When the chefs at Feast, Richard Knight and James Silk, opened their nose-to-tail dining establishment on Westheimer in mid-2008, the response from many Houston diners was "What's nose-to-tail?" The technique of using every part of the animal in dishes, often involving "offal" or entrails, has since been thoroughly documented by Houston food writers, and Feast has gone on to obtain national acclaim.
Still, some visit Feast but avoid the more esoteric offerings -- which is a shame, because some of the best fare is that created from all parts of the animal, especially the pig.
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I'll admit that my own commitment to eating various parts of the porky menu at Feast has been conservative; I've mainly indulged in the glorious, crispy roasted-pork-belly dish. But recently, I attended an Outstanding in the Field dinner at Jolie Vue Farms near Brenham. Many of us were ecstatic to hear that Knight and Silk would be part of the team of all-star chefs preparing dinner. What could be better than to team up the best-known piggy preparers in Houston with the locally grown, organic, free range pork products for which Jolie Vue Farms is known?
The Feast boys did not disappoint. Not only did they do a nose-to-tail-inspired dinner, they literally made nose and tail dishes. Before the dinner, staffers roamed the grounds with giant platters of what looked like chicken tenders, but were in fact breaded and baked whole pig's tails. Perhaps conditioned to take a big bite out of anything remotely resembling a chicken tender, we all took the first bite only to discover that pigs' tails do in fact contain bones. Who knew? The tails had an intense fatty flavor, with strands of meat combining with layers of rubbery, gelatinous fat.
After taking our seats at the dinner table, the Feast chefs did a complete about-face and prepared roasted pig snout as an appetizer. Pig snout is just what you might imagine -- the last inch or so of a pig's nose, cut off in section. Even if they had not told us what it was, the little pig nostrils and the occasional wayward whisker were a dead giveaway. This caused quite a commotion at the dining table, with several guests refusing to even accept the plate, while others took one bite and tossed the rest. The field surrounding the dining table was then strewn with rejected pig snouts, calling to mind some kind of pig-hating Colonel Kurtz compound.
As for the rest of us, we heartily dug in to the snouts. They came with some kind of garnish on top that most of us flicked away, eager to sample the partial pig face staring up at us. It was delicious. Once you broke through the tough skin, it had the taste and texture of a fatty ham. I imagine that if you blindfolded the other diners, did not tell them what it was, and fed it to them, they would have loved it. Come to think of it, maybe that's what Feast should do when squeamish diners stumble into their nose-to-tail dining emporium on lower Westheimer.