Thursday, December 13, 2007

THERE'S A NEW PIG IN TOWN

Winter Park hot spot expands the definition of 'gastropub'

Posted on Thu, Dec 13, 2007 at 4:00 AM

In the years since the Eagle landed on London’s Farringdon Road and spawned the gastropub phenomenon, that word’s definition has been interpreted in an increasingly liberal fashion amongst restaurateurs on this side of the pond. Case in point: the Ravenous Pig. The place in no way resembles a humble watering hole where commoners can indulge in high-quality meals; rather, it’s as sexy-cool as its clientele, and its frills are just as sophisticated as its fare. Granted, chef/owners James and Julie Petrakis (of Greens & Grille) make a point of calling their latest venture an “American” gastropub, ostensibly justifying the expansion of the definition.

The Pig, like its predecessor Popolo, is divided into three distinct rooms: the bar area; a central dining room; and an adjunct room with brick wall and kitchen view. The latter resembles a comedy club, but it was the complimentary fresh-baked gruyère biscuits that proved laughable. The three humble little lumps were decent enough, but we were politely declined when we requested for more. Evidently, they only make a limited number of these cheesy numbers, but no effort was made to accommodate us – we would’ve taken regular bread if offered.

The appetizers, thankfully, were seriously better. Succulent grilled quail and herbaceous made-in-house sausage ($13) underscored the talent in the kitchen; champagne grapes and shaved fennel provided a delicately sweet crown. But the crunch of cabbage overwhelmed the trio of lobster tacos ($13), an item off the “pub menu” that my two guests and I deemed insipid and disappointing. Being told TRP was one of only three restaurants in town to serve Nantucket Bay scallops ($14) necessitated an order of these coveted, incredibly sweet mollusks. Served in a balsamic brown butter, the glistening orbs were perfectly opaque, pillowy and moist.

In terms of portions, entrees aren’t much more substantial than the appetizers, but that didn’t mean mains like loin of lamb ($25) and steak frites ($22) didn’t satisfy. The former featured meaty, olive-crusted lamb rolls in a light basil-infused jus. My only complaint: The dish was served under the desired medium-rare, giving the lamb a slightly sinewy texture. The latter, a wonderfully tender porcini-marinated flatiron steak, may strike patrons who’ve dined at Greens & Grille as somewhat familiar (G&G offers porcini-marinated flank steak). A ramekin of deftly executed béarnaise and a beer glass of thinly cut truffle fries rounded out the dish.

For a place named the Ravenous Pig, there are surprisingly few pork dishes offered, but the roasted suckling pig ($23) will satiate those who worship that singular magical animal. Chunks of tenderloin bathed in stout come served over a bed of collards; the rye gnocchi flecked with caraway seeds drew a mixed reaction.

Chocoholics will undoubtedly rave about thick chocolate-chili pot de crème ($7) and the pig tails ($7), funnelcake-like fritters shaped like rear appendages and served with a comforting chocolate-espresso sauce. Cappuccino ($3.50) was served tepid, a likely malfunction of an inferior push-button contrivance, or else server negligence. You’re better off sampling an après-meal microbrew ($5 for a pint).

Service could use a bit more polishing; our waitress seemed somewhat distracted and inattentive – a lot of time was spent staring at the bronze ceiling tiles waiting for her eventual return. Still, my sincere hope is that the Ravenous Pig won’t succumb to the curse that plagued the space’s many predecessors, and if the gastropub’s moniker turns you off, don’t let it – it’s a misnomer. The conservative portions ensure no patrons indulge in piggish behavior.

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