Kicking the birthday blues with the Cecchini crew
Last week I had the ever-so-indulgent honor of being invited over to Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada's casa for Sunday supper. Two two girls run the infamous Lindy & Grundy butcher shop, so any meal at their place would no doubt be absolutely magnificent. But this Sunday was particularly special because Riccardo Ricci, who works with Dario Cecchini in the Chianti region of Italy, would be cooking the meal. It also happened to be the night before my 27th birthday, which I was particularly lamenting. And we all know there's no better cure for the getting older blues than a great meal, so it was game on.
For those who don't know, Dario is one of the foremost butchers on the planet. His butcher shop in Panzano, just outside Florence, not only supplies locals with outrageous meat, but also feeds two of his own wildy-popular nose-to-tail restaurants. Erika and Amelia, savy business women that they are, snapped up one of his former employees, Melissa Cortina, to manage their Fairfax Avenue shop. Melissa and Riccardo were close friends while she butchered with Dario, and the two worked together in the girl's West Hollywood kitchen with style and grace.
The crowd was mostly L & G staffers, plus a handful of local chefs and writers. Chad Colby of Osteria Mozza, who won the Los Angeles Cochon 555 competition, showed up with the most beautiful plate of pate, head cheese and charcuterie-- all made from a single pig. And Willy Blackmore of Tasting Table brought over some gorgeous bottles of Italian wine from Domaine LA, which we delightfully sipped on as the scent of fennel, rosemary and roasting meat wafted out of the kitchen.
For the first course there was Chianti crudo, or as Ricardo called it, " beef sushi," served tableside. This sustainable version of steak tartare was made from the highly muscular hind quarters, which are repatedly tenderized, then mixed with a hearty guzzle of olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a heaping serving of what we came to call "crack" -- an artisanal salt served at Dario's restaurant that's the consistency of baking powder, with the a distinctive herbaceous minerality. Our table's bowl of salt kept mysteriously disappearing throughout the meal, and every few minutes someone would be caught asking, "Wait, wait...where's our crack? Someone stole it! Who has it?" Seriously, we became fiends. Thankfully Riccardo sent each of us home with a ziplock baggie of the stuff, pictured above.
Riccardo also served a cured pork dish that reminded me of a porcine version of tuna, which was cured in wine and salt and served with raw red onion. Then came the porchetta, a giant loin wrapped in its belly, then stuffed with rosemary and other aromatics. There was also a beef roast stuffed with marrow, tied with twine and then slow cooked til it was fall-apart tender and the most outrageous stewed cannelini beans. The feast wrapped up with delicate olive oil cakes and French pressed coffee. Perfection.
As we neared the midnight hour, Riccardo busted out one of the most outstanding bottles of grappa that ever graced my lips. If this is emblematic of what 27 has in store, I'm stoked.