Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Adesso's Pig Roast for the Cloth Napkin Crowd

Its last roast of the season. Plus, Charlie Parker departs from Plum.

By Jesse Hirsch
Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Walking off a hearty lunch in Piedmont last weekend, I happened upon the Los Carnales/La Familia Motorcycle Club BBQ. It was a rough-and-tumble affair, beer and belly laughs and lots of (non-Folsom Street Fair) leather. Also: puffs of aromatic meat smoke wafting toward the sidewalk. My stomach a taut balloon, I still entertained the notion of grabbing a hot dog.

Clearly it had been too long since my last outdoor family-style food jamboree.

This, loosely, was my thinking when I bought tickets for Adesso's pig roast the following weekend. Even if I couldn't hang with bikers, I'd still have the chance to carve scalding hunks off a spit-roasted pig, meet strangers, and mill about in the sun with some beer. My fantasy was based on the country fair template, not the reality of an indoor restaurant with cloth napkins and table service.

This would be the third and final pig roast of the season for the Adesso crew. Tickets ran $30 a pop, giving you a four-hour window to stuff yourself silly. Adesso's dinner prices are usually $9-plus for small plates of salumi; the price seemed fair. Plus it would be my last chance before the roasts took a winter siesta.

The event started at 2 p.m., and seasoned eaters entrenched themselves early; by 3, Adesso's prime tabletop real estate was completely occupied. Seats at the bar were also full, so we got to "mill about," except we were jammed up in the tight restaurant interior. Plates in hand, we tried to make small as servers jockeyed for position. After watching us dance into three or four different spots, a group of seated eaters took pity, scooching over to make space.

Sadly, there was no whole pig turning on a spit. Instead, individual pork sections roasted all day in the Freelove Music School parking lot across the street: 3 porchettas, 4 hams, and 65 pounds of sausage. Adesso and Dopo (its sister restaurant) buy two whole hogs weekly, and Sunday's roast was only a portion of this week's haul.

The tender, fat-slicked porchetta was peppered with chili and sage, while the leaner ham was roasted in a lemon honey, red wine marinade. Both were sliced deli-thin and heaped onto buffet platters. The two sausage varieties were mildly spiced, one a fennel/sweet chili blend and the other pecorino romano and parsley. All the meat ran tepid to lukewarm, the consequence of hoofing it across a busy intersection, then carving it up inside Adesso. The situation couldn't be helped, but I'd really been hoping for hot grease to dribble down my chin.

Three oily, acidic salsas served as apparent condiments for the meat (no mustard?). The inoffensive sides also ran high on vinegar and oil, including a fresh tomato, celery, and red onion salad; another salad of cooked potatoes and peppers; and a dish of homemade pickles. One stand-out was the conserva, an excellent dish of summer squash, zucchini, and tomatoes, fried with a hint of garlic and served with fennel shavings, capers, and green olives. The fennel gave texture to the stew-like base, while the olives and capers lent welcome bursts of salt.

Near the meal's end, our tablemates got chatty. This wasn't their first Adesso roast, and they had crafted a routine. They would leave to drink at the tiki bar across the street, then return for more pork, head back to the bar, and so on. "We just keep stumbling back and forth." I think they were onto something.

Following Charlie Parker

In an announcement that's sending shockwaves through the gossip-hungry blogosphere, last week the Chronicle's Inside Scoop got word that Charlie Parker would be leaving his post as head chef at Plum. I'm trying not to take this one personally, but it seems I'm cursed to always arrive late to the Parker party.

First I visited Santa Cruz's Cellar Door Café this winter on a friend's recommendation, only to learn Parker had left that kitchen a month prior. I tasted the eminently fine vapor trails of the last menu he had designed, but still was left wondering: What was I missing?

Then several times this year, I've been muy close to visiting Plum for a special occasion meal, but something always got in the way (read: lack of reservations). Until, to celebrate my new position at the Express, my partner planned a surprise date for me there. The day after I learned about this upcoming treat, Parker quit. Was it something I said?

Personal wistfulness aside, this is the most recent in a string of high-profile departures from the Daniel Patterson empire. First Jeremy Fox, who was initially slated to helm Plum, abruptly parted ways with Patterson last fall. Then this year Patterson protégés Lauren Kiino and Evan Rich also left the fold. Each parting had its own set of circumstances, but still: That's a lot of shake-up in a brief period. No word yet on where Parker will land, but you can be sure I'll try it shortly after he departs.

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