Ravenous Pig’s Cigar City Brewery Dinner
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My thanks to you, spammer, for that lovely piece of random, broken English madlib. Those make my day.
On to the Ravenous Pig (TRP) dinner. I’ve had the pleasure of a handful of meals at this Orlando eatery, all top shelf, but this one ranks as the best that I’ve ever had there. TRP puts on these special beer/wine pairing dinners throughout the year, and we will definitely make a point of attending as many as we can. Tonight’s was extra special since it featured selections from Florida’s best craft brewery, Cigar City from Tampa, FL.
We arrived for the pre-dinner reception portion of the evening to some off menu and unadvertised surprises, several hors d’œuvres being passed around, complimented by a wonderful Saison style ale from Cigar City called Guava Grove. The crisp, borderline sour beverage paired extremely well with all of the starter offerings, which on their own were phenomenal. Those of you who know me probably don’t need this disclaimer, but I’ll reinforce it here just in case: I am incapable of writing about TRP objectively. Chef James Petrakis apparently has a direct line to my culinary psyche, and seems to be able to randomly cobble together dishes that were meant explicitly for me. The starters on offer tonight are Exhibit A in this claim: Lamb and foie gras meatballs, prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, and smoked oyster and bacon hush puppies, aka, seven of my 10 favorite foods (there was also a goat cheese and tomato tart that we did not have, but how in the world could that not be good). In a word, these were all sublime and worth the price of the dinner on their own.
After that surprise beginning, we took our seats in the dining room. One of the great things about these dinners is that attendance is limited to around 70, which I estimate is roughly half of the seating capacity in the restaurant (including bar seating), so there is an intimate, communal feel in the room. Here is the formal menu that greeted us as we sat:
Our first course and pairing were the Scallop Carpaccio with the White Oak Jai Lai IPA. You may tire of reading this, but this was a spot on perfect pairing, matching the light citrus of the vinaigrette and tartness of the beets with the grapefruit and floral notes of a wonderful IPA. I’ve changed my mind about 20 times on this, but I think this may have been my favorite pairing of the evening. Try not to drool on the screen. (The beets were thinly sliced and served as the base for the dish)
Another great thing about a fixed course dinner like this is that it enforces a bit of self control on you, which I freely admit that I do not possess when I dine here a la carte. I can’t say for sure that I would have picked this first dish out of a list of the usual TRP choices, which usually include such things as Duck Pot Pie or Shrimp and Grits, but this turned out to be a perfect light, almost moderate, first course.
Moderation is not, however, a word I’d apply to the second dish (vegetarians, you should skip the rest of the sentence), a borderline decadent Rabbit and Foie Gras Cassoulet with braised coco beans, chicken livers, and grilled duck hearts. It goes without saying that this isn’t a dish for everyone, and I half expected Morrissey to fire bomb the restaurant mid dish. I can best describe this as the best franks and beans you could ever hope to have, complimented by a really fine double cream ale.
Going into the evening, this was the dish I was most looking forward to, and, even though it was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be, it ended up being my least favorite of the courses presented. Such is the talent of TRP’s kitchen. It did, however, smell PHENOMENAL, and I’d be willing to pay just to sit in the kitchen and breath in the air while this was being prepared.
The “main” course of the night was a roasted elk loin paired with a sour wild ale, which turned out to be one of the revelations of our meal, as I had never had elk before and had no idea what flavors to expect. The elk was served a tender rare/medium rare and had just enough gaminess to it to remind you that you weren’t eating beef or lamb, but not enough to overpower the taste the way venison (the closest comparison I can make) sometimes can. An excellent smoked potato pierogi and braised radicchio (think braised red cabbage, only delicious) paired extremely well with the sour ale, which presented a deep currant color and flavor to match the sauce of the dish.
I realized just before posting this that I had written “elk” as “elf” several times, which would have given the evening a different vibe altogether (I’ve never had elf either, but would be willing to bet that James could prepare one and I’d spend 1000 words raving about shortly before they carted me off to jail).
The final course of the evening was a dried cherry bread pudding. I thought going in this would be a little bittersweet for me, because I knew it would bring to an end a long love affair that I have carried on with the bread pudding at Ragland Road at downtown Disney. But I was wrong, it was not bittersweet. TRP’s take on this dessert stripped any affection I had left for the RR version out, took it out back in the alleyway, roughed it up, and sent it packing on the next Greyhound with enough bus fare to make it to Alabama. There’s a new king of bread puddings, and thy name is Ravenous Pig. This exceptional dessert course was paired with not one but two “dessert beers,” the “Winter Warmer,” which is brewed in small batches in the same barrels which distilled the Palm Ridge Whiskey that also flavored the ice cream (heretofore known as “frozen love”) which accompanied the bread pudding, and the “Lil’ Warmer,” a very fine barley wine that I quite frankly mostly ignored while raving about the food in my spoon.
As if this wasn’t enough, our hosts sprang one more surprise on us, a Cigar City offering that technically isn’t available yet and we were sworn to secrecy not to mention widely that we had sampled. We were only afforded a one ounce taste of this surprise, but it was more than enough to call it far and away the best of the exceptional Cigar City beers that we sampled (go to the Cigar City brewery in Tampa on March 12 for your chance to purchase this mystery masterpiece.)
All in all, a truly exceptional evening at a restaurant that excels at them. If you live in Orlando or are visiting anytime soon, you really do owe it to yourself to make the trip to Winter Park to seek out the Ravenous Pig. Preferably if you invite me along for the night.