I have a confession to make: I’ve been having a deep, personal relationship with the pork two-ways from California Grill. You may say “Oh, it’s just another pretty dish” or “How can it be any better than its previous incarnation, the pork loin?” Well, it’s better, trust me. And it’s completely worthy of its own post.
If you dined at the California Grill before the recent refurbishment, you know that the pork loin was its number one dish for two decades. It was simple peasant food really, just a basic polenta flavored with goat cheese and topped with a few slices of lightly seasoned tenderloin and some button mushrooms. It’s simplicity, of course, was also what made it perfect. But while it was filling and satisfying, it had gotten a little bit boring. In recent years, I’d found myself straying over to the scallops or, if I was feeling especially adventurous, the sushi. It, not unlike the décor and the overall feel of the rest of the restaurant, was in serious need of an overhaul.
When the California Grill opened back up a few weeks ago, I was pleased to see that they had updated, but not removed entirely, some of its best dishes, the pork being one of them. Now you’ll get a smaller serving of pork loin topped with fried sage and another serving of pork belly. Pork belly, you say? Think a big square of bacon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
The pork loin is still the same delicious piece of pork you remember and the fried sage adds a nice crunch and flavor. I’m not a huge fan of sage, but frying it transforms it into something earthier and more fragrant. I could have eaten a pile of it, but that would have been unseemly. It would have also meant that I was neglecting the delicious polenta, which had a much more tangy flavor than I remember before, the kitchen being much more generous with the goat cheese. The dish also comes with a slather of applesauce, but it’s barely worth mentioning. It was good, but it was not the star of the plate, really just a little bit of a palate cleanser.
I’ve saved the best for last, however: The pork belly. Crispy on the outside with a small amount of meat that most closely resembles pulled pork, you then bite into pork fat which is cooked to the point where it’s just a couple degrees shy of being liquid. Years ago when I lived in Europe, I would see people spreading pork fat on bread and wonder if they were crazy. Butter, yes. I can see that. But pork fat? It sounded awful. But in that minute I got it. It was a delicious personal awakening.
At this point, I pretty much forgot all my manners. My boss had asked for a bite earlier and I conveniently forgot all that, making the decision right then and there that I wouldn’t be sharing–let her get her own pork fat! My charming dinner companion to my left, a Disney podcaster, mentioned something about the media event he had attended earlier that week and I just nodded politely. He could have told me that they’d had Walt there himself. I may have politely mumbled something, but I’ll be honest with you and admit, I wasn’t listening. At all. Because, pork fat. It’s heaven.
I’m happy to report that the restaurant has taken an amazing dish and made it better. They’ve also made me very happy. Perhaps more happy than I have a right to be. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to see if I can get a reservation for November.