I first heard of this “restaurant” from one of the 50th’s original food bloggers, Reid of Ono Kine Grindz. I use the term “restaurant” lightly as The Pig and the Lady is a “pop-up” restaurant, meaning they utilize the space of a pre-existing restaurant during its off hours. This concept is not new, pop-up restaurants have been around in the Bay Area for several years — usually they are started by up-and-coming chefs who lack the financial principal to start from ground zero. On other occasions, experienced chefs — some already with established restaurants — who simply want to experiment outside of their usual domains, or perhaps serve unique ingredients that may be frowned upon by County Health inspectors, run them. These venues are often run from private homes and skirt zoning and health code regulations by asking for “donations,” rather than “charging” for the meal.
In this case, The Pig and the Lady is the brainchild of CIA graduate and former Chef Mavro sous chef, Andrew Le, along with noted local food writer, Martha Cheng, who aside from being the primary food writer for a weekly publication, also did her “time” as a line chef. The current facilities that they use are courtesy of Hank Adaniya at his Hank’s Haute Dogs. In his previous life, Adaniya ran Trio in Chicago with chef luminaries such as Rick Tramonto/Gale Gand, Shawn McClain and Grant Achatz holding court in the kitchen. It’s widely known in Hawai‘i that Adaniya has an eye for talent and it’s no wonder that he allowed the duo of Le and Cheng to hold court in his kitchen.
Since this venture just started in June, the menu primarily focuses around nouveau creations in Le’s comfort zone, Vietnamese cuisine. In fact, his mother also stakes her claim in the kitchen. Eventually, The Pig and the Lady plan to offer a changing menu based on the cuisine of the world. On this evening the menu read like this:
Asian pear, toasted rice puff, banana blossom salad, kaffir lime sauce
maitake mushroom, pickled lotus root, jicama, jasmine rice croquettes
Braised Pork Belly
crispy rice cake, turnips, poached quail eggs
rice noodles, brisket, tendon
Coconut Pandan Toast
lychee, basil seeds, Thai basil, vanilla ice cream
Wine Pairings, Anyone?
Since this isn’t your typical brick-and-mortar traditional restaurant, patrons are encouraged to bring their own wine. So, in usual fashion, our regular wine ‘n’ dine group pondered wine pairings with each dish.
Since typical Southeast Asian cuisine usually has flavor components from each of the basic taste sensations — sweet, sour, salty and bitter — lighter fruity wines usually are the rule of thumb. And if chili pepper heat is expected, wines lower in alcohol pair a lot better since they don’t magnify the capsaicin burn.
My initial pairings included a 2002 Huet sparkling Vouvray (Chenin Blanc-based sparkler with loads of fruit, sweetness and palate cleansing acidity and effervescence), the Harushika Daiginjo Sake and a 2008 Reichsrat Von Buhl light fragrant German Pinot Noir for the pork dish. For good measure, I also brought a NV Tarlant Extra Brut Rose Champagne, which was intended to start the evening, but uncorked as an after dinner aperitif.
Of course, as was expected our wine ‘n’ dine group brought way too many wines, about a dozen Pinot Noirs alone just for the pork dish. I actually counted at least 30 bottles (for 11 diners) though we “only” corked about 20 or so wines. However, we did share our wines with neighboring tables.
Gourmand Worthy or Just Another Fad?
Let me say right off the bat that the meal was worth every penny! The only challenge with the meal was that certain wines worked better with certain flavor components of each dish, so it was difficult for me to definitively say that a single wine was the best pairing for any one dish — as if that’s a problem. That simply means that the cuisine was versatile enough to pair with a variety of wine types.
As each dish was served, Le explained each dish to the diners including his interpretation of classic Vietnamese cuisine. The first course was the first time I had sashimi served with a kaffir lime sauce — usually the only time I see kaffir lime leaves are in Thai curries. Combined with a banana blossom salad and Asian pear, this was Le’s interpretation of a classic Vietnamese poisson cru. Silky sashimi with crunchy, earthy banana blossom and crisp rice puffs, then a hit of crisp sweet pear and finally earthy, savory kaffir lime sauce… totally blows the traditional sashimi with shoyu and wasabi out of the water! My favorite wines pairings were the sparkling Vouvray, daiginjo sake and the off-dry Riesling.
The second course showed that Le wasn’t just a one-course wonder. The curry sauce alone would have been great with a bowl of somen or udon. The wine pairing preferences varied quite a lot depending on what bite you took. The curry sauce itself was great with the German Spatlese Riesling. The pickled lotus root (hasu) was better with the sake, –while the maitake mushrooms were perfect with the German Pinot Noir. Talk about a flavor party in your mouth!
Then came the meat dish — Braised Pork Belly. It was rich and unctuous, but not too fatty on the palate. Served with poached quail eggs that looked like bocconcini mozzarella… until you bit into them, and received a brief ooze of yolk. I wonder if Le actually intended this dish to be his interpretation of bacon and eggs? And of course, pork and Pinot Noir are like the Fred and Ginger of the food and wine world. My faves were the German, 2000 Scherrer and 1994 Au Bon Climat versions.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were served Le’s mother’s pho. Without a doubt the BEST pho broth I’ve ever had, it had a touch of five spice. Not oily, not salty but just hearty goodness! Probably the biggest compliment came from Mr. C — who usually is busy taking meticulous wine notes during every tasting — who stated that the pho didn’t even need wine, it was THAT good just by itself.
Unfortunately for dessert, it followed the glorious pho, so it probably didn’t get the full attention it deserved. But it was also very good, an updated take on a typical Vietnamese breakfast with a buttery coconut toast with vanilla ice cream on a basil seed and lilikoi (passion fruit) sauce with fresh lychee. The five-puttonyos Tokaji dessert wine took the dessert to new heights.
Am I recommending that you take the next flight to Hawai‘i simply to sample a dinner at The Pig and the Lady? No, unless you really want to (they still have seats available on Friday, July 22). What I am suggesting is exploring that transient world of pop-up restaurants in your neck of the woods. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the creativity and quality of the cuisine. And who knows? Maybe you’ll someday say that you were there at the beginning of the next Thomas Keller’s career.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.