High on hog

In case you missed it, here is my review of the fourth annual La Maialata dinner at Cantinetta Luca that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been to not one but two epic feasts of pork-ly delights.

First it was the Big Night at Belle pop-up dinner dedicated to pork. Then, last Friday night, I attended Cantinetta Luca’s annual La Maialata pig dinner.

Pork, pork and more pork! Cantinetta Luca's menu was full of porcine delights for La Maialata.

For one night only, the menu at Cantinetta Luca is filled with pork, pig and hog. Everything on the menu — from starters to salads, entrees to side dishes — featured pork.

We started with a couple appetizers. The arancini — fried risotto balls filled with speck, leeks, thyme and Fontina (five for $6) — were excellent.

Delightful nuggets of risotto stuffed with speck and cheese.

The golden nuggets were filled with savory cheese and a bite of salty ham. We devoured these tasty bites so fast, I was tempted to order a second batch, but exercised restraint knowing more pork delights would be coming along shortly.

The cured Capicola was nicely paired with bitter arugula and tart lemon.

The carpaccio — sliced sweet capicola, topped with rucola, lemon and shaved Parmesan ($10) — was flavorful. The bitter rucola (arugula) and tart lemon offered a nice contrast to the cured meat.

The warm spinach salad — with sieved egg, crispy shallots and pancetta vinaigrette ($10) — was the only disappointment during dinner.

The spinach salad had nice flavors, but I wish it had been made with Brussels sprouts instead of spinach.

The crumbled egg, thin onions and crunchy pancetta were so flavorful, but the spinach canvas was disappointing. I think it would have been a slam dunk if this salad had been paired with warm brussels sprouts instead.

The entrées set us back in the right course.

A delicious bowl of fall flavors: pork cheek ravioli with chanterelle mushrooms.

The ravioli — stuffed with pork cheek and served with swiss chard and chanterelle mushrooms ($18) — was so rich. It was an elegant take on a hearty winter stew — perfect for the seriously chilly weather we’ve been having.

Mmmmm. Pork belly.

The pancia — braised pork belly with spiced apple and cabbage ($22) — expertly combined sweet and savory. The sweet apple and cabbage made a good counterpoint to the richness of the pork belly.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t pork in the desserts — a bacon-infused gelato would have been a nice touch.

But Cantinetta Luca’s standard dessert menu didn’t disappoint — I enjoyed the yogurt panna cotta with orange, miniature meringues and mint ($5) and, of course, the tiramisu ($7) was as tasty as always.

There's no pork in it, but the yogurt panna cotta was a light end to the meal of epic proportions.

While La Maialata may come but once a year, Executive Chef Jason Balestrieri keeps the menu at Cantinetta Luca well stocked with some delicious Italian food — including a generous salume selection — year-round.

Cantinetta Luca is on Dolores Avenue, between Ocean and Seventh avenues, in Carmel. 625-6500 or cantinettaluca.com.

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