The Spotted Pig has been packing in West Village diners more-or-less continuously since it opened 4½ years ago. The tiny gastropub doesn’t take reservations, and waits of an hour or more are legion. I generally avoid such places, so the Spotted Pig and I were making do without each other till last Friday. That day, I realized that if I left work at 5:00 p.m. and headed straight for the Pig, I’d be there when they opened, and would probably get a seat. It worked…and the food was good enough that I just mighty try it again. And again.
The English chef, April Bloomfield, has stints at London’s River Cafe and Berkeley’s Chez Panisse on her C.V. It was enough to impress Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Ken Freeman (who are all investors). It was enough to impress Eric Asimov of the Times, who delivered a rave in $25 & Under. And it was enough to impress the Michelin inspectors, who gave the Pig a star, which it has held four years in a row.
Frank Bruni awarded one star in 2006, though in his four-star system that isn’t quite as much of a compliment. Regardless of the merits, read the Asimov and Bruni pieces, and it’s as clear as can be which one should be reviewing restaurants, and which one is an imitator. Mind you, I think one star (in Timesspeak) is about right for this place—but not when you’ve awarded two to so many other mediocre ones, as Bruni has done.
But let’s get back to the Spotted Pig, where eclectic European comfort food comes in four sizes: bar snacks ($3–7.50), appetizers ($14–18), entrées ($17–32) and side dishes ($7–10). If you’re a vegetarian, a plate of five sides is $24. Except for the acclaimed roquefort cheeseburger ($17; the most popular dish), the entrées are all $25 and higher, and there are three that sell for $32. At these prices, one might resent the loud and crowded pub space, seating on backless stools, and a no-reservations policy. But for almost five years now, the verdict of the dining public is that it’s worth it.
Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi with Brown Butter & Sage ($15) have been on the menu from the beginning, and one can see why. They’re soft, delicate, rich, and just heavenly: surely one of the top ten appetizers in town. I got a little more adventurous for the entrée: Lamb Crépinette with lamb kidneys and black-eyed peas ($29). Braised lamb shoulder was stuffed in a sausage casing, covered in diced kidneys and a heavy, dark sauce. The kidney taste was a bit overpowering, but the tender shoulder had a bright, strong flavor.
Service was impressive for a place that was so busy. The server had a lot of tables to cover, but she never lost track of me. The entrée took about 45 minutes to come out, but she comped a glass of wine and a serving of olives & almonds as partial recompense. I wasn’t in any hurry, and didn’t mind.
The menu is reprinted daily and changes frequently: there were five specials written on the board, including that crépinette. Perhaps I was one of the first to try it, which could explain the long delay. There probably aren’t many customers demanding lamb kidney. I might not order it again, but it wasn’t bad, and I give Bloomfield credit for venturing beyond the obvious.
Bloomfield has every right to be distracted: her seafood restaurant, The John Dory, originally scheduled for the spring, remains under construction, with a promised October opening very much in doubt. But Bloomfield was in the Spotted Pig on Friday night, running the kitchen as she’s done for the last five years. It is very much a contradiction, with the food a level or two above the pub surroundings in which it is served.
The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11th Street at Greenwich Street, West Village)