Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Gastro Chic New York City Entry #107 Spotted Pig

One of shocks to the Gotham culinary mind was the awarding of a Michelin star to New York's first - and perhaps only - "gastropub." Here was the cute little Spotted Pig in Babbo's rarified company (Chef Batali is reported to be a silent partner at the Pig, along with Ken Friedman and London Chef April Bloomfield). There was no doubt that the Pig was a convivial neighborly place, but could a saloon be anointed for its haute cuisine?

It is said that there is no accounting for fashion, and somehow the Pig has transcended its West Village neighborhood to become a "phenomenon." When we arrived at 6:00, the bar had a pleasant Cheers-like feel; by the time we left, two hours later, we had to push our way to the exit, and the night was still in its infancy - a good six hours left to play. Indeed, arriving in time for the Senior's Discount, we missed the true Pig experience.

With its wood floors, exposed brick, and inviting bar, the Spotted Pig (which last year expanded to a second floor) is homey, if in a somewhat generic way. Emptied of customers, one would have no idea that this space will become the center of the downtown universe. The staff, as befits a generous community center, moved with verve and humor. Whether their joy derives from images of tips to come or from the pleasure of being a part of a happening is hard to tell, perhaps both.

The menu, beginning with such bar routines as Chicken Liver Toast, Marinated Olives, Pickles, Roasted Almonds, and Duck Egg, suggests modest satisfactions. However, further reading suggests Chef Bloomfield's ambitions. Having six entrees and desserts and ten appetizers the kitchen is not overtaxed. With its signature chargrilled burger and ricotta gnudi with pesto, the dishes avoid the fussy or challenging. Whether the Pig used to indulge in "modern English cuisine," the British influence is muted; the menu has a vaguely Italianate feel with its Mozzarella with Fava Bean Bruschetta; Gnudi; Pork Tonnata; and Squid and Fennel.

Despite the odds, the Spotted Pig provides early diners pleasure. We began with a pair of appetizers, Radish Salad with Parmesan and Arugula and an order of Sheep's Ricotta Gnudi with Pesto (a cross between gnocchi and ravioli).

The Salad was the star of the evening, one of the most potent salads that I have ordered. Radish are a vegetable less often seen in Manhattan than durian, but I recall it fondly from my childhood, sharing a chilled bowl with my radish-relishing dad. The parmesan cut some of the bitter edge of the radish. It was both gentle on the eyes and zippy on the tongue.


The Gnudi did not live up to its billing as a key offering. I found the gnocchi blanketed by a salty sauce and rather mushy dumplings. It was rich and filling, but not of star quality.


We shared an entree, Pot Roast Rabbit with Green Garlic. The dish was unpretentious but compelling. This is not complex cuisine, but is undeniably well-made. The garlic-based sauce did not overwhelm the pieces of hare, but bolstered its rural charm. This dish, like the others tasted, didn't require extensive culinary acumen, but it evoked a blessed moment before cuisine became finicky (repeat in unison, "what splendid food in a pub!"). With our entree we chose two sides: the Pig's famous Shoestring Fries with Rosemary, as delicious as it was impossible to eat daintily. Bits of spud flew everywhere. Thank goodness this is a pub where no one examines the floor. The heirloom beans were stewed, passable with a subtlety of color, even if the tastes were indistinct.




Dessert was what the Pig labels Banoffee: Banana-Toffee Tart. What a sweet tart: luscious and sugary with strong flavors of ban and offee. A Sundae pie for those who take their calories straight up.


The Spotted Pig works nicely as a modest restaurant that is both joyous and serious, but of course it is more. The Pig combines community center, dating bar, tavern, and nosherie. That the kitchen has ambitions makes it a dining destination for the beau monde. Whether this tiny, crushed, and charming pub can shuffle its audiences is for time to sort. Today this piglet is a spot of alright.

The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th Street (at Greenwich St.)
Manhattan (Greenwich Village)

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