Bacon Week honors ancient rites1/30/2013
Bacon Week is Des Moines’ Lupercalia, or more literally, our Fastnacht — a series of pig-outs preceding the fasts of Lent. Iowa celebrants are more apt to wear hog costumes than goatskins, but the soft underbelly of this state’s most plentiful mammal provides inspiration for a week of excess and decadence that has been celebrated since the days when satyr gods partied with mere mortals.
Like all great excesses, Bacon Week actually kicked off several weeks ago with a Bacon Elegance dinner hosted by Splash and cooked by Dom Iannarelli, a chef who never needed an excuse to indulge voluptuary urges. Splash itself was looking more decadent than ever. Its chairs have been reupholstered with red ostrich hides. Dinner began with a cocktail hour featuring Peace Tree’s Red Rambler beer and three kinds of oysters — Bienville, Rockefeller and Casino. Having been told that “there was never enough bacon” at previous dinners, Iannarelli replaced bread baskets with bacon baskets — one of Farmland bacon and another of sesame crusted, candied bacon from Jethro’s. The latter were wrapped in baby bunt linens, as if first-born piglets were being sacrificed to the gods of fertility. Maple glazed bacon biscuits and bacon butter were then served as a first course.
This year’s festival carries a Viking Quest theme that was honored in several courses. Gravlax (raw, cured salmon) were served in a pâté with a bacon arugula salad in a cucumber bowl drizzled in wasabi dijon vinaigrette. That was paired with an herb-infused Aquavit vodka cocktail. Next came a stew of scallops, Prince Edward Island mussels, shrimp and several kinds of clams, some as large as oysters. They all swam in a cream sauce inside a bowl of toasted Icelandic rye bread. That was paired with Peace Tree’s Blonde Fatale. Bacon and crab rangoons were served with chile sauce, lemon zest and micro greens. Then came a marvelous course of giant shrimp ravioli en brodo with sweet pea and sweet corn succotash. That was paired with a Jean Marc Brocard Kimmeridgeon 2008, which sommelier Ben Nelsen described as a declassified Chablis and “a great bargain” at less than $15 in liquor stores.
The evening’s piece de resistance came as jars of shark rillettes. Shark meat was poached in its own fat and stored with a combination of pork belly lard and rendered butter to be spread on toast points. Vikings were fully satiated, but next came a surf-and-turf course of bacon-wrapped lobster cake and a grilled sirloin — bacon pressée plated on a wild mushroom fondue with basil mashed potatoes. That was paired with a Jean Paul Picard Rouge 2010 in which Pinot Noir dominated the blend. Bacon-wrapped sausages, soaked in Templeton Rye, appeared as a sadistic intermezzo before a final course tempted folks to break their personal caloric intake records. Maple, pecan and bacon ice cream was served in giant homemade cones with bacon brittle and paired with Bell’s double cream stout.
Side Dishes Blank Park Zoo will host a “Wild at Heart” Valentine’s dinner that features three courses catered by Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, for $47… Triple Crown at Prairie Meadows will present a special Valentine’s Day buffet including prime rib, steak de Burgo, salmon and crab legs for $25… AJ’s Steakhouse will feature Valentine’s specials all weekend… Vines to Wines will produce two “ice style” wines on Valentine’s Day, a Riesling and a Cabernet Franc. For $39 one can make wine and return two months later to harvest three or four bottles to take home… Baru66 will serve Valentine’s special menus Feb. 14 -16; $60 for three courses and $115 for six. Those are double the usual prices, so expect extreme indulgences… The Lunar New Year Koreancopia feast will be held Feb. 17 at Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge. Tickets ($25 at 327-9191) sold out a week in advance of last year’s New Year’s dinner. CV
Bacon Fest is on Feb. 9 in the Elwell and Varied Industries Buildings of the Iowa State Fairgrounds.