Game on

11/15/2012 3:33 PM

12/14/2012 5:11 PM

Most meat you’ll encounter in a restaurant was raised on a farm. But when you see wild boar on Barrington’s menu, know that “wild” is an accurate adjective. The animal wasn’t raised or touched by human hands until it was harvested. Barrington’s chef and owner Bruce Moffett says no one would attempt to domesticate such an animal. “They’re not exactly docile,” he says. “They’re pretty dangerous.”

But they’re also pretty tasty – at least in Moffett’s hands. “Wild boar is not naturally tender,” he says. “We braise the meat for a long[ital] time to make it tender.” While Barrington’s has procured wild boar chops before, Moffett says they’ll likely just be serving wild boar ragout this fall. It’s made from the shoulder and strictly stew meat.

Moffett describes the meat as “rich, heavy and perfect for fall and winter.” He calls wild boar a cross between steak and pork but says it’s definitely a red meat. Barrington’s will harness the wildness with a creamy risotto and roasted Brussels sprouts.

In years past, Barrington’s has offered venison on its fall menu, but Moffett says a drought in New Zealand has caused the price to skyrocket. While venison has a wild, gamey taste, this New Zealand variety is farm-raised. (And rest assured, diners, that all the meat served in a restaurant – even the wild variety – has been inspected by the FDA.)

Moffett is eager to share his taste for the untamed with Charlotte diners. He suggests anyone trying wild boar – or the bison short rib, which they’ll also offer – order “something big” to drink along with it. “I’d pair it with a Merlot or Zinfandel,” he says.

Wild and local

At Zebra, squab will make an appearance on the winter menu. Never heard of it? It’s a farm-raised baby pigeon, says Zebra chef/owner Jim Alexander. “Squab is like duck, without the fat,” says Alexander. “It’s all dark meat, and the breast is the only part we eat. The thighs and legs go into stock. We serve squab medium to medium rare. It is delicate, sweet, savory and earthy all at once.” Alexander advises pairing it with a red burgundy, Oregon Pinot Noir or a Rosso di Montalcino. Alexander likes to source his food locally. He partners so closely with the farmers who supply Zebra with produce that they check in with him to see what he’d like planted. The Farm at Dover Vineyards in Cabarrus County supplies Zebra with squash and Swiss chard, among other seasonal favorites. Zebra’s squab comes from Palmetto Farms in South Carolina.

“When cooked perfectly, the squab breast is caramelized with the skin on,” Alexander says. “It’s cooked to medium rare, and rests a couple of minutes before slicing. The meat should glisten and appear like a perfectly cooked steak.”

Zebra pairs the bird with wild mushroom duxelles and coats it with squab glace. “We also use squab on about every wine dinner we do,” Alexander says. “I just love squab.”

Chef Alexander is also offering venison on Zebra’s current menu. He’ll offer what he calls the “crème de la crème” – the tenderloin – as well as a slow-braised, bone-in rib or shank.

Just around the corner from Zebra, Rooster’s typically celebrates fall and winter with quail, lamb and the more exotic antelope and bison, with an occasional feature of rabbit.

Rooster’s quail and rabbit are sourced locally from Palmetto Farms and Riot Foods. Anson Mills in South Carolina supplies the restaurant with artisanal grains like faro, Sea Island red peas, grits and the purple-black Forbidden Rice.

“At Rooster’s SouthPark location – and all of Jim Noble’s restaurants – we try to butcher down all of the meat ourselves,” says Jack Dillon, general manager. “We get whole pigs weekly. And from tail to snout, we find use for the animals in the form of house bacons, barbecue, chops and sausages. This goes for lamb and the game birds, as well.”

Dillon says the colder months may be a time to celebrate the wildness of game, but he’s quick to remind people about wild-caught fish, too. “We have a local purveyor, Rock Stone, who drives fish to us from the coast in the back of his pick-up truck. He deals with single-boat fishermen up and down the coast of the Carolinas and delivers snapper, tile, flounder, among others, whole and fresh to our door.”

‘Earthiness and depth’

Dillon says Rooster’s fall and winter entrees typically include Palmetto Farms quail roasted with a pan sauce of blood and navel oranges; house-made pappardelle pasta with a lamb sugo, which he describes as “a deep, rich, ragout-like sauce made with roasting liquid and coarsely chopped vegetables,” roasted red peppers and sage; and braised rabbit with cracked mustard, creme fraiche and Sea Island red peas.

Vegetables of the season pair perfectly with game meats, and Rooster’s selection doesn’t disappoint. Since game is full of big, rich flavor, it requires only the simplest sides. Salads of bitter greens feature fruits such as pears and blood oranges paired with spiced nuts and fennel. Dillon says to look for “locally grown collards with onion and fatback, fire-roasted cauliflower with capers and anchovy, Brussels sprouts with house bacon and cider vinegar.”

Rooster’s is making the most of the season’s harvest, from kabocha squash to local apples. “This year, we will be making our own cider with the apples,” adds Dillon.

Phil Barnes, Noble’s executive chef, says, “The variety and flavor of [the season’s] game and produce can take more acid, more fat and longer, slower cooking times. Spring is a time for bright, quick preparations, while the fall allows us to cash in on all the earthiness and depth that we get out of produce and game from the long Southern growing season.”

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