Entries in Spotted Pig (4)


Why April Bloomfield Rocks


The other day, I was browsing the online menus of several West Village restaurants, trying decide which one to visit for dinner. Their unrelenting sameness depressed me. It’s not that I’ve tired of the classics, only that I doubted they’d be done really well.

Then I decided on The Spotted Pig, and I remembered why the chef, April Bloomfield, really rocks. Her menu—particularly the list of daily specials—is packed with dishes that don’t resemble anyone else’s. She isn’t serving kidneys on toast because there is great demand for them, but because this is her food.

I started with an order of Shito Peppers ($5), lightly fried and dusted with sea salt, each one packing a different heat intensity, depending on how many seeds remained inside. It was just a five-dollar bar snack, but full of flavor, and not duplicated in any other pub I know of.

Then I had a Butter Cup Squash Salad ($15; right) with golden chard and sorrel—a simple, impeccably prepared salad. Who else is serving one with these ingredients?

That’s why April Bloomfield Rocks.

The service here was excellent, as always, bearing in mind that it’s basically a gussied-up pub. But there are a lot of staff here—surely enough for a two-star restaurant, despite the superficially casual box they’re squeezed into.

One minor complaint: I was seated against the back wall, with the daily specials—there are always more than a half-dozen of them—written on the mirror behind me. Given that the menu is reprinted daily, why must it omit so many items, especially as there are so many seats, like the one I was in, where the mirror can’t easily be seen?

The Pig was the least crowded I’ve ever seen it. Don’t cry for April and her business partner, Ken Friedman: the place was full by 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening. But it was the first time I’ve been there that it actually took a full hour to seat every table.

The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11 Street at Greenwich Street, West Village)


The Burger at the Spotted Pig

As time allows, I’ve been eating my way through the city’s iconic burgers. On Friday, it was The Spotted Pig’s turn. No less an authority than Citysearch’s Mr. Cutlets ranks it fourth—not bad in a town where there’s a burger on every street corner.

I eat at the Pig only when I can arrive between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m., when dinner service begins. Any later than that, and you’re looking at a long wait. The service puts many two-star restaurants to shame, from the friendly hostess that found a bar stool for me when it appeared there were none, to another hostess that offered without prompting to transfer the bar tab to my table.

But let’s move onto that burger ($17), a hefty monster with a gorgesous beefy taste and a crisp, charred bun. One could argue that the roquefort cheese overpowers the meat (that’s Cutlets’ position), though I would probably order it again as-is. The shoestring fries that come with it are insubstantial.

The burger seems to be the most popular item at the Spotted Pig. I had a great view of the kitchen, and it looked like about 60% of all orders coming out were burgers. I now see why. It is truly a masterpiece of burger science.

The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11 Street at Greenwich Street, West Village)



The English chef Fergus Henderson is in town this weekend, giving New Yorkers a chance to sample his renowned “nose to tail” cooking. He’s working tonight at The Spotted Pig (menu here), and tomorrow at Momofuku Noodle Bar (menu here).

I dropped in on the Pig earlier this evening. I was fearful of an intolerable wait, but I was there at 5:00, they opened the kitchen at 5:30, and I was seated at 6:00. (I drank a couple of beers in the meantime.) The man at the table next to mine, who seemed to be a Fergus groupie, said that last year’s wait was much worse. For those into celebrity spotting, I saw Anne Burrell and Tom Colicchio. I’ve no eye for that kind of thing, so I probably missed a dozen others.


The menu included such Henderson specialties as Roasted Bone Marrow, Ox Tongue, Devilled Kidney on Toast, and Deep Fried Rabbit. All of those looked interesting, but I started with the Pressed Pig’s Ears ($16; above left)— basically a terrine, fatty and gelatinous. Fat, indeed, was the order of the day. Pot-Roast Bacon, Trotter & Prune ($28; above right) was also a plate full of fat, which is not a bad thing, but one must accept it for what it is.


I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about a side of Roasted Parsnips in Duck Fat ($7; above left), which seemed too slimy; or a slice of Walnut, Chocolate & Amaretto cake ($8; above right), which was too dry. In fairness, the latter is a standard Spotted Pig dessert, and had nothing to do with Henderson’s presence.

This was my second visit to the Spotted Pig (earlier report here). For a place that’s a gussied-up pub, the service is impressive. The server was well schooled about the unusual, one-time-only menu. Amidst a crush of humanity, they were still willing to transfer my bar tab to the table, and my napkin was refolded each time I got up to visit the washroom.

The special menu’s signature item was a Half Pig’s Head for 2, for $55 (above). The man next to me ordered this all for himself, as his companion was having none of it. As he dug in, he said to her, “I’ll let you know when I get to the meat; so far, it’s all skin and fat.” By the time I left, he had dismembered most of the head, but skin and fat were all he found. I must say, it looked pretty good, but not to the point that I’d eat one all by myself.

Was it a revelation? No. But it was fun to try a couple of things that no one else in town is serving. The couple next to me was planning to follow Fergus to Momofuku Noodle Bar tomorrow night. I don’t think I can ingest that much fat two nights in a row.

The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11th Street at Greenwich Street, West Village)


The Spotted Pig

Note: Click here for a review of FergusStock at The Spotted Pig. Click here for a review of the famous burger.

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)

Food: ★★½
Service: ★★
Ambiance: ★
Overall: ★★½

Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon