Eating Like There's No September. The End of Summer Feast. Cecconi's Ferragosto Pork Roast. Cecconi's - West Hollywood, CA.
A pagan feast.
The end of summer does things to people. During the old agrarian days in Italy, the Ferragosto was a time to celebrate the end of the summer harvest and blow off a lot of steam by doing fun activities in absolute excess like eating, drinking and doing the wild thing. It was party time for everyone, even slaves and servants.
Today, Italians simply see it as an chance to skip town for one last summer hurrah. In the U.S., celebrations of the Ferragosto mostly manifest themselves as food and drink orgies leaving out the traditional orgy orgies. In other words, the Ferragosto is another marvelous excuse to enjoy food and drink.
In West Hollywood, there's an unlikely, high-end Italian restaurant celebrating the Ferragosto called Cecconi's, which specializes in the cooking of Northern Italy with the sensibilities of health conscious Californian cuisine.
Cecconi's Ferragosto centerpiece, as with most feasts, focuses on a roast pig. This particular swine was rotated on a spit outside, behind the restaurant, assuring that most of West Hollywood below Santa Monica Blvd. would at least get a hypnotic waft.
The Ferragosto feast began balls out with three hefty Wood-oven Baked Meatballs, each pure in flavor without too much seasoning to muddle the minced flesh. Smothered in a bright, clean tomato sauce, this appetizer represented simple, fresh and hearty as proudly as the colors on the Italian flag.
Tiny yet tasty.
Like gleaming ceramic ovals, the 1/2 dozen Quail Eggs huddled in a nest of gently sweet cream sauce with a pair of large caper buds jutting out the center was the most delicate of small plates. Each one was a pleasure in subtlety and beauty in simplicity.
Will grab onto your taste buds!
As Italians pride themselves in the perfect pot of pasta with that ideal al dente bite, the same can hold true for perfectly grilled octopus. The Grilled Octopus, Lemon, Capers & Olives is not complicated food. Keeping octopus simple is the best way to serve it, however the best and freshest product must be at the foundation. The chunky, bite-sized tentacles with nicely charred and crispy suckers were smoky, sweet with a light fish flavor, pleasantly chewy and, for once, didn't fight back. It was my favorite appetizer of the meal.
Give me some of your tots!
Crunchy, fluffy, delicate: these are the sensations when luxuriating in little fried Croquettes of Salt Cod at Cecconi's. It's fun and delightful, like grown-up tater tots. The fried, crispy sheath covering a mash of salt cod and herbs is a happy contrast of textures that will bring a smile to anyone eating it.
I've been sucking the marrow out of life for decades now, and I don't mean that in a Poetry 101 metaphor kind of way either. I've been literally extracting with my mouth that gloppy gloop embedded within dense animal bone since I was a kid. Chicken, pig, cow, even fish, I've sucked it up with gusto and sometimes a straw.
Cecconi's beef marrow is roasted with herbs and lightly seasoned. Sawed cleanly in half, the bone is presented for easy scooping then spreading onto crostini. I don't normally have marrow this way because I'm half-barbarian, but when in Rome or West Hollywood, you do as the locals do and enjoy it off of tiny toast. It's a creamy, oily and a great example of eating the entire beast.
The tongue exploder!
The OMFG plate of the feast was, hands down, Linguine, Vongole & Urchin.
The Italian classic spaghetti ai ricci di mare is a favorite of mine whether enjoying the purely Puglian original or as the Japanese revision. A pasta dish turned luscious with tranches of sweet-briny urchin gonads that melt upon contact with the steaming noodles creating an instant oceanic sauce is simply irresistible.
Running a tight second is another classic linguine alla vongole. White wine, garlic, small clams and linguine come together in gorgeous harmony, bits of goodness with every twist of the fork.
Cecconi's fused these two outstanding pasta dishes together causing something of a nuclear reaction in my mouth. It is an extraordinarily delicious bowl of linguine, each bite of pasta coated with a layer of urchin and clam flavors. Generously heaped with fat clams and glowing with the bright orange of urchin, this dish unified everything good in each ingredient creating a full, invigorating and dynamic experience that lights up the palate. I had a dream about eating another bowl of this slightly sweet, savory linguine that very night only to wake up with drool on my pillow. It was that good.
The raison d'être for Cecconi's Ferragosto was, of course, the Pork Roast, a fine swine that had been patiently rotating on a spit for hours.
Once again the portioning was generous as the pork effectively took up most of the real estate on the plate. The meat was juicy and a bit sweet. A strip of crispy crackling bound three slabs of pork together.
Extreme Cracklin' Close Up!
As the Ferragosto's climax, so to speak, the pork roast was a success. Complemented by roast peppers and sweet tomato sauce, the tender, well-seasoned pork was made sweeter and more moist. A platter of sandwich accoutrements of ciabatta, light BBQ sauce and chunky apple sauce was nearby for a change of pace.
A tough cream puff.
With my calorie count heading toward Joey Chestnut territory, I closed big with Profiteroles. That's cream puff to you, tough guy, although this one was filled with hazelnut gelato rather than puffs of cream. The pastry puff was delicate yet durable enough to stand up to the gelato. With chunks of crushed hazelnut, the hazelnut gelato was a nice duet of creamy and crunchy textures. Tied together with chocolate syrup, it was a super sweet ending to a ferocious feast commemorating the Ferragosto.
August is almost over. Close out the summer like the Italians do and eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow is September.
8764 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Open: Mon-Wed 8am-12am