Review date May 2014:
I can’t help but love a restaurant with the word ‘Pig’ in its name. The Spotted Pig in New York (reviewed here), The Ginger Pig café in London, Au Pied de Cochon in Paris and The Ravenous Pig in Orlando all proudly fly the pork flag. Somehow you just know that your dinner will mean money and time well spent.
We were in sunny Orlando, after a few days in Miami and prior to a long-awaited trip to Ecuador, for one reason only. Justin Timberlake. Watching the former peroxide-permed Nsync starlet in concert was not my call, but turned out to be a great excuse to visit what was a surprisingly fun city. But first, to dinner. A hotel car dropped us off, bang on time of our reservation, right out front….of the wrong place, miles from where we were supposed to be. Unsurprisingly in the home of Tropicana, there are a lot of streets with ‘Orange’ in the name. So we wander into the nearest store, Tim’s wine merchants, to see if we can call a cab. Step forward a genuine life-saver, a guy waiting in line who overhears our story and insists on dropping us off at the restaurant on his way home. Regrettably we didn’t get his name, but what an absolute gentleman – and what a fine reflection on the city of Orlando.
The dinner menu set the scene with a mix of high-end burgers and steaks, salads and pastas. So far, so predictable. Read further though however and the menu becomes a window on the soul of the chef de cuisine Joseph Cournoyer-Bennett, reflecting his global wanderings and ability to extract the maximum impact from great local produce.
A little loosener for me came in the form of their eponympous ‘Old Fashioned’, featuring bacon-infused bourbon, vanilla maple syrup and angostura orange.
The stirrer, naturally, was a crisp slice of bacon. If there is a finer swine-honouring beverage, I’m yet to find it.
My wife’s ‘Winter Punch’ bought together cachaca, pine liqueur, demarara syrup, lemon juice and cloves. Both were the perfect accompaniment to the ‘soft house-made pretzels with whole grain mustard and taleggio-porter fondue’. A series of words that is just impossible to dislike.
To fully do justice to The Ravenous Pig, it only seemed right to then investigate their ‘house-made charcuterie and artisan cheese platter’. Wow. Boudin blanc (white blood sausage), chicken liver crostini, porcini pork rillettes, smoked souse (a kind of brawn made from the pig’s head), country terrine, pecorino and Humbolt Fog goat cheese. This was a seriously accomplished and generous ‘starter’, showing the kitchen’s respect for the whole animal, not to mention technique to pull off so many beautiful incarnations. As JT sang later that evening at The Amway Center, this was all about ‘bringing sexy back’.
The vegetarian then sensibly opted for the ‘Gatherer’ salad featuring pickled beets, radish, pistachios, avocado, a healthy and light assembly enlivened by a zingy herb vinaigrette. This carnivore however couldn’t look beyond a dish that I always order, given the chance – venison. This is where Cournoyer-Bennett came into his own, serving it gin-rubbed, imparting a stunning juniper undertone to the deep, musty game. It was accompanied by a rootbeer venison brat sausage, baby beets, French horn mushrooms and ash spätzle (soft gnocchi-like noodles). Cry me a river indeed.
As Justin was starting to gargle and do his scales, we regrettably had to pass on dessert. Service from Nelson was friendly, knowledgeable and faultless in a way that the US does better than anyone. Chef/ownersJames and Julie Petrakis have a neighborhood restaurant that delivers some of the best, most relaxed fine dining anywhere in the US. So fly that Pork flag high.
The Ravenous Pig: 1234 N Orange Ave, Winter Park, Orlando.T: +407 628 2333 http://www.theravenouspig.com/