago, I would run into one of his dear friends here in Asheville.
The service staff was wonderful and kept our glasses anchored with fresh libations, prior to serving each course. Sitting down at the table, we were greeted with a bowl of freshly-fried pork skins called “Chicharrones.” These are not like the salty aberrations that you usually find in bags at the corner market. These were fresh, crunchy, and made a great entry into the meal. They were served with a Prosecco wine. If you have not enjoyed Italian Prosecco in place of champagne, you should give it a try this holiday season. This was quickly followed by a “Pork Foam drink,” almost like a bloody Mary without the blood or the Mary.
Even though the Admiral has such a small kitchen, it was amazing to see five or six people cooking with ease. They had quickly plated the first course for the crowd of 60 or so people. This course consisted of Toulouse Sausage, Head Cheese (yes, it is a pâté made from parts of the head), and garnishes of chopped fennel pickles, and mustard. The head sausage was like a country pâté and the sausages were very delicious.
As we moved into the meal, we were served a Sancerre, a Pinot Nero, a Gewurztraminer, and finally a wine made from grapes that had been dried into raisins before making the wine, called a Corte Majoli Amarone della Valpolicella. The dishes served with these wines were Grilled Pork Loin, and Carnitas in a Pozole Sauce. All of these dishes were great but the next two dishes were really outstanding.
The Corned Belly was presented with an incredible Kraut, with Caraway Cream and Rye Bread Croutons. The Corned Belly was actually the lean meat from the stomach. That was followed by a Braised Shoulder, and Gnocch with San Marzano Tomato, Basil, and Pecorino cheese. I must say that of all the wines served, the Brunello di Montalcino was a truly fine wine and left me wanting more, even at the end of the meal.
Finally getting down to one of the Admiral’s trademarks, we were served a Chocolate Candy Bar with Candied Bacon, and a Bacon Crème Anglaise. The Admiral had presented this at the WNC Chefs Challenge and it was one of the highest scoring dishes. It thrilled everyone!
At the end, a spontaneous cheer arose from the audience. Everyone raised their glasses and saluted the chefs and staff, who made this a most memorable evening. While we may not have consumed all of the parts of the pig, we certainly took a trip from the snout to the tail, and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it!
So when you hear of a wine dinner, and particularly when it's prepared by outstanding chefs using sustainable, local foods from unique WNC farms, check it out. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
Admiral Restaurant (http://theadmiralnc.com)
Appalachian Vintner (www.appalachianvintner.com)
Haw River Wines (www.hawriverwineman.com)
Hickory Nut Gap Farm (www.hickorynutgapfarm.com)
Prosecco wine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosecco)
Pork Foam (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/9361682)
Pozole Sauce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pozol%C3%A9)
San Marzano Tomato (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Marzano_tomato)
Brunello di Montalcino (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunello_di_Montalcino)