Saturday, February 6, 2010

Restaurant Review: Iberian Pig

I've been to the Iberian Pig twice, and I'm befuddled by the professional food community's response to it. "Not authentic enough," seems to be the theme, but no matter how many times Federico Castellucci responds that he wasn't going for authentic Spanish, they still don't listen. So, we approached it with open minds and growling stomachs and have had two great meals.

We went for the first time on a busy Thursday evening soon after they opened. The service was a little awkward at times, but it had greatly improved by the second visit. We started at the bar, where we took the "rules" posted on the side to be tongue-in-cheek and therefore amusing rather than offensive. We drank our cocktails while we looked around and thought, "what did they do to change the space (from when it was Sage)?" The layout is about the same, but it feels cozier.

We've only tried the tapas, so I'll mimic the wine menu and put them in different tiers, "must try," "pretty good," and "would skip."

Must Try:

Pork Cheek Tacos: These were the dish I heard most about before going to the Iberian Pig, and for good reason. They're the perfect combo of salty pork, smoky sweet corn salsa, and smooth avocado.

Manchego Mac 'N Cheese: Yummy savory cheesiness with crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Meat and Cheese plate: Choose three for $11 or have the Iberico ham included for a $10 supplement. The Iberico ham should be experienced at least once because it's unlike any cured meat I've ever tasted. It almost melts on the tongue. We also had the Drunken Goat cheese and one other cheese I can't remember.

Any Special Tapas: These are always fantastic, both from our limited experience and from hearsay. The first time we went, the special was mussels with olives, onions, and roasted grape tomatoes in an Albarino broth. The mussels were fresh, flavorful, and tender without any rubbery chewiness or fishiness. The second time, I knew right away that I'd have to try the slow-roasted veal shank ravioli with cherry-Rioja cream sauce, shiitake mushrooms, cherries, and fresh thyme. The pasta is hand-rolled, and it's all garnished with black truffle creme fraiche and white truffle oil. Definitely a rich tasting dish, but without overpowering flavor from the truffle oil.

Pretty Good:

Tocino con Manzana: This one enticed me with its combination of slow braised Kurobuta pork belly and Granny Smith and Fiji apple salad because I'm a sucker for pork and fruit together. It seemed a little bland after the pork cheek tacos, but would probably have fit better earlier in the lineup.

Albondigas: These wild boar sausage meatballs stuffed with piquillo peppers, Macedonian dates, and oyster mushrooms are like everything you'd want in a fajita rolled into a meatball. They're really good as leftovers, too.

Pan Con Tomate: This rustic bread with tomato spread, Garrotxa cheese, and Chilean extra virgin olive oil comes served with roasted garlic. The texture turned out to be soggy, but the roasted garlic was fun. Hubby commented that it was like soaking up what was on the bottom of a pot that something yummy and garlicky had been cooked in.

Skip:

Eggplant fries unless you really like eggplant. They were good with the aioli, but they seemed overdone and mushy in the middle.

The wine list is about what one would expect with a lot of Spanish wine, a fair bit of South American, and a sprinkling of other places. One of the fun things about the wine list is that it comes with different sized pours, so you could put together a pairing for each course or dish without getting totally smashed. I only had one the second time we were there, the 2007 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia Tempranillo/Garnacha (Rioja, Spain), which was light-bodied for the grapes but nicely fruity. I used it to warm up my palate for the Tempranillo tasting we were headed to afterward. Here's what we tried the first time:

NV Gran Sarao Cava Brut (Penedes, Sp): Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada, and Chardonnay
Bubbly, dry, and some citrus.

2007 Pazo San Mauro Albarino (Rias Baixas, Sp):
The nose is clear mineral and floral, and the floral notes carry through to a lime-vanilla finish.

2005 Capcanes Costers del Gravet (Montsant, Spain): Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, and Cari├▒ena
Odd dishwater nose, but lush fruit on the front of the palate focusing to a blueberry finish.

2004 Casa de la Ermita “Crianza” (Jumilla, Spain): Monastrell, Tempranillo, Cab Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot
Leathery on the front, but smooths out to a fruit bomb.

Apparently they do a chef's tasting menu and will add wine pairings to it, but the number of people required varies between weeknights and weekend nights.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Fairly romantic, a little noisy
Food: Very Good to Excellent
Wine list: Very Good if a bit regionally focused
Wait staff: Good to Very Good
Desserts: Haven't tried yet
Vegetarian friendly? Limited
Kid friendly? Probably not.
Would I go back? Definitely

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