September 17, 2012 | BITE: My Journal

To Swine Own Self Be True.

 Bacon ice cream sundae with fresh cherries, a beastie finale at Swine.
Bacon ice cream sundae with fresh cherries, a beastie finale at Swine.


          I remember when the late great Chinese restaurateur David Keh hesitated to open Pig Heaven because, he said, his Jewish customers wouldn’t want to eat pork.  He could not have imagined our town’s new urban barnyard where the devout worship pig from cheek amatriciana to cuchifritos.



Loaves of wrapped bread are piled in front of the open kitchen in the rec room.



          A fitting temple duplex for the cult is the brand new Swine with its clamorous bar half a flight up and basement murk below --- black spattered brick, Beastie Boys photographs and wine on tap. The new Hudson Street bestiary serves up the requisite salumi, toasts and pickles, familiar and uncommon parts of pig and bacon ice cream sundae, all artisanal, housemade or locally sourced, as the faith requires.



We debate whether it’s Cher or Pocahontas being nuzzled by Hugh Jackman.



          Earlyish one Tuesday I’m sipping a “Pig in the City,” a feisty Manhattan with bacon infused booze. The near-empty rec room with its repurposed ping pong table occupied by a timid trio is relaxed.  We can talk.  Five of us in a corner booth scan the menu, order and then study Barbie and Kenlike figures in the corner behind us. Is that Cher or Pocahontas being ravished by Hugh Jackman?



Not a dish for 5 to share, we needed an encore of the pork belly in sweet chili glaze.



          We dip into mustardy deviled eggs, an itsy dollop of chicken liver mousse, marvelous macerated peaches, bacon marmalade and espelette pepper jam, pickles by Rick’s Picks, rabbit croquettes on an orange puddle that is supposed to be nectarine-blackberry chutney.



To feed a hungry vegetarian, you’ll have to get grilled cheese minus the bacon.



          Two blobs of pork belly with sweet chili glaze are too small for five to share. We order seconds. Quartered grilled Chimay cheese sandwich with tomato and Faicco’s slab bacon, and a creative Rueben – beef tongue pastrami, braised cabbage, Manchego and Dijon – are worth doubling up on too.



Tongue pastrami tastes unduly tame to me, dry and not very peppery.



          By Friday, the torque’s turned up. In spite of my avoidance of places that don’t reserve, we’re here. (The house takes reservations only for five or more). “I’ll seat you downstairs where it’s quieter,” the host offers. But by nine the cellar slams, squeals and roars competing with 80’s rock.  Something is burning. The scorch wafts from the open kitchen. Could it be our swine chop? It is taking forever.


Pig’s head mashed and fried into crispy fingers stud the frisee salad with poached egg.


          Thinish triangles of country pâté alongside a hill of cornichons prove less than thrilling.  Crispy pig’s head salad turns out to be frisée with a whole poached egg to smash and batons of what must be fried pig’s head but tastes mostly of crumb batter. Our spirits are sinking. I’d like my tongue pastrami to be more peppery too.



Salsa verde swathed marrow is a lush custard to spoon from the bone and pile on toast.


          Then, like a mirage, approaching the table on a wooden board piled with grilled bread: two giant bones – dinosaur’s femurs -- smeared with green sauce. Till now the bread – proudly billed as Free Bread by Karen Freer of Carroll Gardens -- has been stale, dried- out and chewy, as if grilled ahead and rewarmed.  But this tastes just toasted, worthy of the lush marrow custard. 



Bone marrow, gruyere and brisket make a super-rich burger with potato wedges.


          It melts slowly in my mouth, sweet and demanding, under vibrant lashings of caper-salty salsa verde. I really need a second spoonful on another hunk of bread. I can’t pretend I need a third but…well, you can’t be sure what need is till you’ve exceeded it. Amazingly, four marrow lovers cannot finish scraping out of the second bone. 


Summer corn cake flanks slices of honey glazed duck breast.


          From large plates at just $18 to $26, the swine chop is anticlimactic now. Especially as it is curiously bland and spongy rather than crusty and caramelized. But I’d be back anyway for the crispy potato wedges alongside the bone marrow and brisket burger – not as rare as I would like but still pretty thrilling. Dividing it into four wedges is surely the key to survival here. 



Blackberry crumble a la mode is a tart’sweet respite from pig.



          Phil Conlon, formerly of Café Cluny and Extra Virgin is supposedly in the kitchen here. I like his corn crèpe and wish he would consider rendering the fat under the honey-glazed skin of duck breast to give it some flavor.



I’m not sure if this is an ironic decorative statement or just an unfinished wall.



          It’s only fitting that Swine nestles next door to RedFarm on Hudson Street: country cousins. Restless suitors in queue for RedFarm’s communal table and red-and-white checked booths can grab a drink at Swine’s bar while waiting for a summons. No need to starve in the holding pen. Order those potato wedges as a side with jalapeños.  Bring ear plugs. RedFarm can be riotous too.


531 Hudson Street between 10th Street and Charles. 212 255 7675. Monday through Saturday 3pm to 3am, Sunday 3 pm  till midnight


Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.


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