There I was, around 10 p.m. on a school night, driving up and down Fairfax Boulevard, squinting to spot a food truck that I had only learned the whereabouts of earlier that day, hoping that the kitchen's supplies hadn't run out, the cops hadn't chased everyone off, or the location hadn't been switched at the last moment. Was this 2009? To borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra, it felt like déjà vu all over again.
But unlike the days when Kogi BBQ Truck swarmed with hourlong lines, the crowd outside Porchetta Truck was decidedly sparse, which is probably how chef Evan Funke prefers it. The truck had parked outside the Dime, a dive bar in the Fairfax Arts district, on a night when the temperature had dipped to frigid "actual winter" levels. A few curious bar-goers wandered out to see what was up; the line chefs cooking at Animal apparently had plans to visit after dinner service.
There was no fusion or flash going on here, just a menu offering a single item, a $5 porchetta sandwich, and some glass bottles of Coke and water. The sandwich was a creation from Funke's upcoming Bucato, a restaurant planned for the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City early next year. The truck seems like less like a promotional move -- it's plain white and barely decorated at all -- and more a manifestation of the nagging, itchy drive to put out good food embedded in certain "in-between-projects" chefs.
Funke is clearly obsessed with porchetta and, more broadly, fascinated with the idea of culinary specialization common in the small-town restaurants and roadhouses of Europe (so is Ludo chef Ludovic Lefebvre, apparently, with his new truck stop-inspired restaurant Le Routier). To crib from a review found a few weeks ago in the L.A. Times, Funke, too, is a hedgehog is the most admirable sense.
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The porchetta here isn't like the other versions you'll find at Sotto or Mozza, though it is made from heritage-breed pig, but arrives in a pseudo-deconstructed fashion. First there are slices of roasted pork loin, lean but exceptionally moist, seasoned with garlic, fennel and sprigs of rosemary. Then strips of incredibly rich, fat-striated pork belly. Then a handful of pork rinds, which simulate the crunch and crackle like the crispy caramelized outer shell found in traditional porchetta. A final garlicky spread of pesto Modenese sits below, made, of course, from lardo. It's all the best flavors and permutations of pig stacked together into a supergroup -- like The Highwaymen of whole hog cooking.
Cutting through the richness is the juice of half a lemon drizzled on top, and a handful of fresh arugula -- simple toppings. Sandwiched between a warm ciabatta from Rockenwagner bakery, there is no way this glorious construction should cost only $5. But it does, and even if it were double or triple that price, it would already be one of the best sandwiches of the year.
For the next few weeks, until Funke opens Bucato and begins selling the porchetta full-time as a menu item (roasted on vertical al pastor spits, no less), he will be performing a holiday miracle comparable to Scrooge's roast goose shopping spree. Tracking the Porchetta Truck's movements online might feel, at first, like an aggravating throwback, but once you indulge in the unbridled delight within, you might be reminded of the true spirit of food trucks.