Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Going the Whole Hog

 Let’s cut to the chase. I’m going to start with the ending and finish with the lede. For those in hurry, all you really need to know is in this first paragraph. I had a truly wonderful meal at The Black Pig. Michael Nowak, chef and owner of this new Ohio City restaurant totally knocked me out with his food and the pairings he put together for the husband and I. Based on this single, first experience, I can give this place my complete, unreserved praise.

photo by Barney Taxel
If that endorsement isn’t enough, I now provide the details. Our first encounter with the creativity at work here was a cocktail called the Joli Dame — an absinthe-washed glass filled with Salers apertitif, lemon, and sparkling water. The herbal, grassy drink with a licorice whisper was crafted for grown-ups and an excellent way to get things started at the table. A meat and cheese board soon followed. It featured pork pate, chicken liver mousse, and crisp, translucent pork rinds; pickled cherries, cucumbers, and onions; toasted bread and pita chips. Everything was insanely good.

photo by Barney Taxel
Then came salads — both were original and appealing. In one, shreds of beet root and apple with crème fraiche topped arugula. The other was a kale Caesar with shrimp toast and shaved Cantal cheese. The soup was perhaps the most astonishing dish of the evening — a chilled corn veloute, smooth as suede and delightfully sweet, and flavored with black truffles that gave it depth and dimension. I was so happy and satisfied that I could have stopped there but the chef’s tasting he’d put together for us — something any diner can request — wasn’t done yet.

photo by Barney Taxel
We had pan-seared scallops with orange sabayon, fennel and grilled asparagus, and slices of perfectly prepared pork tenderloin — not like the store bought stuff we’re used to because it comes from an heirloom breed and is locally raised — with risotto. This was followed by a wedge of cheese with truffle honey, and finally a variation on a dobos torte made by layering crepes with chocolate hazelnut cream and a smear of blackberry puree.

Nowak, who is at last putting his French training to use after a long stretch doing other things at Bar Cento and Market Garden Brewery, now has a venue to do his kind of cooking. And his talent is apparent: with each course, my sense of his abilities grew. This is a chef to watch and place worthy of attention.

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