I've read them too: the raves about the West Village's new gastropub, The Spotted Pig. I was saddened by the closing of Le Zoo, the former occupant of 314 West 11th Street, but French bistro mourning aside, I couldn't help but be intrigued by the idea of Batali, Bastianich, Bloomfield and Bono linking arms in an epicurean endeavor. Besides, I don't care how many newspaper and magazine articles implore me to recognize Great Britain's new upscale culinary wave, I still snicker at the thought of "gourmet" Brit cuisine.
So, when the buzz started building, I knew that I couldn't keep away for long.
Surveying the room, I most certainly wasn't alone. Nowhere near.
The small, carefully-crafted casual space was jam-packed with those in the know - and those who simply had subscriptions to New York Magazine. It might not be Le Zoo, but it certainly was a zoo of some sort.
The wait at 7pm was going to be at least an hour and a half. My friend Jenn, her foodie pal Melissa and I meandered up the block to Wallse for cocktails to pass the time. Elderflower and champagne was my drink of choice. Needless to say, the time passed quickly.
An hour and a half later we returned to The Spotted Pig. The joint was still wall-to-wall with hungry humanity. It didn't look good. The cheerful hostess - who happily didn't look like a waif model, but a REAL person, and was gifted with uncanny ability to lift patrons out of the nastiest of moods - assured us it wouldn't be too much longer.
She was right.
The table wasn't. It was the end of a larger table next to the kitchen entrance. I don't mind watching the kitchen in action, but this wasn't the sort of set-up where I could appreciate the cooking as theater. And, it was clear that we were crashing the party of our table neighbors. Bad form all around.
Still, we were up for a fine dinner and the menu sounded promising. We finally settled on two appetizers: a Salad of Roasted Pumpkin, Young Pecorino, Arugula and Pine Nuts and a Chicken Liver Parfait.
The "Young Pecorino" in the salad was quite unusual. Jailbait to say the least - it was soft enough to be ricotta with only a mild hint at its taste at maturity. Not enough one thing or another it did little to add to the salad's flavors. The roasted pumpkin was an able foil for the bitter greens and crunchy nuts, but still, I wasn't wowed.
In comparison, "wow" was about all I was able to utter after one taste of the astonishly rich, lush chicken liver mousse that arrived alongside a few grilled slices of bread. It was foie gras and Grandma's chopped liver all rolled into one. Magnificent.
After that dish there wasn't much hope that our entree choices would score as well, and they didn't. OK, but not worth expounding upon.
Dessert was a smidge better - with the Lemon Tart winning out, hands down, over the lauded River Cafe's Chocolate "Nemesis" Cake, which was too much a unforgiving slab of warm ganache and less a cake.
A few foodie quibbles aside, I really wanted to love The Spotted Pig. The staff was kind and joyful. The room was warm and welcoming. The food was DEFINITELY a few notches up from your usual pub fare. And, to top it off, the prices were relatively pocketbook friendly.
But, the one factor I can't get around is this: the throng. It was just too much. Wading through the masses is not what I'm looking for in a pub experience. A rock concert, perhaps, but a pub dinner definitely "no."
A pub is supposed to be - ideally - a gracious local hang where you can drop in at a moments notice, get an acceptable meal, a pint of fine ale and have a few entertaining exchanges with the barkeep and your fellow diners. It's a casual, any night of the week experience that you treasure as an escape from the day's madness.
The Spotted Pig is many things, but an escape from the day's madness it is not.
Will I return? I'll see if it's around in a year or so, after a series of new hot spots have captured the food media's attention. If the wait is down to less than a half-hour and the crowd has thinned, Batali, Bastianich, Bloomfield and Bono might just have pulled it off: a real pub with gourmet credentials in Greenwich Village.
I hope they do.