Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Centro Dinner: La Quercia Acorn Edition

Last Sunday, I got an email from Herb (from La Quercia) mentioning that there was a dinner with Acorn Edition prosciutto products. Of course, I cleared my schedule and jumped into my car last night to join him and some other gourmets at Centro Restaurant in Des Moines.

La Quercia's Acorn Edition products are their cured products made from pigs that have been raised on a diet of at least 60% acorns. This gives the products made from the pork an incredible intesity of flavor, that is further enhanced by Herb's skills as a prosciutto maker. Those products were what was featured at the dinner.

The night started off with some delicious crudites (toasts) topped with headcheese, pate or shredded pork. All three were delicious, with a simple, unadorned "porkiness" that shown through.The crudites were served with a Windmill Chardonnay from Michael~David Vineyard's, who provided all the wine for the event. The chardonnay went very well with the charcuterie, and allowed the meats to shine on their own.


We then sat down, and were presented with the luscious acorn edition prosciutto from La Quercia. It was sublime; just the smell was enough to transport one to rapture. However, when it hit my tongue and just dissolved, I knew that this was what pork was all about. Herb has managed to truly capture the essence of prosciutto with this Acorn Edition.

To go with this sublime prosciutto, we had some Incognito Rose, which was dainty enough to stand aside to the assertive flavors of the prosciutto. I would take a bite of the prosciutto, savoring it as it melted on my tongue. Then I would take a sip of wine, and then a bite of the breadstick, which cleansed my palate completely and allowed me to face the next bite with a blank slate. Each bite was a revelation.


The next course was a frisee salad, topped with a perfectly fried egg and porcetta (thick cut "country" bacon). I boldly sliced through the egg and let the yolk soak into the crisp frisee, which wilted slightly under the heat of the egg.

For my first bite, I boldly speared some of the porcetta, some egg and frisee and took a bite. The creaminess of the porcetta with the egg and the frisee; they were all perfect together. Fried egg may be the hot new trend, but with good reason.

To go with this course, we had the Incognito Viognier, a very high alcohol white wine. It really cut through the creaminess of the yolk well, and didn't have acidity which would have gone badly with the subtle creaminess of the egg and porcetta.

The next course, while good, was my least favorite of the night. Braised acorn pork ravioli, over vegetables. The ravioli wrapper was superb, but the pork filling lacked "oomph"- it could have used some prosciutto in there to give it some flavor. It was served over some vinegary vegetables that were merely OK as well. Overall, the flavors in this dish didn't work together terribly well.
It was paired with a Syrah, which was very enjoyable however.


Then the main course arrived, and I forgot all about the ravioli. A single Niman Ranch pork chop, with gorgeous sear, arrived. It floated on a bed of George Formaro's excellent white beans, which I so enjoy at Centro's sister resaurant, Django. The pork chop had true pork flavor, with an excellent dry rub that complimented the juciness inside. The beans had a delightfully mild spiciness. At the end, I gnawed on the bone like an animal, the chop was so good.

To go with this course, we had the vineyard's masterpiece: Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon. While I enjoyed this wine, I actually prefereed the chop with the syrah from the previous course. I sipped the cab while waiting for desert; a far better use.

As you can see, I drank sparingly of my wines. From left to right: Rose, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (the desert wine)


Our final course: apple tart with vanilla bean gelato and cinammon sugar cracklins.

Let me tackle this piece by piece.

The cinammon sugar cracklins (fried pork fat) were crunchy and delicious; they could have been anything. They added a great crunch to the dish.

The gelato was decadent, creamy and perfect, with a very strong vanilla flavor that complimented the apple tart.

The apple tart was a work of art. The apples were great and not to sweet (that was the gelato's job) and the crust was flaky and delicious. For someone like me, who has a sweet tooth like no other, it was a perfect ending.


As we left, Dave, one of my dining companions, got a bottle of the Cab and had it signed. Myself, I got my menu signed by Herb Eckhouse and David (the winemaker).

Some people get broadway tickets signed, others get baseballs. I get menus.

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