Scottsdale's Petite Maison restaurant celebrated the spooky season last weekend with the fourth annual Halloween Offal Dinner. The four course meal has been a tradition since 2010, when chef James Porter was inspired to create a menu that brought attention to just how sophisticated offal can be. Sure, chicken feet aren't as pleasing to the eye as a filet mignon, but as demonstrated last weekend, looks aren't everything.
If our list of the ten best offal dishes in metro Phoenix wasn't convincing enough, then Petite Maison's meal would easily have been enough to prove that organ meats can be the makings of flavorful, sumptuous cuisine.
To start the meal chef Porter served an amuse bouche of bone marrow bruscetta topped with chanterelle mushrooms. The bone marrow -- spongy tissue found inside animal bones -- lended itself well toward becoming a rich, if slightly mineral-y tasting butter that, when paired with the fleshy chanterelles, made for a truly satisfying dish. Still the barbequed chicken foot, a late addition to the menu, stole the show for this course with its smoky flavor, crispy skin and abundance of soft gelatin. They aren't for everyone, but in our opinion gnawing around the delicate bones added a bit of mischievousness to the upscale meal.
Next came the first course: chef Porter's homemade head cheese -- the very one we helped make earlier in the week. The dish included pork tongue, ears, cheeks, tails and trotters, seasoned with vinegar, smoked salt and fennel pollen. Cut about a half an inch thick, Porter's head cheese looks almost nothing like the super smooth pate with which you might be familiar, but offers a very similar, and enjoyable, taste. As recommended by the chef, we enjoyed ours with some spicy mustard atop a slice of grilled bread. Though it might have been hard for some to get over the mosaic of fatty gelatin and other odd parts, we swear if you didn't know what comprises this dish, you'd never think twice about eating a whole loaf.
Lamb tongue pastrami arrived at the table with brussels sprout "kraut," pickled mustard seeds and pumpernickel toast next. We've had a soft spot for unusual takes on pastrami since the first time we ate pork belly pastrami at Citizen's Public House and you can bet chef Porter's take did offal fans proud. The flavorful, tender tongue pastrami proved it's more than possible to turn less-than-sexy cuts of meat into delicious creations. The kraut was a perfectly spicy counterpoint to the smokey pastrami and if fact, this may have been our favorite dish of the night.
Even for the most fearless diners, sweet breads can be an intimidating prospect. With bits like thymus glands and heart, they're foreign territory for most American palates. But when they're made into a French cassoulette and complemented with black truffles, you can hardly tell the difference between veal sweet breads and veal. With beans and a rich, meaty broth we could see this being a great comfort dish -- the only potential problem being the recognizable animals parts floating inside. To us the mild, unctuous pieces of heart and liver added to the dishes simple, rustic feel.
The last course meant a Hudson Valley foie gras profiterole, or cream puff, with blackberry jam. After such a rich dinner, we could have gone for a dessert that fell on the lighter, sweeter side of the spectrum but it was nonetheless impressive that chef Porter worked the offal theme from beginning all the way through the end of the dinner.
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Though the menu might seem way beyond the horizons of a typical diner, the fourth iteration of chef Porter's Halloween Offal Menu continued to show his skill with organ meats of all types. It would be easy for a chef to disguise things like liver, ears, tongue and feet in order to appeal to the masses, making it even more impressive that Petite Maison strives to show that offal can be used to produce elegant, delicious and (relatively) approachable food. We'd gladly come back for more next year.