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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dish Duel: The Great Porchetta Smackdown

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at 2:29 PM

True porchetta is an event, not a dish. It's one of Tuscany's grand theatrical gestures, a whole pig stuffed with aromatics, spit roasted for hours. Here -- on, like, a Wednesday for the lunch crowd -- it's on a necessarily smaller scale: roast pork, with aromatics like fennel, capers, and garlic. Which isn't to say it can't be tasty as hell, done right, an unctuous, fat-veined, perfumed mass of porkishness, fleshy, but with a whiff of refinement.

How does the porchetta stack up at two of the city's hottest sandwich establishments? We put them to the test, on the same day this week, hopping on the T-Third to score a porchetta samwich, first at Kitchenette in Dogpatch, later at Il Cane Rosso in the Ferry Building. The results, other than well-lubricated fingers that made a hot mess of our iPhone screen? Read on.

Kitchenette 958 Illinois (at 20th St.)

Marin Sun Farms Pork Porchetta $8

click to enlarge The Kitchenette version: Righteously fatty. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • The Kitchenette version: Righteously fatty.
Basic setup: On a split slab of lightly grilled Acme focaccia, a stratum of thin-sliced meat stacked as deep as the first joint of your pinkie; mixed greens (mizuna and arugula) with shards of fennel shavings and a hefty glazing of pale aïoli.

The taste: The porchetta? A subtle burr of capers and sage that lets the pork taste like pork; it's righteously fatty, gray, and delicious. The focaccia is soft and almost elastic, and the effect of meat and bread together is of an almost custardy richness. We scarf it in minutes, licking aïoli from our fingers. Nice.

Il Cane Rosso 1 Ferry Building, #41 (at the Embarcadero)

Marin Sun Farms Porchetta $9

click to enlarge Il Cane Rosso's: Respectful of tradition. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Il Cane Rosso's: Respectful of tradition.
Basic setup: On a section of Acme Italian bread, a layer of meat as deep as Kitchenette's, sliced medium thick; a smear of Elephant Heart plum mostarda, and a scant handful of baby mustard greens.

The taste: The spit-roasted pork is softer than Kitchenette's version, in places plush, a mass of pink and gray, veined with creamy fat. The seasoning is striking: fennel seed and garlic, with the frankly animal taste of pork. The mostarda adds salt and tang, almost like the taste of blood, the meat's deliciously apt shadow. The bread is crusty without forcing you to gnaw.

The winner: For the deft seasoning and technically superior texture of the porchetta, Il Cane Rosso. Not that Kitchenette's interpretation isn't seriously delicious -- it's that Cane Rosso hews closer to porchetta's traditions. Way to nail it, dog.

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