Nothing beats the special dinners at Oliveto. Even with my high expectations, I have never had a disappointing meal at this restaurant and I'm in good company.
In order of most to least favorite dishes of the night:
Antipasto of pork tongue, artichokes, and black truffles - tender pork tongue and quartered artichokes in a earthy cream sauce.
Canederli: Friulian bread and pork dumplings with pork and date sugo - definitely one of the standouts of the night. Soft meatball-like dumplings on a slightly sweet date sauce that complimented the pork perfectly.
Spaghetti with pork coppa confit, Calabrian hot peppers, breadcrumbs, and oregano - a favorite from last year, and another favorite at our table again. Beautifully textured and cooked spaghetti dotted with chunks of pork coppa, in a porky, spicy sauce with nice crunch from the breadcrumbs.
Pappardelle nere with pork heart and wild mushroom ragu - You just can't go wrong with the pasta here, perfect texture and seasoning. The wild mushroom ragu was so deeply flavored with wild mushrooms it tasted like they had distilled an entire forest of mushrooms into the sauce -- it worked with the strong flavors of the pork heart.
Cannelloni of pork, Chanterelle mushrooms, green garlic, and Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese - when we ordered this, I thought it would be dominated by the flavor of the cheese. In fact, it was well balanced pieces of pork, rolled into al dente canneloni pasta with the cheese providing salt and creamy texture, topped with raw chanterelles that added freshness and a slightly bitter counternote.
Sardinian pork cheeks braised with saffron and mint; aged provolone and Red Flint corn polenta - this was a rich deeply flavored stew, I'm not sure I picked up much saffron flavor, but it was very pork flavored and the little pieces of polenta rounded out the dish;
Pegai: Modenese hazelnut ravioli with wild boar spezzatino - Great flavor from the wild boar and hazelnut ravioli, but the density of the pasta with the hazelnut filling made it a little more chewy than I was expecting. This was probably meant to play against the soft chunks of wild boar.
Spiedino of pork liver, Meyer lemon, crostini, pancetta with garlic-hazelnut butter - this one was a bit controversial at the table. I enjoyed it but I like liver. A few folks got large chunks of liver which overwhelmed their palate.
Both the vegetable side dishes were somewhat of an afterthought for us and judging from the small plates it seemed like they were treated as an afterthought by the kitchen as well.
Shaved fennel and puntarella - a little plate of thinly shaved fennel simply dressed with lemon or some sort of vinaigrette.
Shaved Brussel Sprouts - fresh brussels finely shaved and mixed with cheese.
The desserts were good, though not as remarkable as the other courses. Just something sweet to end a fantastic meal.
Valhrona chocolate-caramel tart with candy coated pancetta and vanilla sea salt - a very rich tart that satisfied the chocolate lovers at the table. I liked the salt against the bittersweet chocolate.
Larded puff pastry cornucopia filled with Seville orange ice cream and kumquat-pomegranate compote - the puff pastry was a little less tender than what I expected, but the orange ice cream and kumquat were nice bright notes to lighten the end of the meal.
As we were leaving one of my companions said, "I thought what we ordered was so delicious, but I'm looking at the plates that everyone else has and their food looks great too!"
Unfortunately, this was the last night of the special menu, so we knew we wouldn't have an opportunity to further explore it. Next year, we'll have to come to an earlier day of the event.