Sunday, April 16, 2006

April 06 NYC Best Of: Crowd Pleaser

Stepping into The Spotted Pig at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, you might easily think it was just another crowded bar in the West Village instead of a Michelin-starred gastropub. On my recent visit, both the downstairs and (new) upstairs rooms were packed with 20 and 30 somethings clutching pints, many in groups of 4 or more, spilling well past the confines of the barstools, practically sitting on diners laps. A few minutes in, however, you notice the specials scrawled on a mirror in the back include cockles steamed in beer and fresh herbs, and catch a whiff of the sage and butter gnudi rushing by in the waiter’s hand, and you realize the crowds are there for more than the British beers on tap.

ricotta gnudi with sage and brown butter

The Spotted Pig doesn’t take reservations for parties under 6, nor does it waste space on a hostess stand. Luckily, the man taking names the night of our visit was extremely tall with shaggy hair, wearing a distinctive ski sweater. Upon getting his attention, he produced a crumpled, folded index card from his back pocket and scrawled our name on the end of a very long, messy list. Informed that our wait would be about an hour or a little more, we found a cozy corner, a couple of glasses of Spotted Pig Bitter, and enjoyed the scene, trying not to snatch a fry or two from the piles of shoestrings on the burger plates floating by every few minutes.

Nearing the end of our wait (“next table’s yours” according to ski-sweater man), the actor from Match Point walks in (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) with a lovely lady in tow. He searches upstairs and down for a table, and then reappears a the bar, seemingly content to drink with the rest of the plebes. However, after a quick conference with other wait staff, tall, shaggy ski boy whisks Mr. Pouty Lips upstairs, looking somewhat apologetically our way. In the end, our table loss to marginal celebrity didn’t matter—another five minutes and we secured a spot downstairs.

Having watched many dishes go by, we knew we’d start with the aforementioned cockles and gnudi (basically, ricotta cheese gnocchi). The tiny cockles popped in my mouth tasting of the sea, tinged with butter and beer, the pile of fresh, raw herbs providing extra flavors and a contrasting texture. The creamy gnudi were as decadent as imagined—yet the slight sourness of the ricotta prevented an overload of richness.

Our main courses were rabbit and cornish hen, both rich and perfectly done. The rabbit in particular was cooked long and slow, so the meat was falling off the bone. Sizable portions each, though with the rabbit it may have been prudent to order a side dish—it was fairly lonesome on the plate (the hen came with polenta). Dessert was fine, but not necessarily worth the calories—we shared a lemon and lime tart and a slice flourless chocolate cake. I prefer flourless chocolate cakes that are dense with pudding-like centers, while this reminded me more of chocolate mousse.

As we finished our meal around 12:15 a.m., the crowd had started to thin, but only slightly. The kitchen stays open until 2 a.m. on weekends, and tables were still filling as we left. Obviously, if you’re in a hurry or hate to wait, Saturday night’s probably not the best time to visit. And, if you’re looking for a fine-dining experience, this isn’t your spot—we had a total of three different servers throughout the night, and were often jostled by nearby patrons. Best to think of it as a convivial place to grab a beer—and then stay for some delicious, inventive food.

The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th St at Greenwich St (NOT Greenwich AVE!)

**One sour note that’s easily fixable: the bathrooms were gross. Out of supplies, garbage overflowing, water dripped everywhere. This was the place that the restaurant truly demonstrated that it’s not quite able to handle the crazy crowds.


Jessica said...

I'm impressed with your posting conscientiousness! I just got back from NYC last night and am already overwhelmed at the thought of catching up. But that's post-vacation haze for ya.

I waited 1 hr. 10 min. relatively early Tuesday night for a table for two at Spotted Pig after shaggy dude told me it would be 45 mins. Interesting food, convivial vibe, but only truly extraordinary item was the shoestring fries. Those were the bomb. Otherwise I don't think I'll be going back. Thank god my sister didn't come with her kids b/c it's the least baby-friendly restaurant I can possibly imagine. Bathroom was clean enough, although a creepy guy "forgot" to lock the door and my friend opened it while he was in midst of his business.

I bought a box of Torres hot chocolate at Baked in Red Hook on Sat. My dumb ass self forgot to check the "best used by" date, which is 06/06. I gotta burn through that stuff, fast!

Glad you had a delicious trip. Great weather, eh?

Erin S. said...

I agree Jess, with that kind of wait, no need for me to go back either. Yes, weather was great...ironically much better than LA. As for the blogging, another long plane ride right after getting back from NYC helped my capacity for writing immensely :)