Taste the pinnacle of Italian tradtion at Locanda Del Lago’s monthly Morso della Bestia dinner (morso della bestia means bite of the beast). Prepared by Executive Chef Gianfranco Minuz, each menu consists of five courses focusing on one animal. Some recent menu courses include: housemade pork liver sausage wrapped in savory cabbage braised in white wine, fresh horseradish sauce; roasted buffalo rib-eye carved tableside, celery root puree, summer truffle-red wine sauce; and rabbit shoulder and belly risotto with zucchini flowers. Each dinner celebrates the flavors of the featured animal.
“We have done lamb, suckling pig, capon chicken, guinea hen, Muscovy duck, rabbit, buffalo (only half a buffalo, was obviously too big to do entire), goose, Santa Barbara halibut, wild Virginia striped bass and local albacore tuna,” says Megan Heritage, Director of Finance & Marketing at the Santa Monica restaurant, Locando Del Lago. The restaurant serves the cuisine of Bellagio and the Lake region of northern Italy. “It is a general practice in Italy to use the entire animal in cooking. The innards are often used for pasta fillings, the bones for broths, the meats for main courses, roasts and leftovers for sauces,” she explains. Suckling pig, buffalo and lamb sell out regularly.
Cooking methods vary depending on the dish, but roasting is preferred. Whole lamb takes about three hours to roast while suckling pig requires four. Although animals are available year round, “We go lighter in the summer using poultry and fish and then heavier gamey meats in the fall and winter seasons,” Heritage says. She reports good profitability because all parts of the animal are used. “The yield is phenomenal. The rise in cost occurs when you only use the best cuts from the animal like the chops or tenderloins and you don’t utilize the other components.”
At Locanda, even the intensely flavored offal is transformed into a variety of dishes. “We have done offal salad over wilted market greens in Nicoise olive vinaigrette or ravioli filled with offal in brown butter sage sauce or a ragu of offal tossed with housemade spaghetti,” Heritage says. The bones, of course, are turned into broth for risottos, sauces and soups. “Surprisingly, most guests who attend the feasts are in love with offal.” She’s observed that those who aren’t fond of organ meats are usually American. Europeans are generally familiar with and partial to them.
Morso della Bestia dinners happen once a month for $48 at the restaurant, which includes house wines.