While guests next door at Osteria Mozza are dining on ricotta and egg raviolo and duck al mattone, those lucky enough to score a reservation for the weekly Cena di Maiale are feasting on all and sundry parts of the pig.
Chef Chad Colby gets in a whole animal every two weeks from farmers who raise each animal with care. This week, it happened to be a Gloucester Old Spot pig, a traditional British breed that’s white with black spots. It’s a beautiful animal, Colby enthused, as early arrivals crowded around the open kitchen supplied with wood-burning oven and wood-burning grill.
Three billowy foccacie sat on the marble counter top ready for tasting. This was real foccacia, dimpled and slicked with olive oil. I loved the one covered with pickled red peppers. Glasses of prosecco in hand, the guests milled around and chatted with the chef, ogling the packets of fresh sausage wrapped in caul fat sizzling on the wood grill, and the wooden boards loaded with house-made cured meats.
When the chef tapped his glass, we obediently sat down at the broad communal table. He welcomed the 20 guests, introduced the pig and the handmade salumi and let us have at it. Platters whizzed up and down the table, family-style, along with a picture-perfect giardiniera of pickled vegetables. “It’s like eating at Nancy’s house,” the chef told me earlier. Nancy being, of course, Nancy Silverton.
One thing he forgot to say, “pace yourself, ladies and gentlemen.” Because there’s a lot more to come. A lot more.
I got it, but not everybody did. Believe me, I very much wanted seconds--and thirds--of the ciccioli (almost pure sweet pork fat) and the liver pate, for example. But that fresh sausage was on its way, now half the size it started out, browned and luscious, served on a bed of grilled broccoli rabe.
Next up: two huge soffiata or soufflé of Parmesan were paraded around the table, then served out on top of a long-simmered pork ragu, a terrific combination.
Fourth course: pork shoulders that had been roasting for more than six hours. These, too, made the victory lap around the table before the chef took them back and turned them into moist, tender pulled pork, and served it with the skin transformed into cracklings on the side. Radicchio and cicoria doused in vinegar cut the richness of the pig.
Then came the roasted chops with a tall ribbon of fat at the top, arguably the most delicious bite of the evening, and onions cooked to mahogany in the wood-burning oven. By this time, people up and down the table who might have seemed a bit shy at the beginning are laughing, talking across the table, sharing wine and passing those plates. It’s very festive and fun.
What kind of dessert can follow all this pig? Why gelato and ice cream--a voluptuous vanilla gelato, tangerine sorbet and the deepest darkest chocolate to be found in the land, all from the hand of pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez, who also contributed the pig-shaped shortbread cookies.
Reluctantly, after what has to be one of the most memorable meals of the year, we head back into the night.
Scuola di Pizza, 6610 Melrose Ave. (at Highland Avenue), Los Angeles; (323) 297-1133; www.mozza2go.com. Mangiare in Familia, every Friday and Saturday night at Scuola di Pizza next door to Mozza2Go, $75 per person. By reservation only. Saturday is the Cena di Maiale, while Friday features a seasonal family-style menu that changes each month. (Somewhat more irregular schedule over the holidays.) And Scuola di Pizza also offers cooking classes (with dinner) several nights a week.
--S. Irene Virbila
(and yes, that's a drop of Dal Forno Valpolicella on my menu.)