Monday, April 18, 2011

Whole Pig Dinner - Ford's Filling Station

We recently had one of the best and most interesting dinners we've ever had at Ford's Filling Station located at 9531 Culver Blvd in Culver City.  We had the whole pig dinner, a multi-course meal, including dessert, and each course containing some sort of pork. It rivaled and I believe surpassed our multi-course horse meal in Tokyo which was probably our high-water meal mark until now. There were nine of us and it really was more of an event than a dinner. Our first item was a date wrapped in smoked bacon 
and filled with goat cheese. It was a wonderful combination of sweet, smoky and creamy and has Judy now thinking about trying to duplicate it (in fact, she is making it as I write). 
It was good, but I was bracing for the unusual stuff. That started with the next course, a slice of head cheese on a baguette with marinated red pepper and some greens and oil. 
The head cheese is made at the restaurant from boiled pig heads and other parts of the animal. The only disappointment I had about this course was the size of the slice. Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods ate at the Filling Station for a Los Angeles episode which aired in 2008. It showed him slicing into a block of head cheese and eating a slice about a quarter inch thick. That's what I was hoping for. 
There was nothing at all off-putting about it, in fact I didn't have any revulsion for any of the tasty treats we ate, despite some concern about how I would do before-hand. I had eaten head cheese before so this wasn't much of a stretch. The next course did not seem much different than the prior course, the salad mixings were about the same, just more of it, with some tomatoes, and the pieces we were all looking for, the pig's ears. The ears were sliced very thinly and marinaded. They blended in so well that I would never have thought twice about them if I hadn't known what it was. 
There was a little bit of a grissly texture to it, but just a tad bit and not bad. By this time everyone was starting to rave about the courses so far and wondering when the real "rough" stuff was going to begin. Then it came: pig's tongue and two eyes, breaded and cut into slices (the two eyes were cut in half, providing four pieces). 
I was so thrilled, I just had to have an eye. The breading and cooking negated any off-putting element about the eye. It tasted fine. Like the experience I had in Louisiana when I ordered a plate of frog legs, oysters, clams, alligator and other delectables and they all came out breaded and fried, I couldn't tell much difference between any of the items. The tongue was large enough that the breading only impacted a small portion of the outside. 
I'd had buffalo tongue before, and probably cow tongue as well, so this was no stretch and it was good. There was also a plate of breaded and fried pig's ears. 
They were one of the best elements of the whole meal. I had two or three servings. They were a nice combination of porky rindy, crispy crunchy, salty, amazing, shoe string pieces. I didn't even want any of the dipping-sauce on them. I told the chef that for the next Super Bowl all I want is the remote and a plate full of those things. They are freaky good. If people knew how good, they would quit eating hot dogs and start eating ears. The chef did say it took a lot of trial and error in the kitchen originally to get them right. I don't know about the past, but they have them "right" now. Joe Amlani, a law firm client and a food connoisseur, who told Judy and I about Incanto in San Francisco, came as a guest and sat next to me. He does not eat pork, but got a companion set of courses that did not include pork and he shared his food with me. The rock shrimp on piece of toast on my plate was from him. 
This incredible course also included one more item, a pizza-like (although elongated) piece of flatbread with prosciutto and mozzarella. 
I was so focused on eyes, tongue and ears that the prosciutto and ham almost left the table without my trying it. Now we were really in business. This was good, serious stuff.  Then came the platter of all platters, filled with kale at the west end, Brussels sprouts at the southeast end, carrots to the northeast, and red peppers to the northwest. 
Filling the center was a 20 pound pig raised in Santa Barbara. In place of its eyes, which we ate the course before, were heirloom tomatoes, and in place of the tongue which we'd also eaten, was a large red hot pepper (isn't it supposed to be an apple?). 
What a presentation. What an eyeful. What an event. By this time, we were the focal point of the restaurant. There were three of us with cameras, walking around the table and taking flash pictures. 
People from other tables were gawking and commenting. It was really fun. All I can say is that everything on that platter was pig-heaven. This may be blasphemous, but I'll say it anyway. I think the vegetables may have been better than the pork. This was proof that anything can be improved by cooking it with bacon. Start with the kale. 
Kale is normally pretty nasty. We used to get it in our produce box and we'd have a hard time finding anything to use it for. You can only eat so many oven roasted kale chips. Well, this kale was cooked in bacon and onions and just slid down the throat like a raw oyster. Wow, it was good. Then the Brussels sprouts. 
They had some charring and a smoky grill taste - also with bacon. People would crave them if they ordinarily tasted like that. I am not lying when I say that the first thing I ate out of the leftovers I brought home was the Brussels sprouts. If I could have had a meal with just those two items, I'd have been happy, but they weren't the half of it. Next were carrots. 
I had one that was quite large and it was okay. Later, I had Rachael hand me another one, smaller and charred black on the outside. Wow, it had flavor. Then I had one of the grilled red hot peppers. I started at the bottom, with little to no heat. Then I hit the top and the seed sack, wow, my mouth burned with moist, smoky, pepper goodness. This collage of tastes was blowing my mind. 
I had a slice of pork with a mixture of liver and fennel in the middle and a nice rind of crunchy, fatty pork skin - a wonderful blend of tastes and perhaps the best part of the pig that was not vegetables (although partially vegetable). Then a piece of pig skin, nice and crunchy, followed by some pulled pork that was all gathered underneath. 
Then I got a couple of pieces of nice fatty pieces of flesh 
that oozed with flavor. 
We asked to have the pig's head taken to the kitchen and opened so we could eat the brain. I thought this would be the toughest part of the whole meal, but it wasn't bad. The presentation of everything was so good and great that none of it seemed really out of the ordinary, but really was all quite out of the ordinary. 
I had several large bites of brain, the first which didn't taste much unlike much of any of the other meat, but the second which contained the kind of tinny taste that Andrew Zimmern talks about when he inevitably eats brain of something about every episode. My proudest moment came when Judy held up the sliced open skull and I pulled off some brain piece still lingering in the skull and popped it in my mouth. I felt like I had arrived. Dessert followed and it should have been an after-thought, except that it wasn't. It was really good. It was vanilla ice cream on a wonderfully chocolate brownie covered with two pieces of crossed candied bacon. 
The dessert, like the vegetables, tried to show up the plattered pig and it was nearly successful. On the drive home later that night Judy turned to me and said, "I would like some more of that dessert." Joe was joined by my partner, John, his wife, Susan, whose pictures did not turn out well (so they're not posted), Rachael and Nate, 
Andrew and Lauren, 
and of course my sweetie, Judy, who endures all of these weird things with me, except that she is also saying this may be the best meal she's ever had. 
Joe arranged for us to get a tour of the kitchen and I got a picture of La Fuji Mama in her element. 
We got there at 6:30 and left at 10:00. A wonderful night, a meal-event. Better than a rock concert, certainly better than the symphony, better than a movie, better than a dinner and a rock concert. If I have any say, and I know I don't, this is what heaven will be like: Pig Heaven. 


  1. Hmmm, I can't QUITE tell from this post whether you liked this meal or not. ;D
    Really, you should be their spokesman.

  2. You have no idea how much I enjoy your food posts. I'm glad you went whole hog for your birthday:)

  3. Great post! I enjoyed reading selected lines to Pete. Example: "I was so thrilled, I just had to have an eye."

  4. Yeah, I had an eye for the eye. I was looking for it.

  5. I admire you, but heaven or not, I'd pass on a couple of those dishes. Happy Birthday!