Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Fox's Feast

As Aaron Vandemark, chef and owner of the wonderful Panciuto restaurant explained in an email message to customers,

I’ve been reading Fantastic Mr. Fox to Henry (my two year old). At one point the hungry animals, led by Mr. Fox, burrow into the farmers’ storage sheds and find themselves surrounded by fowl, pork and cider. What follows is a spectacular Fox’s feast for all to share and I thought it would be fun to do something similar at the restaurant. So… I’m working on a menu now and I expect it’s going to include, chicken, duck, livers, pork shoulders, maple roasted pork bellies, carrots (for the rabbits), cider (hard and soft), and more. This will be our first community style dinner we’ve had in quite a while and I hope it sets the tone for your time with family and friends during the holidays.
As anyone who knows me could tell you, this was tailor-made for me. I absolutely could not resist the notion, so last night a group of us converged on Panciuto for this event.

It was wonderful.

The menu (click on it to see a larger, easier-to-read image) sounded both tasty and adventurous.

(Sorry about the grease stains; the tables were full, and I kept my menu out for reference during the meal).

The food proved to be even more delicious than the menu sounded.

I was frankly wary of both of the first two courses, but I should never have doubted Aaron. They were amazingly good, the soup warm and flavorful without ever being overly strong. The salad made me wish every dressing included duck and mustard.

The main course--the three meats, the raviolis, and the greens and carrots--was so good everyone there ate too much and wished they could fit in more. The pork rack, which was the weakest of the three meats, would have been the star in any other meal, its meat ever more tender as you ate closer to the bone. The pork belly was absolutely perfect, the exact right mix of crispy outside and oh so soft inside. For many, though, the fried chicken stole the show: served as basically large fried nuggets, no bones anywhere, it was moist and tender and so delicious all of us agreed we had never tasted its equal.

The dessert, which none of us had room for but all of us ate, provided a lovely, delicious ending to the meal.

The atmosphere was also perfect. They set the restaurant in one long table, and we all sat and ate community style. The room rippled with conversations and laughter, and though no one person knew more than a fourth of those present, for those few hours we were, as Aaron intended, a community.

I wish I could have taken every single friend I have to this meal.

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