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Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rieger - Pig Tastic!

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you'll know I went to the Rieger last Tuesday for a field trip with my Garde Manger class. Many of my esteemed classmates joined our Chef, the illustrious David Derr, for a tasting of what the Rieger had to offer on the Charcuterie end.

The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange on Urbanspoon
For those of you who don't know, Charcuterie is basically the art of preparing meats like bacon, sausage, pates, et cetera. It's kind of become a lost art in the mainstream as of late, but - fortunately for us foodies - it's coming back with a vengeance. We studied Charcuterie for about three weeks or so in Garde Manger, and by the end of that three weeks all of us were a touch burnt out.

Don't get me wrong, sausage never gets old. That being said, you can only aspic so many galantines and pate en croutes before you get sick of it. This field trip was something we all needed to rekindle our love of it.

When you see the Rieger, it looks unassuming enough on the outside. Coming in, a friendly hostess with a pixie haircut greets you at the door and offers the coat hooks by the door for your usage. The lighting isn't quite dim, but it's not bright by any means. It is intimate, like a lounge bar you see in a sexy movie. The glasses are tall and thin, and water is served in big glass bottles at the table that give such an elegant feel without it being too pretentious. Wait staff is cleanly attired in black from head to toe.

I found my seat along one of the walls along with the big table of my friends. I sat with David and Brian at the shorter table, where other friends were joining us and we spoke about how amazing the mustard was. It was a grainy mustard that - I later found out - came from a jar, but they do have House mustards available with various dishes for you to try.

Admit that it's beautiful and we can all move on with our lives
Once all of our drink orders were taken, all twenty of us were served a beautiful platter of Charcuterie with toasted brioche, cornichons and that gorgeous grainy mustard. Chef Howard Hannah came out with a big, bearded smile and walked us through our wonderful journey. Let's go from left to right, or - in this case - closes to the furthest away.

We have first a foie gras that was so silky smooth it was like butter. It had that wonderful fatty texture that all foie gras has, but without that weird membrane-y ness that sometimes restaurants leave on or forget to take off. Chef Hannah explained the process, but honestly I was too lost in the beautiful texture that I wasn't paying attention.

Next we have a slice of mortadella, which is an emulsified sausage. Emulsified sausages are ones that we, as Americans, are most familiar with(think hot dogs/frankfurters, bologna, etc). The flavor was excellent, and more pronounced as it was made from a fine bit of pork shoulder. The texture was nice and velvety, yet had this nice toothsomeness that brought enough to the table that made me want to put it on a sandwich. I remember thinking: "okay so the Foie gras will be my butter and the mortadella will be like the ham to my grilled cheese..."

Next we have an apple-fennel sausage that, I think, was my favorite of the night. I remember David and I(along with several others at our table, mind you) talking about how amazing that sausage would be if put in a poppy seed hot dog bun. The fennel made it  so aromatic and it had a nice chewiness that only comes in a fresh sausage skin.

Finally, we moved onto the pate, known simply as Pate Grandmere. This is translated as Grandmother's Pate, which is a wonderful country pate of pork butt, herbs, spices, fat...and, well, you can find a fun blog on Pate Grandmere here. It was velvety smooth but with such an amazing flavor that I can only describe it as pate-a-licious. The pork was so tender, so it was like...a meat butter that was too thick to spread, so I wanted to deep fry it and serve it with eggs. Does that make any sense?

Either way, the stuff was amazing. Chef Hannah was even kind enough to break out a few of his favorite cook books on charcuterie and let us read it. (I would have taken down the titles, but I was too busy licking the pork off my plate.)

Anyway, we were all done licking our plates when Chef Hannah said "Hang on, I have something else I'd like to show you."

David's thumb in its BIG BLOGGER DEBUT
Upon his return, he brought this beautiful molded thing on a block of cedar. "What's that?" I whispered to Tim, who was next to me.

"This," said Chef Hannah, "is a Pig ear Terrine. I'm not going to lie, some of you will probably hate it, but I love it and it's cheap to make - so why not keep it on the menu?"

Well, you can't argue with logic like that, can you? Not only is it using every part of the pig in the kitchen, but it looks really pretty in its own complex way.

To be honest, I did not like this dish. I liked the flavor, but the texture was this weird balance between crunchy and chewy...but there were people at the table that absolutely loved it, so it must have been something good on some level. Even Chef Derr said "The thickness on the slices are just perfect."

So what's the conclusion to the pork tasting?

Go to the Rieger and find out for yourself. No, really - it's a tad pricey for this broke college student to go very often, but aside from the pork/charcuterie menu, it has a tasteful variety of menu items from Rabbit Roulade to Sous Vide Lamb Shoulder to Risotto. My glass only needed a moment before it was filled again by our waiter, and I truly look forward to going there again someday. Try to get a seat near the kitchen so you can watch the Chefs work!

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