23. The Tasting Kitchen's Pork Rillettes:
Deciding what to order at The Tasting Kitchen, the Abbott Kinney restaurant run by chef Casey Lane that has been one of the best restaurants in the city pretty much since it opened, is always a happy quandary. You might ask if Lane has been breaking down whole animals recently, or what form the many pastas, made daily in the small kitchen, might have taken. You could certainly order the chicken wings, a glorious tower of laquered poultry that comes with a rolled damp towel (a slice of lemon, a sprig of rosemary), as if you somehow wandered into a swank Korean barbecue restaurant. You could just close your eyes and stick your fork on the menu and let the restaurant's household gods decide.
But whatever you choose, you should really start with the rillettes, a rustic ode to pork that comes shaped into an enormous quenelle, with a bit of tangled greenery, a ramekin of whole grain mustard and some pieces of the glorious housemade bread, nicely charred by the kitchen fires.
This is French peasant food re-envisioned by a chef who tracked here by way of the Pacific Northwest and who has been having, it would seem, a grand time in his adopted city. Lane opened The Parish this fall, and has a third restaurant -- Itri, in the space formerly occupied by Evan Kleiman's late, lamented Angeli Caffe -- in the works, but the upswing in his projects hasn't seemed to have taken any toll on his Venice kitchen.
The rillettes are coarsely built, the shreds of confit pork laced with fat and black pepper, and they knife easily onto the pieces of bread, the mustard, parsley and frisée serving as tart counterpoint to the the lush meat. If you were at the Gold Standard event this past March, you may have tasted them. But if you'd like the distinct pleasure of eating the dish in better surroundings than an auto museum, you might pull up a chair at the restaurant's high communal table, with folks so pleasant that the last time I went there a man shared his plate of chicken wings for no other reason than he saw me staring at them, entranced. I'd have shared my rillettes, had he not already ordered, and happily consumed, his own.
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