Many of the restaurants I wanted to visit were well planned out in advance. I had done my research back in Australia and knew which Michelin starred restaurants I wanted to visit and had them squared away and booked nice and early.
The Spotted Pig is a restaurant that I stumbled upon by accident. We had just moved to the Chelsea area after spending some time in Little Italy and were just exploring the local area (well, it was a bit of a hike the first day), and found ourselves walking through the West Village. The West Village is quite different from much of Manhattan in that the streets are a little less planned and a bit chaotic. There are lots of little side streets to explore and it was down one of these that we stumbled upon The Spotted Pig.
The West Village is a great spot and has so many hip places to look at and visit. Known as 'Little Bohemia' from 1916, the West Village is the centre of the bohemian lifestyle on the West Side and has lots of classical artist's lofts. There is the re-instituted High Line (converted from an elevated railroad track to people's space) which connects this historic district to the art galleries of Chelsea and beyond. The West Village is also home to many of New York's rich and famous and as a consequence property values are astronomical. There are also lots of great restaurants and dining spots, like The Spotted Pig.
The only clue that it was a restaurant was a little pig above the door and apart from that, it looked just like any other semi industrial building (all-be-it a moss covered building). We had walked past it without realising it was a restaurant and then curiosity got the better of me, so SC and I walked back to the building and had a peek inside. Wow, talk about a surprise, this looked just like an 'Ye Olde English Pub' inside and was packed. I made a mental note to investigate this further and then come back for dinner.
It turns out that the Spotted Pig was one of Manhattan's most popular restaurants and had been a New York hot spot for some time. It also turns out that the Spotted Pig is owned as a collaboration by some big NY celebrities, including Mario Batali, Jay-Z and Bono. I had read that this 'Gasto-Pub' is insanely popular and can have wait times of over an hour to get a seat. It was clear that we would have to beat the queues and get over for an early dinner.
Our plan was to head over without a reservation but get there by around 6:30, which is pretty early for dining in New York. It was only a 20 minute walk from our base at Chelsea so this seemed like a reasonable plan and thankfully it paid off. When we got there, it was busy, but there were still a few tables available, and best of all, no queue.
It's a pretty tight space in The Spotted Pig, with a bar running down one whole side of the pub and lots of small, two seat tables crammed into every spare spot. It's an interesting looking place, with lots of pig themed knick-knacks all over the place and lots of plants and greenery, you could almost imagine yourself in rural England instead of busy Manhattan. We were given our menus and a run down of the specials and made our order, which included a Bronx Pale Ale for SC. The Spotted Pig has a great reputation for its burger and fries, and I seriously considered ordering this, but decided against it (I was a bit 'burgered out' by that time)
The menu at The Spotted Pig is not what you would call extensive but it does have a good range of options to cover most tastes and it appropriate for a 'Gastro Pub'. There is quite a focus on share foods, with most of the menu dedicated to 'plates' which are designed to be shared.
We started off our meal with one of the share plates with half a dozen oysters with mignonette. There are so many oyster bars in New York that you kind of get used to having great oysters, but these were a cut above the average oyster that you get around New York. These oysters were from New Brunswick, Canada and they were fat and plump and creamy, so creamy in fact you could be mistaken that they had cream sacks as part of the flesh, when you added the mignonette, they were simply amazing. Six was definitely not enough to satisfy our appetites, but enough to have us looking forward to the rest of the meal.
It's a bit weird in the US, some restaurants call the main course 'Mains' and others all them 'Entrees' and The Spotted Pig falls into the latter category. So, for Entree (Main) SC and I had our eye on the same thing, but I decided to let SC grab the sautéed black sea bass with summer squash, basil and anchovy. Black sea bass seems to be a very popular fish in fine dining restaurants in New York and with good reason, its a really delicious fish. The sea bass was cooked with scales on, but done is such a way that they puffed out like popcorn and were edible, which gave a really interesting texture to the fish. The bass was quite a strong flavoured fish and was cooked to perfection and the accompanying anchovy added some lovely saltiness to the dish.
My main was one of the specials on the day and was a whole grilled market trout with seasonal vegetables. I'm always a little nervous when I order a whole fish, if it's not cooked perfectly they are difficult to eat because the flesh doesn't fall off the bone. No such problems when this trout was delivered, not only did it look lovely on the plate but when I started to peel the flesh away from the bones, I could see that it had been treated with respect and cooked expertly. There was a lovely mayonnaise that accompanied the fish that enhanced the flavour and some root vegetables that I still can't identify but were lovely none-the-less. The trout flesh was that lovely light pink and had a subtle flavour and all of the ingredients on the plate worked with and enhanced the flavours.
The Spotted Pig is also famous for its string fries, so we ordered a serve and were completely taken aback by what was presented. Normally when you think of shoe string fries, they are just thin french fries, but these were actually thinner than shoe strings. They came flavoured with rosemary and garlic, which were clearly visible in the bowl and I can honestly say that these were the best chips/fries that I have eaten, manly because they were so different. The thinness of the fries in combination with the light saltiness and the garlic and rosemary flavour were a perfect combo.
We probably should have left it there but were enjoying our time at The Spotted Pig so much, we decided to have some dessert as well. SC's choice was a creme caramel which when delivered was just a bog standard creme caramel, it was nice, and that was it. On the plus side, the caramel was not bitter and there was a generous amount of it on the plate and the creme was nice and creamy, but it just didn't have any wow factor with it. After the incredible 'mains' we were hoping for a just little more 'wow' from a Michelin starred restaurant, even a gastro pub.
I ordered the rhubarb tart with creme fraiche as my dessert and was expecting a little stand alone tart, so was also a little disappointed when it arrived, it was a slice from a much larger tart. It actually looked OK on the plate, it just was a little different from what I had expected, it was also served cold and I was definitely expecting it to be warm. The flavours were quite nice, with a sweetness from the very short pastry contrasting well with the slightly tart rhubarb. The creme fraiche provided a little 'wetness' to the tart, which was appreciated as it was so crumbly. Once again, not a bad dessert but just not what I was expecting.
The best thing about The Spotted Pig was the value for money, there are not too many Michelin starred restaurants around where you can get away with a meal sub $100 (not including tip) for two people. It was also just a cute little pub in the middle of a mostly residential section that you could easily walk by and not know it was one of the hottest restaurants in Manhattan. There was a great vibe inside and even though tables were closely packed together you felt a sense of community and sharing, so you didn't mind.
The service that we experienced on the night was first rate, with friendly and accommodating staff who genuinely seemed to love working there. There was a raucous noise coming from the bar at the front, which gave that real feel of being in a pub somewhere in England (which is the feel they are going for). You can also tell you are in a place called The Spotted Pig, there are pictures of pig everywhere you look.
While we were in there we overhead stories from other tables about the 'upstairs section' which after doing a bit more research after dinner seems to be the spot where celebrities come and hang out. It would have been cool to go see upstairs, but I think we wouldn't have fallen into the category of celebrities (not by a very long shot) so we didn't bother.
Overall I really enjoyed our trip to The Spotted Pig, not only because it added to the list of Michelin starred restaurants we have visited in New York (although that helps) but because it was one of those places we 'stumbled upon'. I really love planning where we are going to eat with precision but it's kind of magical when you find a place you didn't know existed and have a great time.
|Almost hidden behind some trees out the front is the Spotted Pig|
|The bar area was already pumping when we arrived|
|People coming in and waiting to be seated, behind the piggy|
|Some colourful pigs on the bottom of the menu|
|Just like some of the pubs in England!|
|More pigs about the building|
|Starting to get quite lively by about 7:45pm (it's light until about 8:40)|