The Offally Spooky menu at Wood and Vine
Hollywood (Los Angeles), California
Spooky is a relative term; as it applies to cuisine, offal, entrails and otherwise questionable animal parts may evoke a gag reflex from Fear Factor contestants, while I find these “organic” cuts to be flavorful and enticing. Some folks will sit bolt upright in their room with all the lights on after watching The Exorcist, while I have to side with Beetlejuice who proudly boasts that he’s seen The Exorcist about a hundred and sixty-seven times, and it keeps getting funnier every time he sees it. A recent invitation to sample Wood and Vine’s Offally Spooky menu this past Halloween was too good to pass up for several reasons: for starters, the menu was heavily laden with charcuterie and dishes utilizing what was historically throw-away cuts; secondly, Wood and Vine casts its shadow upon the stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (a prime Halloween destination second only to Salem, Massachusetts); and, finally, this gastronomic fright-fest was to be Executive Chef Gavin Mills’ swan song, as the dinner was scheduled a week before his departure to helm Tavern in Westwood.
A British expatriate, Chef Mills hit these shores in 2002 to ply his craft at his uncle’s now dearly departed Sage and Onion restaurant in Santa Barbara – after riding the wind to Charleston, and New York City (which included an appearance on The Food Network’s “Chopped”, where we took home the gold in the Chocolate, Mussels and Figs challenge), Mills returned to Southern California as Sous Chef at Bastide before landing the gig at Wood and Vine as Executive Chef in 2011. Like many of his fellow countrymen, Chef Mills is well-versed in the art of charcuterie and a staunch proponent of the nose-to-tail movement (as indicated by his Twitter handle, @snout2tail).
For those who have not experienced Wood and Vine, the ambiance merges the air of an established gastropub with the feel of an old British haberdashery. The dining area in the back courtyard is both confusing and fun – rough-hewn wooden shingles cover the wall to an upright arm’s height; past that, sheer wall rises up over a hundred feet to give the impression that you’re dining at the bottom of a deep box, and the occasional buzz of helicopter blades from the heliport directly above contributes to the quirkiness of the space.
The dinner began with a headcheese variation that bore the awkward name of “shaved pig head” (which sounded like a member of a roving porcine skinhead gang). Missing was the collagen-rich gelatin that typically holds pressed cranial bits in suspension, although he slices were ringed in a layer of pork fat while thin ribbons of leathery pig ear membrane ran along one side. The cold slabs of pork product were like savory luncheon meat with alternating pockets of creaminess and chewiness. The dish was lightly accented with chopped olives, parsley leaves and lemon, and if this was any indication of what the meal would be like, it was proving to be about as spooky as a Bubble Guppy (although on second consideration, those aquatic pipsqueaks are somewhat creepy). To appease the vegetarian sensibilities of a segment of our dining party, a roasted red and golden beet salad was ordered off the regular menu, and the fresh and colorful dish acted as a diversion from the onslaught of animal parts to follow.
Chef Mills’ lamb brain ravioli was mellow and about as frightening as Captain EO (well, probably a lot less frightening than Captain EO). The entry-level zombie food was encased in a thick layer of al dente pasta, and between the flavors the bacon, sage, lemon and parmesan imparted one could barely taste the morsel of grey matter within. A pyre of horizontally halved marrow bones offered some familiar flavor, but there was no new ground broken here – the marrow was prepared in a manner that maintained some substance without having the beef butter melt into a liquid mess.
One of the menu’s high points was Chef Mills’ take on the classic British black pudding, albeit more savory and moist. Wedges of candied apple accented the flavor and took the metallic edge off the blood component, and scoops of the creamy pureed potato bed that the blood wheels rested on also helped take the edginess out of the dish. Of all the dishes on the Offally Spooky menu, the superlative entry was the fried sweetbreads. These colossal nuggets were packed with flavor and had the texture of fresh, perfectly prepared scallops – each lump of thymus was easily cleft with a fork-edge. I can state, with a high degree of confidence, that these were by far the best sweetbreads I had ever eaten.
The more substantial meats were brought out towards the end of the meal. Beef tongue was smoked for two hours and finished on the grill, the thick slabs of meat providing an experience unlike any tongue I’ve ever had in my mouth. Each bite was incredibly moist and required very little chewing, although the skin seems to take on a different quality than the melty flesh inside. The calf’s liver was a little more daunting – although it was accompanied by candied bacon and sherry brown butter, the other ingredients did very little to mask the strong taste. Even the steak and kidney pie (which often has an off-putting fragrance and flavor) was delicious, the steak having been broken down to stringy muscle fiber like a slow-cooked pot roast). The savory meat was sheltered by a thick, flaky crust that complemented the pie’s filling admirably.
A pumpkin bread pudding with a ghostly orb of sage ice cream perched on top was the perfect foil for the entrail-fest. Paired with a sturdy cup of coffee, the dessert evoked the comforting spirit of autumn more so than the headless horseman’s cranial substitute. Although the meal barely dipped the needle into the green on my spooky meter, I can see how some of the dishes could be intimidating to diners unaccustomed to consuming offals. I know that Chef Mills will bring his flair for making art of underutilized cuts with him to Tavern, and Wood and Vine will undoubtedly carry on his legacy after his departure – to think otherwise is just plain scary
NOTE: This cost for this meal was provided by the restaurant. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.