QUESTION: Have you ever tasted guanciale? It’s a kind of Italian
cured hog jowl that comes from Abruzzi or somewhere, and it tastes sort of like
bacon and sort of not, sort of like pancetta and sort of not, with a tenderness
and a deep underlying sweetness that you wouldn’t believe. Whenever I go to
Rome, it’s guanciale with peas, guanciale with favas, guanciale pizza, bavette
with guanciale and pecorino — you get the idea. Is there anywhere in Los Angeles
where one may obtain this wondrous substance?
—Jacob, Playa del Rey
ANSWER: If guanciale were cocaine, I would be doing serious time in
Leavenworth. Because while I am a law-abiding citizen in practically every regard,
I cannot control my own guanciale addiction, and I have more than once risked
imprisonment for the sake of a hairy, mold-covered pig cheek or two — the real
stuff, from Norcia, bought at the Volpetti delicatessen near the cemetery where
Shelley and Keats are buried. Nothing makes a better spaghetti carbonara; nothing
else is acceptable in bucatini Amatriciana or bucatini alla Gricia.
And the domestic product commercially available from the ordinarily estimable
Niman Ranch just doesn’t have the right flavor.
So you could either find some raw cheeks and cure guanciale yourself from
the recipes in books by Mario Batali or Paul Bertolli. Or you could try one
of the restaurants descended from Rex il Ristorante, the seminal Los Angeles
Italian restaurant whose owner, Mauro Vicenti, was obsessed with the jowly gold.
These restaurants would include Vicenti, run by his widow, and Angelini, run
by Rex’s last chef. Or you could go to Alto Palato, another Rex descendant,
where the wispy, crispy, Roman-style pizza with housemade guanciale and sliced
potatoes is crunchy, munchy, thoroughly funky and ready to go. Even at happy
hour. Alto Palato, 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 657-9271.