Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Spotted Pig: Infinitely Better than Bad Art

On Wednesday night a work colleague and I stood in the wide expanse of a Chelsea warehouse turned art gallery. There were women dressed in bright, ruffled cocktail dresses and spindly stilettos, men in pressed suit jacket and ties. Shiny, perfectly tussled hair was ubiquitous. Small plastic cups were clutched in hand—sparkling roses and scotch on the rocks. There was an open bar; the line resembled a veritable mosh-pit of thirsty art supporters. The sun was setting and through the large windows we could see fading pink and purple cloud-streaks stretch out over the west river.

It was a charity art event; we were drawn to attend because of its swanky location, the press pass that granted us free entryway and, of course, its overarching good cause. The open bar and promise of food didn’t hurt, either. Once inside, however, it was pretty obvious that we didn’t fit in. We had walked over after work and were wearing jeans and bedraggled button down shirts, carrying bags of books and papers and not entirely sure what we were entering into.

The paintings on the walls were bright swaths of oil and acrylic and looked as if they were painted by an uninspired three-year-old. A chair-deemed-art was perched on a small stand near the window—clear plastic wrapped into an oblong shape and secured with small wire stands, an open hole at the bottom where, I can only imagine, you were supposed to uncomfortably seat yourself. The installation of small plaster donut-esque circles that hung on the wall was… mystifying at best. A beat-poet-turned-rapper was intonating harsh, vulgar lyrics into a microphone while no one listened. There were photographers and a cameraman there to capture the beautiful and the big names; we didn’t recognize anyone.

We positioned ourselves in a comfortable corner and were entertained watching the people and odd happenings around us. Our talk on the artwork nearby increased in decibel and crudeness with each glass of free wine. We were hungry, but the only way to partake in the hors d'oeuvres (because of the large, ravenous crowd) was to stand right next to the kitchen exit-way and practically pounce on the waitresses as they emerged with their loaded food trays. It became clear that this was not the place to stay for two starving, non-fancy people.

We looked at each other, eyebrows raised.

“How about The Spotted Pig?” he asked.

The words were like music to my ears.

“Absolutely perfect,” I said, beaming.

I have wanted to go to The Spotted Pig for a long time now. It is an old style gastro-pub in the West Village, owned by Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield and constructed with considerable help by Mario Batali. April Bloomfield, an English chef, has reinterpreted common bar food and brought it to an exciting, gourmet level. The restaurant/bar is always crowded—with celebrities and commoners alike—and promises some on the most illustrious people watching (Mario Batali himself, it is rumored, spends many a night drinking within its cozy walls til the early morning hours) and great late night food in New York. We immediately hopped in a cab and found ourselves at the door to the restaurant.

It was packed – crowded chatter and warmly lit interior – the hostess told us, “one hour, which is pretty good for us, for a table.” We climbed the stairs and plunked ourselves down at the second floor bar. Soon we had a menu, glasses of rioja, and decided to order an appetizer or two while we waited. I had not previously known that this colleague of mine, generally bogged down in editing a few offices away from my own, was a foodie. An excellent discovery, made even better when we found our taste in ordering to be the same.

“Devils on horseback? What do you think those are?” I asked.

“Um, I don’t have any idea. But it sounds exciting. Let’s order it.”

“Definitely. How about speck … have you ever had that?”

“No I haven’t…”

“Good, let’s get that too.” Unfortunately those hungry New Yorkers (with their penchant for the cured Italian meat made from hog’s legs) had cleaned the kitchen out of speck. We replaced it with an order of chicken liver toast—one of my favorite foods, so resplendent in my memory of when I lived in Italy.

Devils on Horseback ended up being sticky, juicy bites of bacon wrapped prunes, skewered on toothpicks and sweet with a spicy kick to its ending note. They disappeared quickly. The chicken liver toasts were rich and delicious, thick with olive oil and with a crunch of the thin bread. I fully admit that the bit of wine I had consumed and the hunger in the face of an 11pm dinner time may have influenced my taste buds – but that chicken liver toast was probably the best thing I have ever eaten.

We were soon led to a little table in the back corner nook of the restaurant. Deciding to split a few things we were soon face to face with a plate of pork tonnata with arugula—thin, pale pork slices that looked, in the dim light, almost like pasta—and a radish, parmesan and arugula salad. The bite of the radish alongside the salt of the cheese, tang of the lettuce and sweet note of the dressing were a great combination. The pork’s texture unnerved me a bit, so thin and yet so meaty—but the tuna-caper sauce was smooth provided a good foil to my initial unease.

At this point we could no longer deny that we were full. When our third dish arrived – the infamous Spotted Pig Burger (chargrilled with Roquefort cheese and shoestring fries) – we each had one bite before we had to call it a night. It would have been a travesty, that uneaten glory of red meat in front of us, if the thought of tomorrow’s office-bound lunch was not made infinitely better with such potential leftovers.

We stumbled out onto the street around 1 – a good six hours after our evening began – and walked a few blocks towards the subway in the suddenly cool New York evening air. Repressing the fact that we would both actually have to get up and go to work in the morning, I was happy and quite full.

Thursday’s work day, with a slight headache and general sleepy haze, was a little bit tough to get through. But the half burgers, taken simultaneously out at those two desks in our busy office, provided that necessary oomph of energy to get through the day.

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