Craigie Street Bistrot is one of the most peculiarly-situated restaurants in the Boston area, but the food fully justifies all the confusion, uncertainty and head-bumping by tall people. It's in the garden level of an apartment building, blocks from any other commercial establishment, but only a ten minute walk from Harvard Square.
I'd been once before, for a fantastic prix-fixe menu, but LKB forwarded me an email with two staggering bits of news:
1. Craigie Street Bistrot is moving to Main Street near Central Square, into what used to be La Groceria. Wow. What will they call it? Can it ever really be the same?
2. The third annual "Whole Hog Dinner" was imminent: "we invite pork lovers to wine and dine on swine at a six-course dinner celebrating all the porcine pleasures. As we write, Chef Tony Maws is confirming that the friendly farmers of Vermont have reserved the most perfect piglets for our event. He racked his imagination to come up with the perfect side dishes to accompany the pork at the now legendary "Pigathon." If you’ve been reading some recent press, you’ll know that The Whole Hog menu is the embodiment of Tony’s "nose to tail", whole animal, "everything but the squeal" philosophy"
Needless to say, a quick note to J and reservations were secured. Did I mention that she's got a new food blog that you have to read?
How can you not love a menu that includes an epigraph by Miss Piggy? We ordered the full dinner with the "Whole Hog" wine flight (AKA, "Swine & Wine pairings") First up, "les Cochonailles" with the 2007 Rose "Bouche de Soleil" Domain Les Portes. Apolgies for the decreasing quality of the photos. It was pretty dark in the restaurant and I refuse to use flash while people are enjoying food like this. And my ability to hold the camera steady decreased as I moved through the wine flight.
Clockwise from top: pate, bacon, lardo, and jowl. Yes, jowl. Crispy fried fat if you're asking. Delish, but honors on this plate to the pate. And you know how much I like lardo.
Next up, the first course, in which we shared both options, Fresh (Pat's) Wellfleet Clams with garlic chives, squid and vegetable noodles, and Chinese sausage consumme, and Slow-Cooked Organic Australian Hiramasa with fromage de tete, jicama-ginger salad and purple mustard.
The clams came with a fizzy Cremant D'Alsace Valentin Zusslin. Normally I wouldn't be into that, but it went down nicely. The sausage and consumme might be the best part of the dish, which should not in any way deduct from the clams.
Australian Hiramasa is a fish with its own website. You have to respect that. It was like a creamy, fork-cuttable swordfish. Fromage de tete is probably best left unexplained and untranslated for those who don't already know what it is. I translated the words one at a time and it gradually dawned on me. It's delicious in small quantities no matter what you think. Also, the fava beans and asparagus were expertly done.
Next up, the second course. Again, shared, because that's the way to do it. It's too bad we didn't have another couple handy to be able to sample every item on the menu, although we came close to asking the foursome next to us. The second course signaled the switch from white to red in the wines, with a crispy confit paired with Gewurtztraminer and braised pig tails with a red called "L'Erbe."
Above, Crispy Confit of Quebec Porcelet with mousserons mushrooms, asparagus, and foie gras jus. Foie gras and pig confit. Can't beat that for richness. The crispy skin on top was the best part.
Braised Pig Tails. Yes, the actual tail. No, there was no evidence of corkscrew-style curliness. With crushed fava beans, pickled peanuts, radishes and ramp puree. Served with the first red wine of the night, the 2005 L'Erbe Domain des Maisons Burlees.
Finally, for the main, we passed up pork belly and the pied de cochon farci for two (that's a pig leg, folks) in favor of the CSB Chorizo-Stuffed Vermont Organic Quail paired with the 2005 Enfant Sauvage Domaine les Portes. Organic quail and organic/biodynamic wine, and yet somehow it felt more decadent than environmentally responsible.
The presentation made us laugh out loud in a good way. The ends of the quail were embedded in a puddle of buckwheat polenta, with the middle section on the side with extra chorizo sitting on a pile of chanterelles, white peaches and fiddleheads. I think we chose well.
Our chosen dessert was the Taza Chocolate and Olive Oil Mousse with almond praline and kumquat syrup plus a glass of dessert wine - the 2006 Banyuls Domaine Traginer. (we passed up the Champagne Mango & Rhubarb Crisp) But before that arrived, we received a small gift from the kitchen - two shot glasses of panna cotta, one flavored with rooibos tea, the other a different tea which escapes me. This would have been a perfect finish to the meal, but wait, there was more.
The chocolate mousse arrived in what looked like a jelly jar or old fashioned glass. There must have been six or eight ounces of mousse plus a layer of kumquat syrup on top. I wish I could say that it was light and airy, but it was closer to ganache or peanut butter in consistency. Which not to say it didn't taste heavenly, but we had after all just finished four courses of piggy richness. Between the two of us we probably ate almost one serving of the mousse. And then they brought us another dessert.
The third dessert of the evening, the second one sent out from the kitchen for us, was again refreshingly small, little cups of rhubarb hibiscus soup. Ice cold and wonderfully tart, this too would have been a perfect ending to the meal. Then they brought madelines and truffles.
How can you not eat a madeline when one is presented to you? It was the perfect complement to my espresso.
I wish the Craigie street crew all the best in the new home on Main street (barely half a mile from Limeduck world HQ) but it could be a while before I'm ready for another meal like this one. If you have an opportunity to visit the current location before the move, I highly recommend sampling the original Craigie street experience so you can compare it to the new one.