Alexander’s Steakhouse of Cupertino may be famous for its princely Wagyu steaks and playful puffs of cotton candy.
Now, it’s adding another lure: Mangalitsa pork.
The heritage breed pig with the distinct wooly hair is originally from Hungary. It is known for its lush fat. So much so that it was once raised for its lard, which is supposedly very clean and pure tasting.
Executive Chef Gerardo Naranjo already has been playing around with various cuts from the half pig he got in a few weeks ago. He can barely contain his excitement about the whole 400-pound Mangalitsa that the restaurant will be receiving this week.
The Mangalitsas are from Csarda Haz, a family-owned farm in Davis. The free-range pigs are nourished on a diet of cover crops of peas and oats, as well as English walnuts from trees on the farm that are nearly 60 years old.
Look for the Cupertino restaurant to feature nightly specials of Mangalitsa in various preparations, including a 12-ounce loin chop for $80. With the restaurant set to get regular shipments of Mangalitsa (also known as Mangalica in Hungary), the artisan pork also is expected to be featured eventually at its sister restaurants, Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco and The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse in Palo Alto.
Last week, I was invited in for a sneak peek and taste of this fabulous pork in a few preparations Naranjo has been playing around with.
Dinner began with house-made bread, including a pesto popover. Just a little something to whet the appetite before getting down to porcine business.
That didn’t take long, as the first course soon arrived: Pork belly, of course, cooked sous-vide for 10 hours, then served with fried kale, creamy parsnip puree, black garlic and rounds of kumquat. There was about an inch of fat on the belly. Don’t even think about cutting it off and pushing it to the side. It would be a crime to waste this fat, which is juicy, succulent and yes, sweet. Do an extra mile on the treadmill tomorrow if you must, but don’t pass up this fat.
Next, a pig trotter terrine capped with curly frisee and a slick of Dijon mustard. The sharpness of the mustard contrasted with the lushness of the terrine, which had a chunky yet tender texture.
That was followed by Mangalitsa sausage, with a crumbly texture like chorizo. Braised artichokes and Swiss chard added a winter-in-the-country touch, and basil pesto gave the whole dish a bright touch of herbaceousness. For even more pork on pork action, there were bits of bacon (cured from the Mangalitsa, of course) to lend a hint of smokiness.
A scoop of pineapple-coconut sorbet was offered to cleanse the palate before the main course — what our server called “the prime rib of pork.”
Indeed, with its rosy red center and thick cut, it did almost look like that. What it was, though, was roasted pork shoulder, served simply with its natural jus. This is the preparation that will give you a real taste of what makes this pig so special. The meat is firm, juicy and boasts a subtle sweetness akin to “ham light” for a better phrase. You’d swear the chef must have added some sugar somewhere, but nope, that flavor vaguely reminiscent of Easter ham is all natural to this particular pig.
In a nice touch, the pork shoulder was served with a side of Brussels sprouts roasted with cranberries and walnuts from the farm, the same ones that the Mangalitsas forage.
A cheese course, thankfully small, arrived after all of that: two slivers of aged cheddar with candied kumquats.
Dessert arrived dramatically under a lidded Japanese earthenware donabe. The server lifted the lid to reveal a warm, toasted slice of shortbread with diced apple and a quenelle of miso ice cream before pouring warm caramel over it all. I’d had a version of miso ice cream before when I dined a few months before at The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse. There, I found it extremely subtle tasting. Here, it was full-on, unmistakably miso tasting, with that salty, savory taste quite prominent. But against the sweetness of the caramel and apples, it was actually a nice counterpoint that added another dimension to the dessert.
Of course, dinner doesn’t end with just one sweet at Alexander’s. There are always mignardises — this time, tiny bites of fudge, shortbread and brittle. And of course, the signature cotton candy, spun around a paper cone, and set upright dramatically on a stand on your table for all to gaze upon.
Alexander’s is definitely a splurge. But if all you’ve ever experienced is lean, rather tasteless supermarket pork, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the real-deal pig. You won’t regret it.