Growing up, my best friend Suzy Q (then and now) used to raise bunny rabbits in her backyard in Pacifica. In the spring, there would sometimes be two or three new litters at the same time, and we would set up a tent on the lawn and let the dozens of fluff balls run around us in circles. Although many of the bunnies were sold once they got big enough, there were some extremely special ones, like Mr. Casey, who used to ride around on Suzy Q's shoulder like a parrot and who I became the loving godmother of at a full-blown bunny baptism. So, you can imagine my tangle of emotions when I spent last Friday night at a pop-up rabbit tasting dinner at La Victoria Bakery, for a meal with the Whole Beast Supper Club.
The concept of this dining group is absolutely righteous. Eat the whole animal and also try out new parts of plants that you might not have thought of before as edible. The rabbits for the meal were provided by Devil's Gulch Ranch in Nicasio. The farmer, Mark Pasternak, was also at the dinner to see for himself what an all rabbit meal would be like.
The evening started with a hearty offal stew, which contained livers, hearts, cheeks, etc, and heirloom beans, that was far from awful. It was delicious. Next came batter fried shoulders (read: southern fried chicken), topped with this amazing homemade pickled black mustard, which I could have eaten a vat of with just a spoon. Back in the kitchen, it was obvious that the chef, Kevin Bunnell, was totally enjoying himself. After chatting with him a bit, it's clear that Bunnell is in the food business for the adventure aspect of it. One of their last dinners was all about pig, and Bunnell got the pig for the meal from a guy he knew that knew another guy who had a pig. It was dropped off at Bunnell's house, on ice, still covered in hair, which meant Bunnell had to learn how to butcher a pig then and there. He loves getting creative with the different parts of meat and seems determined to really use the whole beast.
The rest of the dishes that evening included a delicious braised leg on a mound of fresh made pasta, topped with roasted baby artichokes, and then a seared loin on a bed of wild mushrooms. I loved Bunnell's use of greens too, from delicate spring pea shoots to crisp fava leaves (who knew you could eat fava leaves? And they're so yummy!). And to top it all off, there was a carrot sponge cake coated with a fluffy fennel-thyme bavarian cream custard that was over the top decadent and a delight to devour.
So, I made it through four courses of rabbit (and half a bottle of wine) and at the end of the night, I have to say I was pretty darn satisfied. Mr. Casey, you will always have a special place in my heart, but now, some of your peers have a special place on my palate, too.