BJC and I have been on a tear recently, making our way through the cramped spaces of New American/Continental-Comfort cuisine. After our lovely dinner at Prune several weeks ago, we decided to hit two spots: Freemans and the Spotted Pig, two formerly-tiny spots that have benefited greatly from relatively recent expansions. Man, I haven't eaten this well in ages.
First up: Freemans. Located in the back of a tiny alley off Rivington between Bowery and Chystie, Freemans offers a nice take on New American-style fare. We started with a wonderful creamy cheese course, complete with honey and peaches, and from there hit what has to be the appetizer jackpot of the year: the wild boar terrine with stewed huckleberries, and a wonderful spinach, pine nut, & bacon salad with an eggy/mustard vinaigrette.
The wild boar terrine (peaking out from behind the bread in the photo above) was out of this world -- salty, gamy, and smoky, offset by the sweet/tart-ness of the huckleberries. Spread atop huge slices of grilled bread, it was like the friggin' food of the gods. It made sense, then, that the entrees which followed could not live up to those levels of imaginativeness and greatness (though they were pretty good on their own) -- a roasted half chicken with lemon sauce and hazelnuts, and a filet mignon with roasted onions and mashed potatoes. Nice, but perhaps a bit too safe, with creativity a bit too much in check.
We ended the meal with two desserts: strawberry shortcake and grilled peaches with creme fraiche and a simple bourbon sauce. Both were nice, simple plates without any fussiness -- much like the rest of the meal. It was a nice, solid experience overall, incredibly filling and a nice range of flavors, textures, and tastes, especially with the appetizers. And I'm still dreaming about the wild boar terrine.
Yesterday night: The Spotted Pig. You know how you read restaurant reviews, and people can't stop talking about one particular dish, and this dish seems to be talked about everywhere, and you can't help but think: overrated ? Well, that was my pre-Spotted Pig experience of their gnudi, which is basically little disks of ricotta cheese, quickly sauteed and placed in a sage & brown butter sauce. It's sort of like ravioli filling without the pasta exterior. Everyone raves about this dish. I was convinced I'd hate it. And so when we got to the restaurant -- ostensibly a gastropub with British- and Italian- oriented dishes -- I had to order it, to get it out of my life.
And you know what? I want nothing more than to have gnudi in my life. Forever. Absolutely amazing. Incredibly soft, tender pillows of cheese with a just-barely firm exterior, surrounded by a brown butter sauce that puts most other brown butters to shame. My goodness! We also ordered the devils on horseback: figs stuffed with goat cheese, then wrapped in bacon and caramelized until the whole thing becomes a salty, sticky, gooey, sweet, smoky, glorious mess.
Once again, if you've just had some pretty spectacular appetizers that really take "appetizing" to new heights, there's a good chance that the entrees are going to bring you back from that celestial plane. I'm not sure if it's because we were feeling lazy, or unimaginative ourselves, but we ordered steak and roasted quail (do you see a pattern here?), both of which hit the spot, but again, failed to sustain the ecstatic throes of the previous course.
No dessert this time around, as we were both a little tired and probably stuffed. But no matter: in the span of a week, we've had some pretty spectacular dishes that have managed to renew my faith in dining out: I mean, I appreciate fancy foods, but sometimes you just want to see folks do really wonderful, unfussy things with basic ingredients and flavors -- and these apps really demonstrated that talent in spades. Huzzah!
And also now please excuse me while I lay down from food coma.