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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Orlando outing at the Ravenous Pig

      Typically I try to stick to reviewing restaurants in the South Florida area that are easily visitable, but I figured that perhaps this should be extended to include Central Florida, a locale that is just a quick trip away.  After choosing to venture to Orlando for a weekend getaway, I immediately decided that this would finally be the visit in which I make my way to the Ravenous Pig.  I had heard such great things about the gastropub, I must admit some trepidation on my part that it might not live up to the hype.
      Was immediately surprised by the decor, which was not at all what I had expected.  Far more upscale restaurant than dingy pub, there was a tin ceiling, hanging exposed bulbs, brick walls, and almond bisque linens topped with brown paper.  It was definitely streamlined and sophisticated, yet still felt comfortable.  Radiohead played in the background, an unexpected but pleasant choice (although this is open to personal interpretation).
     I was shocked (and a bit disappointed to note) that the beer menu was not quite as extensive as I had hoped.  While the options that they had were decent, I just wish there had been more of them.  Luckily the cocktail menu bore some pretty inventive options. Since the drinks aren't exactly cheap ($12 apiece), be warned that your bill can tally up fairly quickly.  Especially when they mange to concoct some that are so well-blended you might down it in no time without even realizing!
     The Steamroller (a combination of Anchor Junipero gin, Elderflower liqueur, Cherry Heering, house sour, and beer) is a prime example of this.  Utterly delicious, it was light and refreshing, kind of a combination of Sprite and Southern-style iced tea, with a subtle taste of beer.  Dangerously addictive!
     Next up was the Ravenous Pig Old Fashioned (made with Bacon-infused Buffalo Trace bourbon, vanilla maple syrup, and bitters), which was absolutely a cocktail that is more for sipping.  This is the ultimate manly drink.   While it came off strong on front, the taste gave way to a smooth honey flavor, and finally concluded with a smoky finish.  Decorated with an addictive little sliver of crisp candied bacon, when this hunk of meat was infused with the alcohol, it was even more sensational.   Kindly our waiter brought over additional pieces upon request as one tiny rectangle garnish was just not enough.  As the ice began to melt, the drink's profile began to change.  It opened up, allowing for more coconut and vanilla, with a stronger citrus aroma.
    Our final selection for the evening the aptly named "Gin & Jam," which combined Rogue Pink Spruce Gin,  housemade rhubarb jam, local honey syrup, and house sour.  While it might have looked like a cocktail that Barbie would enjoy, I assure you the taste was far more complex than your average child's play.  Sweetness from the jam and honey, with a touch of piquancy, it was incredibly well balanced.
     While imbibing on the cocktails, we did also manage to make our way to the actual food menu.  In addition to the typical starters, salads, and entrees, there was a section dedicated to "pub fare."  Our first choice was a typical house-made soft pretzel, which was served with whole grain mustard and taleggio-porter fondue.  I'd definitely recommend sharing this dish, as consuming an entire plate alone might be too filling to allow for other selections.  The pretzel was a lovely golden color, with a hard exterior, and lush, bready filling.  It made the perfect shuttle for some of the bold mustard, which had an interesting component of cinnamon flavor hidden within the pungent and crunchy little seeds.  It's rather difficult to ruin melted cheese, and luckily they didn't try.  The taleggio cheese cup coated the pretzel (and my tongue) with a luscious, velvety sauce that never appeared to coagulate,  even though there was no continuous heat source present.  While such an addition would seem purely savory, I found hints of sweetness towards the bottom of the cup.  Of the two dipping options, I would be hardpressed to pick a favorite, as I found it necessary to keep switching back and forth to prevent "tastebud fatigue."
     Next, we opted for the charred octopus, which was served with smoked potato salad, green olive tapenade, and squid ink vinaigrette.  The presentation was lovely, with lots of color.  The octopus arrived perfectly seared, laden with a charred grill taste.  As quality seafood should be, it was absent of any overwhelming "fishy" flavor, nor was it the least bit chewy.  Additionally, the tentacles gave the dish a nice pop.  The squid ink stripe added some saltiness, while the zesty potato pepper slaw brought some punch.
     When it was time for the entrees,  I selected the halibut, which was accompanied by green farro risotto, tasso ham, local patty pan squash, spring onions and black garlic pearls.  The halibut had been sous vide with olive oil, which gave it a glossy coat.  Please note that an oily appearance did not indicate that the fish was undercooked.  Antithetically, the method chosen gave the delicate fish a voluptuously tender quality that made it melt like butter.  The farro added a nice contrast for the silkiness of the fish, exploding with lots of fresh veggie flavor.
     The other entree selected was the Hudson Valley Duck.  This was a stunning ode to duck as it were, with magnificently seared portions of succulent meat, and a juicy, smoked duck sausage.  There was also braised red cabbage, which tasted a bit like cranberry sauce, so saccharine and tart.  Furthermore, the mustard-glazed fennel and rhubarb relish provided additionally distinctive textures and flavors.  Cumulatively, it managed to hit all five tastes, a substantial symphony of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.
      After so many satisfying and filling courses, it was hard to imagine eating another least that is what I thought until I actually saw the dessert menu.  The "Crisp" sounded far too tempting to resist, with a base of stewed strawberries and rhubarb, a crunchy almond top and "toffee" ice cream.  Digging to the bottom to get all the components together, you were hit immediately with a bit of tartness, which then gave way to more dulcet notes.  The dense crisp with almond and brown sugar was crunchy, tasting like a breakfast porridge hodgepodge of oats, buttery cornflakes, and almond bits.  The cool ice cream was every bit the necessary yin to the yang of the hot crumble, however, I can't say I really got any of the described toffee flavor.  In my opinion, it was more like it was a smooth buttermilk.  Not that this in any way stopped me, as I literally had to restrain myself from licking the ramekin clean.  I cannot emphasize enough how much I seriously enjoyed this magical dessert!
 As I sat in a food-coma induced stupor, the genial waiter brought over one last surprise with the bill, some nibbles of moist and tangy blackberry citrus cake.  Yum!
       The Ravenous Pig really is the embodiment of what a gastropub should aspire to be.  A comfortable atmosphere you can't help but to relax in, with quality drinks, and stellar food.  Like so many of the best restaurants, they use local, seasonal ingredients, and the menu is ever changing.  The presentation was flawless and the service was attentive and cordial without being obsequious.  I have no doubt that this was only the first of many visits to come!  If you're in Orlando, or happen to be passing through Winter Park, I highly recommend stopping by.

The Ravenous Pig
1234 Orange Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 628-2333

You can also follow the Ravenous Pig on twitter @RavPig for their latest specials and events!

The Ravenous Pig on Urbanspoon

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