Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wild Beast. Lark.

Some five or six years ago Lark started hosting what they called the "Whole Beast" dinner, a feast involving an endless series of dishes utilizing every part of an animal - pigs, lambs, and a goat or two - and I do mean every part of the animal. I went to my first one in the spring of 2008 (there were pigs' ears on the menu, and perfect lamb crépinettes). Last year, the dinner shifted its focus (and time - it happened in November) away from the usual pig/lamb/goat menagerie and turned to wild game, perfect for fall.

Last night I caught up with my friends - we met at my first Whole Beast dinner, and it's now become a tradition for us to sit together - at the door and we settled in at the same table as last year. We opened our bottles of wine - a Rioja and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both from 1998 - and nibbled away at a dish of almonds and olives. The menu looked thrilling, fourteen dishes broken up into four waves, plus a sorbet (more like a slushy) intermezzo and two desserts. We wondered aloud about the duck testicles and if the emu could be considered a large animal and tried the pheasant rilletes - they were fantastic - and checked out the costumes (all the servers and several other guests were in full Halloween getup).

Here are some dishes that stood out: Frogs legs, garlicky-sweet, the aforementioned rillettes, and the duck testicles, which were tiny chunks of deep-fried meat, with a texture somewhat like that of sweetbreads. There was a tiny cup of pheasant consommé with agnolotti, foie gras, and truffle (possibly my favorite dish of the night), and brown beans with thick chunks of wild boar bacon laced with the sweetness of leeks and maple syrup (which recall the Quebecois fèves au lard). I love the "little stewed birds" (quail) that are wrapped in bacon and scented with anise, and the skewered Bison hearts in some spicy sauce.

We drink our slushies - spiked with herbs and liqueurs it tastes curiously like Campari - and await the last wave, the wildest tasting of them all, with a saddle of Scottish blue hare that emphatically reminds you with every bite that you are eating wild game. Best of all are emu meatballs, with the croxetti pasta I love so much and the gentle perfume of matsutake mushrooms. We have been eating and talking for three hours. It feels good to catch up with my friends, which is hard to do at parties where there are too many people to say hello to, or farmer's markets where you are in a hurry to finish the week's shopping.

Dessert is a soft quince spice cake, which I like a lot, and a tiny cup of cocoa sorbet with white chocolate granite, which I love tremendously. I am unbearably full, a little drunk, and I can hardly wait until the next dinner. They are bringing back the Whole Beast dinner in the Spring. I'll be there.

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