Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Secret Pork: Ford's Filling Station's Special Pork Dinner

What do pig eyes taste like? It's more texture than taste. Last week FoodDigger graciously hosted a special menu dinner at Ford's Filling Station. These FD invites have gotten so competitive; I was certainly lucky to get a spot at Chef Ben Ford's Culver City restaurant.


I won't write an encyclopedic entry on every minute item I had at Ford's. For that, you're better off reading Kevin's entry. I could tell you about the unbelievably supple pork confit or the mouthwatering porchetta roasted pig with fennel. I could even tell you how panchetta wrapped pork loin is an amazing idea. Wrap pork with more pork; how can that fail? But the best memories of the night weren't the things on the table, they were the people seated around it. Fiona, HC, Kevin, Ila, Matt, Javier, Matt, Sarah and of course Will, Thi and Marshal truly made the night.

The dinner started with a flourish as Ben Ford came out to introduce himself and the menu to our table of hungry bloggers. We gave him the paparazzi treatment of course with questions and camera flashes going off in all directions. Of course, he could always take celebrities cues from his father Harrison Ford. He explained that the pork dinner is special for him--much fun to do and eager to present. The menu is by special request only with advance notice. After all, he needs to buy the two fifteen-pound baby pigs and brine overnight. Nightly, he makes his own headcheese, but rarely does he get the opportunity to work with the whole animal.

We had a few side dishes to start: brussel sprouts, cavalo nero & escarole, roasted carrots with pomegranate, and kabocha risotto. The risotto was a letdown, undercooked and underflavored. It's a pity since the kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, has such a great flavor. In answer to the universal childhood fear of brussel sprouts, Ford says cook with bacon.

The stars of the night came dressed in their finest--on a silver platter served by Chef Ford himself. The fancy platter consisted of the porchetta, whole roasted pig with fennel and onions, pig's tongue and ear salad, deep fried pork eyes stuffed with ham hock, and panchetta wrapped loin chops, pulled pork and pork rinds. I was personally most impressed with the salad, since beef tongue is so common now, pork was a different treat. Fried eyes tasted how I imagined Rocky Mountain Oysters would be like. Breading and frying any gelatinous organ can cover up the taste of eyes as well as testicles. The texture was the only thing that set it apart. Eyes have a gummy resistance, best reserved for non-organ foodstuffs. Amazingly, none of these pork products relied on heavy sauces. The meat was tender and juicy enough to stand with relatively simple seasonings. The pulled pork was no exception; the only good pulled pork I've had was doused in sauce or in the form of carnitas.

Pork rinds, pork loin, and confit flanked by carrots and risotto

Porchetta, whole roasted pig with fennel and onions

The second platter of pork had the confit cooked in goose fat, crispy smoke pork legs, and a rather unhappy looking pig head. As a rule of thumb, when eating the heads of animals, empty eye sockets make the creature much more menacing. The confit was certainly as notable as its reputation would suggest. After being featured on Bizarre Foods, this was a dish I couldn't overlook. It almost had the flavor of a roasted turkey leg, smokey and deep. The night finished with a moist Hawaiian bread pudding and a disappointingly dry chocolate torte. Dessert wasn't the key to the dinner. Maybe if it featured bacon more prominently...

By the time we finished our late meal, the restaurant was all but empty. We gathered up and headed across the street for a round of drinks courtesy of Tastespotting. Food may have brought us all together, but it certainly wasn't the only thing keeping us there. It's not enough to love food; you still have to be a genuinely good person to be a part of the community. For all you quiet bloggers out there, all I can say is reach out join the fun.


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