"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Spotted Pig - February 12, 2011

The third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, once complained to a Buddhist monk, Takuan, that nothing tasted good anymore and asked him if Takuan could suggest anything good to eat. Takuan responded, “No problem. Come to my temple at ten o’clock in the morning.” Iemitsu faithfully went the next day and he waited and waited for Takuan to appear; but there was no sight of Takuan. Finally, several hours later, Takuan showed up, “I apologize for having kept you waiting. Here is the promised food.” Iemitsu looked at his plate, on which were a few slices of picked daikon along with a bowl of rice. So hungry was Iemitsu that he devoured the rice and picked daikon in no time. Then he declared that he had not had such delicious food in a very long time. Takuan said, “It is because you had not been hungry, Your Majesty. I recommend that the next time you eat, you should wait until you are hungry.” Thus, the yellow picked daikon – fermented by rice bran – had become known as "takuan."*

*Well, at least, this is one theory in explaining how the common pickles became known as “takuan.” By the way, the store-bought brightly colored takuan here in the United States is certainly not the genuine takuan as it has been artificially colored and most likely further enhanced by food additives.

If several hours of waiting had made a shogun appreciate such humble fare as picked daikon, then what would three hours of waiting in the dead of winter make the food at The Spotted Pig taste like – ambrosia?

Deviled Eggs

The perfect deviled eggs promptly arrived to save four diners from a collective fainting spell. Indeed, much energy had been dispensed in shoving, shouting and standing in the small niche in front of the emergency exit on the first floor for half an hour, then to another emergency exit on the second floor for an additional quarter: Adding the time spent in a nearby café and side walk, the grand total came to three hours of waiting time - all in the name of food. In the event of a food disaster, at least we knew where the closest exists were.

The creamy yolk filling, coquettishly devilish from the mustard and dill, smoothly slid down each esophagus, leaving the vinegary residue like a come-hither. Only there was no more to “come” to, as much as we would have ardently pursued.

Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi with Sage Butter

I doted on these lightly seared, milky, plump dumplings like my own baby’s cheeks. I caressed it; I kissed it; and then I ate it – well, not quite in the parental spirit after all, unless we are in the world of the grim Grimm (pun created unintentionally, but kept intentionally, which would have made the witty French wrinkle up their powdered nose in horror, no doubt) where everyone always seems so eager to eat children. The silken sheep’s milk ricotta was as light as April (I seem to have hit a pun mine) breeze, the fragile semolina coating barely held such dreaminess together. Bathed in abundant browned butter infused with sage, even the witches would have found the gnudi to be most highly edible.

Smoked Haddock Chowder with Homemade Crackers

A thicker chowder would have been hard to find than this concoction, which was stuffed with flaky chunks of haddock meat and soft potatoes. The rich soup was enriched in more ways than one from the dairy, herb, fat and salt. Granted, smoked haddock has salt; granted further, a lot of salt, like any other smoked fish. However, when such cured fish makes way into a dish, the salt level can be and should be controllable and controlled. The velvety and creamy white roux - cream fortified - failed to reign in the raging level of sodium in this chowder. After the initial smoky pleasure, one is left with the ugly and salty truth in the form of tongue-tingling numbness. And being a pub, gastro or not, the diner might have been expected to drown one third of the Guinness at this point; only in this case, the expectation of a swinging beer trade was, for the customer, more like a requirement. This type of salty fare may or may not have been acceptable in a regular pub, like the oxygen in casino; however, as long as the chef desires to hold on to the “gastro” in front of the pub, a little more skill and delicacy are in urgent need.

Roasted Sunchokes with Lettuce & Goat Cheese

My dining companion asked me what the sunchoke was. Being such a pedant that I am, I proudly displayed my knowledge of this increasing fashionable vegetable, also known as Jerusalem artichocke – I never fail to cackle when I think about the fashion in food, especially vegetables, with a mental image of vegetables
 walking the catwalk – and I turned to the plate to point out the specimen, but to no avail. I clandestinely searched the plate for the unwilling star underneath the charmingly crisp lettuce hearts (noted as escarole, but it suspiciously looked and tasted like regular lettuce), candied pumpkin seeds and creamy goat cheese; and finally, I found a small scattering of unsightly mash of light brown at the bottom of the plate. A dubious bite confirmed that indeed it was sunchoke, and indeed it was horridly mistreated by over-roasting beyond recognition, as the venerable Mrs. Beeton* would have approved. In addition, the earthiness of the sunchockes had no association with the salad, either in consideration of taste or texture, especially when the light and watery lettuce hearts already clashed with the sweet pumpkin brittle.

**Author of the most famous British cookbook: Book of Household Management, published in 1861, and still in circulation.

Grilled Beef Tongue with Duck Fat Potatoes & Pickled Beets

Grilling is usually not a type of cooking method that one would associate with the word, “tenderness.” Nevertheless, the heavily marbled beef tongue was impossibly tender after being grilled by a pair of clevet hands. Although the potatoes were totally overshadowed by the glorious tongue, the flavorless duck fat notwithstanding, the picked beets and cucumbers crisply accentuated the beef tongue and took off some of the greasiness.

Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese & Shoestrings

The limitation of words has been reached. How does one present the sheer pleasure of biting into the crusty brioche-sque bun and the tender fatty beef and the thrill of the first waft of pungency of the Roquefort? How do you describe the bliss when the jus of the beef bursts into the mouth or the way the bread crumbles in the mouth? So simple and yet so elegantly realized, the burger’s purest sensation could be achieved otherwise only through years of lengthy meditation.

Crispy Pork Belly with Polenta & Chard

The polenta had an unexpectedly sharp tang – probably from pecorino – which found the chard to be a more than agreeable company. However, the pork belly disappointed again after the failure at Recette. New York seems to have recently “discovered” pork bellies; however, with all due respect, this porcine fat-lean sandwich of meat had been enjoyably consumed across Europe and Asia for centuries. Hence, what is exactly the fuss about? If one has never had it before, the palate will be naturally less differentiating toward a perfectly mediocre specimen. As someone who has grown up on pork bellies, however, the fuss and the gloss did not rub off on me in the least and I tasted it for what it was: A insipid piece of a rather fatty pork with a knife-proof hide. The skin of the belly was so hard that it would have made an excellent football, in place of the customary pig’s bladder in the 1800’s.

Brussels Sprouts, fried

The Brussels sprouts were immensely flavorful due to the frying, which produced caramelization on the outer skins. However, the lack of skillful oil drainage ruined half of the fun.

The Spotted Pig
Address:  314 W 11th Street, New York, NY 10014
Phone:  (212) 620-0393

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