As I mentioned before, Alasdair and I had a 'date' to go to Craigie on Main for their once a year Whole Hog dinner. Originally it was supposed to be 4 of us, but at the last minute Brian had babysitter issues, so in the end Alasdair and I decided what the hell and carried on.
I apologise in advance for the photos, I thought bringing the SLR might be a bit rude, I borrowed Alasdair's dad's point and shoot, but we kept having problems with shutting off the flash and without it the pictures were hopeless, so I only have a few iphone photos with which to tempt you into going. In the end I needn't have worried, every table around us had their cellphones out snapping pictures of their pig heads.
The place was sold out and hopping when we arrived at 7:30. We asked the hostess if we could stand on the side and watch the action for a bit. The open kitchen and pass were buzzing like a hive. Chef Maws was right there making sure everything went out perfectly cooked and plates were constantly being wiped and inspected. Suddenly Alasdair noticed a pig head passing by us. He looked at me with wide eyes. When we were seated we noticed we were right near the 86 board and it read: 4 3 2 1 pig head. We had high hopes.
Our waiter, who I hope I remember correctly was Patrick, arrived and offered up the wine list and the prix fixe menu sheet for the night with the quote "Never eat more than you can lift" - Miss Piggy on the top of the page. Alasdair informed me he could lift quite a bit. I told the waiter that I was obviously the designated driver for the night, pointing over to Alasdair, and asked if perhaps they might have something sparkly and non-alcoholic for us to have instead. Patrick asked if we would like the bar to make a mocktail flight for us for each course. I looked Alasdair and he was nodding yes wildly.
Then we asked the important question. How could we get the pig head? We pointed at the 86 board ever hopeful that 2 and 1 had not been taken, but the news was sad. It wasn't listed on the menu and was only being announced table-side. Sadly for us the last one was gone. Ah well. I told him we'll go to Estragon one night and have it when he gets back from school. We placed our orders being careful to choose the opposite dishes in some courses so we could sample.
The Amuse and the first mocktail arrived. Not to discount the pork, because boys and girls there was some fine, FINE pork to be had that night, but I was truly blown away by the mocktails. Not only did they make a new libation for each course, they made a different one for each of us! I'd sip mine, he'd sip his and we'd switch for a taste. As you can see they were served in traditional cocktail glasses so I delighted in the stare of abject horror by the woman 'of an age' several tables away who likely thought I was getting Alsadair soused. Each one was spectacular. They make all of their infusions, bitters, syrups and potions. My favourite was one with peach, nectarine and rhubarb and one with orange blossom water. I never once missed the alcohol. If you go, be sure to let them test out a few on you, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.
Amuse: Lardo on a crispy rice wafer, pork cracklings, Pâté de Campagne, prosciutto
The waiter, overhearing Alsadair talking about the onion and tomato confit he was planning to make the next day started asking questions. Pretty soon he was chatting lovely food things with us as he picked up each course to clear away. We talked about Transglutaminase-Activa and immersion circulators, le-sanctuaire and sausages. A meal can obviously make or break your restaurant experience, but so can the wait staff and we adored our waiter. He really made the night. We found out that the kitchen upstairs is just for finishing the dishes, there is a whole laboratory downstairs in the basement where the real action takes place. There are 3 walk-ins of which 2 are used just for curing everything in-house. Alasdair was telling him about his visit to tour the kitchens at no9 Park and how one huge room is just for meat fabrication all stainless steel with no seams anywhere and a whole hose system for washing everything down. They talked about her upcoming fine dining venture and then we got back to Chef Maws and where he sources the pigs.
1st course: Alasdair chose the Tortellini of Braised Pork Belly, and after the first taste I wished I had chosen it as well. Light as air, served en brodo and filled with perfect shredded belly I had the Glacée of Summer Farm Vegetables and House Cured Lomo simply because I wanted to try the huitlacoche jus ( which sounds infinitely better than corn smut). Every tiny perfect vegetable tasted like it had been cooked separately, every taste was distinct and the revelation was the cooked radish. I never think to cook them as I am too busy dipping them in butter and salt. But cooked they are milder with just a bit of the bite left.
Next course I chose the Crispy Fromage de Tête with the most perfect egg on top.
Alasdair chose the House Made Boudin Noir and Chorizo Stuffed Grilled Local Squid.
For our third course we both chose the Vermont Organic Pork Three Ways: Spice Crusted Rib, Glazed and Grilled Belly, Bacon Wrapped Loin. That pork loin was the most tender, perfectly cooked piece of loin I have ever had the joy of eating. It certainly didn't need a knife. But oh my. The pork belly. Crisp outside, soft and sweet inside. By the time this course came and I stopped Alasdair to take a picture he was all "Come on I want to eat it!"
We finished up with the Cornbread Pain Perdu, followed by a plate of tiny Mignardises. Alsadair dove on the truffles and I wish I could have captured his face when he bit into the first one. I think it just might have been love at first bite. There was a final nosh, courtesy the chef which was a light as air custard of rhubarb with a cream foam on top.
As we finished up Alasdair looked at me and said words to the effect of "it sucks to be your friend", meaning poor Brian who missed out, but we had an amazing dinner. Craigie and Chef Maws deserve every bit of praise that is heaped on them. Go, eat local, eat fresh, eat well.Craigie on Main
853 Main St