Lardo. I love lardo, that delectable and silky salumi made from fatback. It melts in your mouth in the most sensual way, and, when it’s done well, is full of flavor and nuance. I’ve had the pleasure of eating it in many places around the world, including Italy and Spain, and when I find it on menus, I smile. (Next time you’re in Tuscany, look for some lardo do Colonnata… eat it with a crusty bread and a glass of Verdicchio.)
If you are in Houston and want lardo, you’re in luck, because it’s one of my dishes of the week, and you can find two great examples of it now at Charivari, where the chef and owner, Johann Schuster (in my opinion, one of the most skilled and knowledgeable chefs in Houston), cures his own.
Earlier this week at Charivari, I sampled lardo cured with Hungarian paprika — subtle flavor here, and when I say that it melts in your mouth, I am being literal.The other lardo, made by Schuster from Mangalitsa pork, is smoky and wonderfully rich. The chef served his lardo on a platter that also featured pickled onions, fresh horseradish, and a head cheese made of pork tongue.
Charcuterie overkill, you ask? Definitely not. See the photo below? I ate everything on the platter, spreading the horseradish on slices of bread and draping the pork over the whole. No greasy residue left on my tongue, nothing over-flavored, all worthy of a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva.
A week or so before I encountered the lardo at Charivari, I paid a visit to Nancy’s Hustle, and in addition to discovering an interior space that manages to be both functional and stylishly appealing, I ate some really good Manti — Turkish dumplings in English. I was last in Istanbul in 2011, and ordered Manti often during my stay. It’s comfort food at its best. The ones served at Nancy’s Hustle are stuffed with slightly spicy lamb and plated with labneh, lamb jus, and a tomato vinaigrette.
These dumplings are a good thing, though I wish that their edges had been a bit thinner; several of mine were a tad thick, which made them “doughier” than they should have been. That’s a minor quibble, because next time I go to the restaurant I’m ordering them if they’re on the menu.
The plate is a success, because each component of it melds with aplomb, and what results hits all of your palate’s sections in a way that produces nothing but bliss. (Interesting fact: Manti are believed to have been carried to Turkey by Mongol horsemen the 13th century.)
Lardo and Manti, two ancient foods whose histories could fill volumes, prepared well in Houston. What are you waiting for?