Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Ravenous Pig (Dinner Review), Winter Park, FL

I have been chomping at the bit to drive back over to Winter Park and experience The Ravenous Pig's full menu ever since UD and I hit it for lunch the first Saturday in September only to discover that it was "pig roast day".  While we were served up a fine plate of barbecue on that occasion and a new addiction (Truffle Fries) was born, I have not been able to get some of the regular menu items I've been reading so much about (Lobster Tacos and Gruyere Biscuits, to name a couple) off my mind.  The fact that TRP's chef, James Petrakis, recently made the James Beard Foundation’s 2011 Restaurant & Chef Semi-Finalists list for Best Chef South has done nothing to ease my obsession.  We finally coordinated a return visit with our friends Debbie and Steve who live over on that side of the world and were willing to accompany us (and also let us crash at their place afterwards). Thanks, guys!

We arrived right on time for our 8:45 reservation and were seated immediately.  Our server, Caitlin, was extremely enthusiastic, knowledgeable and professional in spite of the fact that she was quite young (good service and youth don't always go hand-in-hand)...she did a great job. 

The hubster and I wanted to try several menu items, so we decided to stick to the Pub Fare and Starters sections of the monthly-changing menu and order tapas-style, while Steve and Deb opted for entrees.  To get the party started, the four of us shared a $4 basket of House-made Gruyere Biscuits with Smoked Sea Salt Butter.  These luscious delectables reminded me more of densely-packed croissants than any biscuit I have ever had.  They were warm, crispy on the outside and and filled with tender, flaky layers on the inside...the Gruyere ratcheting up these already-ethereal pillows of goodness another notch with its mellow, nutty flavor.  They honestly didn't even need butter...but since the smoked sea salt butter was there, it didn't seem right not to slather it on.  No one was trying to diet last night. 

My first small plate was Shrimp and Grits (local royal red shrimp, C&D Mill grits, green tomato chutney and chorizo oil) which was a luxurious dish.  Royal red shrimp are the absolute best...harvested from the deepest waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, they have a rich, lobster-like flavor and texture.  The grits from C & D Mills (a Florida company which purchases corn direct from farmers and grinds it with a 1926 hit-and-miss engine) were creamy and superb.  The fresh corn added a nice touch, as well.  I'm not a raw tomato lover, so the green tomato chutney did nothing to inspire me.  To the rest of the dish's credit, it did nothing to stop me, either.
With expectations running ridiculously high (and being met or surpassed right off the bat), there was really no direction in which to go but down.  The Lobster Tacos I had been coveting online for so long failed to deliver.  The first problem was that the lobster bits (and they were bits) were so tiny and heavily coated in tempura batter that they could've been Jimmy Hoffa nuggets as far as I could discern.  To further obliterate their delicate taste, the tacos were lavished with the strong, sour accoutrements of pickled jalepeno and cabbage slaw. I didn't like it...At. All.  I think larger, more lightly breaded pieces of a meatier seafood like amberjack would stand up better in these tacos. Underdog agreed, so the verdict is final.
On the opposite side of the table, our pals were similarly unimpressed with their House-made Soft Pretzels with whole grain mustard and taleggio-porter fondue. They were taken away largely untouched with Steve's complaint that they tasted like something that had spent too much time in a county fair vendor's cart...tough and just not good.  To TRP's credit, our server immediately and without question took it off of our bill.
Back on SPP and UD's side of the table, the veryadventurous dish of Offal Frito Misto (crispy-fried sweetbreads, chicken livers, duck hearts, pickles, blood orange pieces and chickpeas) had been slid under the spousal-unit's nose.  He did a respectable job of channeling Andrew Zimmern and snarfed the better part of it.  I reluctantly took a duck heart, which was okay if you're an offal fan.  I generally draw the line at liver, however.  He ultimately deemed it fine (if not "special") but that's the beauty of battering and makes almost anything palatable.  Nothing like a side of Witte Beer Honey Mustard to help the medicine go down, either. 
Last and least favorite of the starters we tried was Suckling Pig and Bay Scallops with King Farms romanesco and apple salad.  It looked interesting on paper, but I thought this dish was too contrived and the tiny scallops were all but lost in an unappealing sea of incongruous ingredients which somehow brought to mind the visual of a trailer park in the aftermath of a tornado.  Maybe the pork and apples would've been better without the scallops and broccoli, but this didn't hold much appeal for any of us.
Let's check out the entrees.  Debbie's Vande Rose Farms Pork Porterhouse was the table favorite and had us all bitterly wishing we wuz her.  It was arguably the largest pork chop I've ever seen, tender and flavorful, with a beautiful balsamic caramel finish.  I thought the Y-Chromes were going to brawl over who got to gnaw the bone!  The Hammock Hollow Gigande Beans and Greens in Bacon Broth were urbane spins on southern comfort fare that this Middle Tennessee girl could eat and appreciate ANY day.  SO good...all they needed was some cornbread. 
Steve was disappointed with his Chorizo-Crusted Cod with white bean puree, braised coco bean ragu and sherry foam and I have to say that I did not think it looked appetizing in the least (I'm desperately trying to resist making any visual comparisons to "tossed cookies" here...oops, looks like I failed). I must also add that I am not a fan of foam in culinary creations.  As far as I'm concerned,  it serves absolutely no purpose other than taking up precious plate space.

The final verdict was that this entree did little to excite the taste buds (and I'm being kind).  Let's face it...cod is what Long John Silver uses for his Fish Planks and (contrary to popular belief) there are some things that even pork fat can't make fabulous. Should've gone with the Red Snapper, Steve.
Want to see some desserts? You know you do! The best of the three we tried were Steve and Debbie's Pigtails.  These guys were sort of a twist on churros and chocolate, with the pastry portion fashioned to resemble porcine posterier appendages, served with chocolate-espresso dipping sauce. Warm, cinnamony and simple decadence.
Underdog went with the gimmicky "Cake and Ice Cream", a contrived offering consisting of three small carrot cupcakes (pretty dry as far as carrot cake goes) served with a small, rather thin ginger and sweet milk milkshake, which also didn't over go over very well.  When UD doesn't clean his dessert plate, something's wrong...BAD wrong.  Looked cute, though...didn't it?
Bread pudding is my weakness, so my heart beat a little faster when I saw Cherry Pecan Bread Pudding on the menu.  My heart also sank a little when I dug in and found a dryness level that neither the ice cream nor the sauce could mitigate.  Listen up, people...every chef needs to eat the Columbia Restaurant's bread pudding so they understand what it's supposed to be like (yes, I know they are not forging any new culinary paths...but they have this particular thing down to an art form).  Dense.  VERY dense.  Moist.  SUPER moist.  I don't want dry bread cubes springing off of my spoon when I dig in...the operative word is "pudding".  Thanks. 

Not as wonderful as it looked.
Final word:  Some hits, some misses...but a good time with good friends and good wine.  The menu changes monthly and enough of it was really good tonight to make me want to creativity always garners bonus points.

The Ravenous Pig on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment