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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fatted Calf's Happy Hour: A Nibble, a Sip, and Some Butchery

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 2:47 PM

click to enlarge A butcher goes to work with a hacksaw at Fatted Calf's Wednesday happy hour. - SEAN TIMBERLAKE
  • Sean Timberlake
  • A butcher goes to work with a hacksaw at Fatted Calf's Wednesday happy hour.

Carnivores squealed with glee when Fatted Calf opened its doors in Hayes Valley last year, giving owner-butcher Taylor Boetticher's own brand of artisanal charcuterie a permanent home in San Francisco. Boetticher complemented the gleaming meat case with shelves of high-end gourmet products like Rancho Gordo beans and exquisite pastas and olive oils, and of course there's plenty of ready-to-eat fare such as daily sandwich specials. But Boetticher strives to remind the neighborhood that the new space is more than a shrine to finished meat product; it's a full-service butcher shop. To remedy that, he started hosting free Wednesday happy hours.

Generally, the work takes place in the back room, a climate-controlled room behind a wall paneled with Wedgewood stove tops. Each Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, the staff at Fatted Calf takes their work out onto the main floor for a little free-range butchery.

The time slot is not arbitrary, since 90 minutes is about the right amount of time it takes for two trained staff to completely butcher down a hog, and it's also short enough that food safety is not an issue. It's a sight to behold as they break the beast down into primals and then increasingly small and specific cuts. The butchers move with precision and speed, whether wielding hacksaws or boning knives, and they adeptly move pieces on and off the cutting tables. From the initial cuts, bigger pieces like the head, harboring a grim smirk over the room, and legs are left to hang by the case while they work on various parts.

click to enlarge The happy hour butchery demos make some shoppers rethink what they buy. - SEAN TIMBERLAKE
  • Sean Timberlake
  • The happy hour butchery demos make some shoppers rethink what they buy.

Shoppers observe while enjoying complimentary sips and nibbles. Last week the staff was serving up Magnolia Blue Bell Bitter alongside some tender meatballs and porky white beans on crostini.

It's a good opportunity to observe what goes into the task of butchering an entire animal, as well as seeing it done so skillfully. It's also an excellent opportunity to source unusual cuts, and to get advice from Boetticher himself on how to prepare them. Boetticher says the happy hours do cause people to shop differently. Some still opt for the obvious pork loin or chops, but occasionally someone will buy the entire head or make more specific requests. (It's advisable to get there early or call ahead if you have a special request, lest the pig be completely broken down before you can stake your claim.) Boetticher intends to mix it up, occasionally butchering other animals like lamb and goat to keep it fresh.

Butchery as spectator sport may not make it on to ESPN, but it's an entertaining excursion, and the social factor makes it even suitable for date material ― as long as you're not dating a vegetarian.

Fatted Calf: 320 Fell (at Gough), 400-5614 . Free happy hour takes place Wed., 5:30-7 p.m.

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts. Follow SFoodie on Twitter: @SFoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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Sean Timberlake

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