Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
We closed out 2016 with the good fortune of having secured a table at Fete restaurant in Chinatown to sample the cuisine of the butcher of Panzano, Riccardo Ricci. If you were under the impression that butchers simply reduce an animal carcass to manageable pieces . . .
well, you aren’t familiar with the butchers from the village of Panzano in the heart of Italy’s Chianti region. These butchers are the protégés of world superstar butcher, Dario Cecchini.
Riccardo Ricci was the star of the evening at Fete restaurant. But the story really begins with the Cecchini family. For eight generations, they have been butchers in the village of Panzano. Dario Cecchini currently runs the family’s shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, along with three restaurants situated around the shop. The restaurants use beef and pork butchered by the Cecchini family. Although most of the United States only got to know Dario Cecchini a few years ago on one of Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” episodes, Dario was already was in demand worldwide for his expertise in dismembering a whole animal and cooking it from nose-to-tail, all the while perpetuating the recipes of Tuscany. He wasn’t present at the Fete that evening, but his knowledge and presence were evident in his protégé, Riccardo Ricci.
The dinner was supposed to have been held at Il Lupino in Waikiki. However, when Chef Donato Loperfido, a consultant at Il Lupino, left the restaurant, some 11th hour shuffling had to be done to rescue the plans that had already been made. Il Lupino was to have provided the wines through Chef Donato’s Flavors of Italy import business. Fortunately, Chef Robynne Maii and Chuck Bussler of Fete restaurant agreed to host the event. The swine wasn’t flown from Tuscany, but it was the next best thing — David Wong’s pork from Chef Bob McGee of Pono Pork LLC.
Festa del Maiale
(the pig feast)
Pinzimonio di Verdure con Profumo del Chianti
(raw vegetables with Chianti salt)
Crostini di Burro del Chianti
(Chianti butter toast)
Tonno del Chianti alla Marinara
(Chianti tuna with capers, onions and tomatoes)
Pici al Ragu Toscano
(Pici with Tuscan meat sauce)
Arista in Porchetta
Fagioli all’olio Extravergine
(Tuscan beans with olive oil)
Scamerita al Fiore di Finocchio
(pork chops with fennel pollen)
Patate al Rosmarino e Salvia
(roasted potatoes with rosemary and sage)
Torta all’olio Evo
(olive oil cake)
The evening began relatively quiet, although we benefited from a nearby diner who was raised just outside of Venice, so she provided us with insight into some of the dishes that were served. She also translated for Riccardo Ricci as he wandered through the dining area. The diners grew merrier — and louder — as the evening progressed, with more wine and food being consumed. The evening culminated with Riccardo, in his minion goggles, presenting the crowning glory of the evening, his Arista in Porchetta by standing on a chair in the middle of the restaurant, shouting “porchetta” while holding the tray with that glorious roasted pork.
The opening course was basically a mixed crudité of fresh veggies, although the olive oil to dip was very buttery and a lot better quality than your basic EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). The Chianti butter toast was a food revelation . . . no, make that an exhilaration. At first, I thought it was bone marrow flavored with rosemary on toast. I later learned that it was lardo, or fat, from the pig’s back that had been massaged to soften and then put through a meat grinder and spiced with rosemary, salt and pepper. It was then spread on toast like “butter.” It was worth every calorie!
The Chianti “tuna” wasn’t seafood at all, but rather slowed-cooked pork simmered in its own fat (like pork rillettes) and served with onions and tomatoes. It was so tender you could chew it with your gums. Riccardo’s mentor, Dario Cecchini, created the dish based on a classic Tuscan recipe and named it using the traditional Tuscan double entendre. Regardless of whether it was pork or tuna, it was good!
The pasta course featured perfect al dente “straws” of pasta (thick spaghetti with a hollow interior) in a basic red sauce. The chili in the sauce snuck up on me, wetting my brow with a few drops of perspiration, but its simplicity with fresh tomato sauce and rich pork was more than satisfying.
Then came the porchetta! I’ve had my fair share of porchetta, which is usually pork loin, butt or shoulder, rolled in pork belly and slow-roasted. Quite often, the belly section is a bit chewy and the skin a little tough. This version, however, was perfecto! Very moist meat with fat that melted on the palate, and crispy skin. It was the hit of the evening served with the velvety white beans with rosemary.
Unfortunately, the classic Tuscan pork chops seasoned with fennel pollen was served after the porchetta, so my mind was still on the succulent pork belly. These chops weren’t your classic chops from the loin — they were from a cut by the pig’s neck, which most Tuscans feel provides the most flavorful meat. Those chops were very juicy with a very rich flavor.
The evening ended with an olive oil cake served with an olive oil gelato. The gelato was another food epiphany, as it was like consuming frozen olive oil cream. As the gelato melted, a pool of olive oil glistened on the plate.
As you can see, pork is a lot more than just bacon, chops and ham. Dining nose-to-tail honors the animal that sacrificed itself for your dining pleasure. As Dario Cecchini stated, there is no hierarchy of animal parts with loin and steaks at the top and offals at the bottom. There is simply a circle of cuts, with each providing the same culinary pleasure as long as they’re prepared properly . . . which has inspired me enough to create another trotter terrine. But that’s for another column.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”