Thursday, October 22, 2009
the ravenous pig, winter park, oct. 17
i don't remember how ravenous pig got on my radar, but somehow it did, and i have been wanting to go there more than a year. i know it has been more than a year, because while i don't remember how it got on my radar, i know roughly when. it was while i was campaigning for votes in a recipe contest, with a triply porcine-monikered dish. i don't know if you all remember how that turned out. i'll omit details.
anyway, through one circumstance to the next, it hadn't happened. recently, there was a period of three saturdays in a row that i had a reservation, only to have to cancel it at the last minute for one crazy reason or another. drove me nuts.
so when my brother doug turned 40, and had no big plans, i thought it was the perfect opportunity.
ravenous pig bills itself as an american gastropub. a gastropub is, loosely defined, a place that serves beer and a lot of pork, typically cured. thus the pig in the name, one might assume. and there are a lot of ways to serve pork, so that works out. but when we looked at the menu, pam made an interesting observation:
"there's not much pork."
there really wasn't. other than two appetizers (a prosciutto tasting plate and a charcuterie plate), the only pork on the menu was some bacon on the scallop dish and some chorizo oil. so that was a little weird. but forgivable.
it is a "chef-driven" restaurant, which largely means that the menu is small and full of whatever the chef felt like cooking that day, which could be based on what was available at the market, or what he was in the mood for. which is fine. i have learned that in general, i want to eat what the chef wants to cook.
our waitress gave us the company line on the fact that they tried to be as local and seasonal and sustainable as possible, and tried to source as much of everything they use from as close as possible. she said it in a lot more words than that, but she managed to do it without sounding preachy, which was impressive, because that speech usually comes across as preachy. and, if there is doubt, that last sentence was a compliment.
there was a thing, tho. it's a good speech, but a lot of that is contradicted on the menu. the source of many of the meats are listed, and they aren't too close to home. the pork is from iowa, the flounder from carolina, the shrimp from belize, the duck from indiana, the mussels from washington, salmon from scotland, foie gras from new york (the sustainability crowd will love that). i don't have a problem with them serving things from those places. and most of those places talks about sustainability and stewardship on their sites, so they are really spiffy companies, i'm sure. and most of that stuff isn't available in florida (well, except the shrimp, certainly). it just seemed like talk aimed at someone not paying too much attention. or not quite thought all the way through. it was just a little weird.
i'm sure most of the vegetables were local. and seasonal. and stuff. in fact, the corn soup named zellwood as the source. i went to the zellwood sweet corn festival many times as a kid.
so, all of that is semantics. how was the food?
well, i liked everything i had. and i'd like to go back to try everything i didn't.
we started off with the gruyere biscuits because i heard they were famous for those. they were good, but i liked the pretzels better. they came with a really nice whole-grain mustard and a cheese sauce of taleggio and port. hmmmm. now i look at the menu and it says porter, not port. porter is a beer, and makes more sense with cheese and pretzels. but i thought the waitress said port, and i thought after i tasted it that it tasted red wine-y, in an interesting way. maybe it was just in my head at that point. either way, i liked it.
so, to start, there are lobster tacos on the menu. i like lobster. i like tacos. no brainer. the lobster was tempura fried, very lightly, which is a perfect way to prepare lobster for a taco. they had a nice cabbage slaw and avocado creme. the tortillas were billed as soft corn. i'm a tortilla snob, even though the ones i make are terrible. these were soft, but if they were corn, they were cut with a lot of flour, because they didn't taste corny at all. they had a vague corn-ish texture. they were perfectly tasty, but i thought a strong corn flavor would go well with lobster, and that wasn't there. i am being overly critical. they were lobster tacos. they were delicious.
other first courses: pam had the shrimp and grits, which really tasty. the shrimp were really good. and the grits. the red ring around the grits is chorizo oil. nice. stacie had the late summer zellwood corn soup, which was very tasty. the waitress said that they made this soup from the last of the corn crop, when it is really sweet, and the get all the creamy goodness out of the cob. it paid off. that was some good corn soup. it was topped with some dungeness crab (um, also not local), but the corn was the star. doug had the lobster tacos, which were exactly like mine.
for an entree, let's see if i can find my save string ... there was duck on the menu, so i got duck. it was a nicely grilled breast on top of caramelized fall root vegetables. the vegetables were celery root, carrot, turnip and rutabaga, unless i am forgetting some. it was topped with pine nuts and had a currant agrodolce (sweet-sour sauce). really, really good. every element. but i have another semantic nit: the menu says fregola, which is an odd-shaped tiny pasta. this had israeli couscous. i love israeli couscous. so it was good. but it said fregola. this was not fregola.
other entrees: pam had the butternut squash ravioli. dom will be happy to hear that pam said it wasn't as good as the butternut gnocchi she had at bella brava a week earlier. stacie had the flounder. a nice looking piece of fish sitting on top of "short rib stracotta," which is a term i had not heard before. it means it was cooked twice, we were told. i didn't try the fish, but the short ribs were amazing. doug had the burger, for which they are somewhat famous around orlando. i had some of the truffle fries. they were nicely pungent.
for dessert, i got the waffle. it was very interesting, and not very sweet, which was very cool. the waffle was made from a beer batter and topped with a creme fraiche ice cream. there was a malt syrup and a berry jam. and i took no exception to the menu listing. which i feel i need to note at this point.
other desserts: pam got the "pig tails," which is clearly a signature thing. they were sort of like a churro/beignet/doughnut thing, twisted to look like pig tails. very appropriate. and served with a warm chocolate sauce. that led pam to point out that when i made beignets a couple weeks ago, i failed to make a warm chocolate sauce. sigh. stacie had the carrot cake, which was two mini cakes served with a cinnamon milkshake. doug had the apple tart, which doesn't always come with birthday wishes written all over it, we presume.
i feel like i spent a lot of time on this post talking about things that didn't matter. they don't claim everything is local. "gastropub" can mean whatever they say it means. fregola and israeli couscous are certainly good stand-ins for each other. there was probably some amount of corn flour in the tortillas. the bottom line was we ate everything they put in front of us. and liked it.
oh, and a stupid-cool thing: we went on oct. 17, which was the day after doug's birthday, but it was the one-year anniversary of the big announcement on the rachael ray show. so it seemed an appropriate place to be.