Thursday, September 24, 2009

Craigie on Main: Whole Hog Dinner

It is not often that you get the opportunity at a restaurant to taste brains. And for most people, they are very glad of that fact. Yet I have a more adventurous palate and was quite willing to try them, a dish I had never tried before.

In addition, this was the first time I dined at Craigie on Main, a very popular and esteemed restaurant owned by Chef Tony Maws. Located close to Central Square in Cambridge, the restaurant is well known for using local, seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients. Plus, Chef Maws is well known for using every part of an animal, especially pigs. In fact, I was attending a special "Whole Hog" dinner.

My dining companions for the evening were Jackie and David, fellow foodies, bloggers and pig lovers. Jackie also posted her own review of the evening and it is well worth reading. They are both great people, and we had quite an enjoyable night, chatting, eating, drinking and just savoring everything.

We began our multi-course dinner with a plate of Hors d'ouevres, called "les Cochonailles" which roughly translates as "Piglet's Delight." From lardo to pate, each of these small bites tantalized the senses with their differing flavors and textures. The crispy pork was especially delicious and I could have easily chowed down an entire bowl of them. Just give me wine and the crispy pork and I would have been very happy.

For my First Course, I selected the Tortellini of Braised Pork Belly with was accompanied by squash blossoms, squash jus, and calaminthe. The light tortellini, perfectly cooked, burst with porcine flavor with the tender pork belly. The jus and calaminthe flavors complemented the dish. Another excellent course.

For my second course, I opted for the House-Made Boudin Noir and Chorizo-Stuffed Grilled Local Squid, accompanied by fresh white corn polenta and basil. Another excellent dish. The squid was very tender, the chorizo spicy and the polenta creamy and flavorful. The tastes combined well together and there was plenty of food.

Though I did not select the Crispy Fromage de Tête for my second course, Jackie ordered it and I got to taste it. This is crispy head cheese, topped by a sunny side egg. I really liked the flavor of this dish, the crispiness of the head cheese making it very appealing. And of course the egg, especially the yolk, added to the enjoyment of the head cheese.

For my third course, I went with the Vermont Organic Pork Three Ways which included Spice-Crusted Ribs, Glazed and Grilled Belly, and Bacon-Wrapped Loin. It was accompanied by pea greens, local black trumpet mushrooms, and spiced puree of eggplant. This was a pork lover's dream, three varied preparations, each delicious in it own right. The ribs were incredibly tender and flavorful, while the pork belly was decadently scrumptious. The loin was meaty and tender, with the salty flavor of bacon.

David and Jackie shared a half-head of a pig for this course, and each received a plate of pig brains as well. I tasted the brains and they were creamy, reminding me of cream of wheat, though they were nothing special to me. It was interesting, and I am glad I tried them, though I doubt they will become a regular dish for me.

The pig head though was incredible! I got to taste the snout, ears, skin and meat and everything was so delicious. The skin, crisp, salty and flavorful, really impressed me and I could have eaten a huge plate of just the skin. The head had been brined and then prepared sous vide. The meat beneath the skin was also very tender, and any fat was smooth and creamy. Chef Maws clearly knows how to prepare a pig to satisfy any foodie.

Dessert was Cornbread Pain Perdu with plum coulis and anise hyssop ice cream. I love cornbread and this was a superb specimen of such, moist and full of rich corn flavor. The ice cream had an intriguing herbal flavor that did mix well with the corn bread and plum flavors. A fine ending to an excellent dinner.
So my first experience at Craigie on Main was fantastic, and certainly gave me motivation to return to the restaurant. I didn't have a single complaint about the food and service was excellent as well. Plus, with the good friends accompanying me, it was an even better night.

I strongly recommend you check out Craigie on Main, though I suggest you make reservations as it is a very popular place. Plus, as the Whole Hog dinner was so popular, they have added several new pork delights to their menu, including Crispy Fried Pigs' Tails, Les Cochonailles, and Crispy Fried Pork Bones with Nuoc Cham. They even have
a Milk-fed Confit Baby Pig Head for Two (from an organic Quebec farm). I shall return there soon and will report back again.

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-497-5511

Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon


adele said...

I remember reading Jacqueline's review of this - nice to hear another perspective on it. (And lovely to see photos of the food again, even if they make me want to lick my computer screen.)

JacquelineC said...

Thanks for the opportunity to relive the evening, it was great to enjoy it with you both!