Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miscellaneous Food: New York 6

The Spotted Pig

The Spotted Pig is one of the recent additions to the sprawling Mario Batali empire, specialising in pub food and proclaiming itself as New York's first gastropub. Now, coming from the UK, I have grave misgivings about gastropubs in general, and I think the term "gastropub" is about on a par with "fallen soufflé", so I was curious to see what The Spotted Pig had to offer.

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One thing it does offer is great difficulty in getting a table. The Spotted Pig takes no reservations, unless you happen to be a special guest (which we were not), so that means to get a table you need to get there very early or be very lucky. We got there at 5.30pm, so we managed to guarantee ourselves a table, though the kitchen had not yet opened for the evening.

The other thing The Spotted Pig does offer is bad service. Apparently diners are not allowed to sit down at tables before service starts, and are expected instead to buy some drinks from the bar and to have them while standing up, which is just silly. There is never enough standing room near the bar, so if you have tables laid out people are bound to want to sit down. As we sat at a table waiting while one of our party went to get drinks, one of the waiters wordlessly pulled the table away from us, to place another stool around it, without so much as an "excuse me". When we went to sit at another table, we were brusquely told that we were not allowed to sit down, despite a party of three sitting at a table right next to us. When we inquired about them, we were told that they were left over from the lunch service. So essentially, if you sat down at lunch, it's all right to remain seated at 5.45pm, but if you've just come in for dinner, you don’t get to sit till told to do so. Bizarre.

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The Spotted Pig is not very big and spacious (as is readily apparent from its small tables and stools), so it gets pretty full pretty quickly, and apparently the kitchen is also not large enough to deal with many orders at once, which explains why customers have to be seated in intervals. Still, that's a reason for better crowd management, and, above all, a very good reason for having a reservation system, and certainly no excuse for poor service and bad organisation. Thankfully we weren't there at peak dinner time, when the restaurant has been described, memorably, as a "trough", and apparently requires a sort of Karma Sutra for you to contort yourself into your seat.

When we eventually get to sit down and place our orders, the food surprises me. Although there are things you would expect to see in a pub, marinated olives and roasted almonds, for instance, there are also dishes that would not be out of place in an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations": grilled lamb's heart, anyone?

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We shared a special appetiser of fried ricotta, broccoli rabe and proscuitto fritters, served with a tomato sauce and grated parmesan. These were, unfortunately, quite salty, whether due to the proscuitto or otherwise, and while quite a good idea, were consequently somewhat unpalatable.

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Mains were an order of faggots, a quasi-sausage made of minced pork offal, wrapped in pig liver and topped with shredded pig's ear; grilled quail with a goat's cheese souffle; and pancetta-wrapped grilled scallops with a sweetcorn dressing. These were accompanied by a side of summer succotash (something I've only ever seen in the US), and shoestring fries.

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Although the faggots were too cholesterol-heavy for me, I enjoyed the quail and scallops, which were large, succulent, and very meaty. The fries I found to be again, extremely salty, and could only manage three or four before having to reach for my water glass.

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Dessert was a slice of lemon and lime tart with a small quenelle of cream. The tart was exactly that – very tart – and could have done with more sweetness, creaminess or richness to offset the sharp bite of the lime. The shortcrust pastry was pretty boilerplate, making the dessert something of a letdown; which, I suppose, was to be expected, given that pubfood is not exactly known for its dessert offerings.

All in all, The Spotted Pig is quite spot-on in terms of an even more modern reinterpretation of the modern gastropub – more Chez Panisse than the King's Arms, but in the end, it's still a gastropub, with a long wait and substandard service thrown in. Having said that, however, it's clearly still very popular, and it remains one of my hosts' favourite dining spots. Perhaps it's a symptom of New York's faddishness that as long as you've got a gimmick, you're likely to do well enough.

The Spotted Pig
314W 11th Street, at Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10014
Tel: 212 620 0393

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