Wednesday, October 5, 2011
121 Sycamore St., Decatur, GA www.iberianpigatl.com
Last Thursday night my friend John treated me and Kyle to dinner at Iberian Pig. He's been raving about it for months, so I was excited to try it out.
Wow, what an awesome place! One thing about dining with John is that he typically orders anything and everything on the menu that looks even remotely interesting, so we got to sample a ton of dishes. This is especially fun when we're having tapas, and the Pig is a tapas/wine bar.
If you're now rolling your eyes, muttering that you're sick of the ho-hum, overpriced and underwhelming little dishes often found in Atlanta's tapas restaurants, you can rest assured that you won't have that experience here. The tapas are pricey, but they are really, really tasty and unique. You won't find that cross cultural, mix of Asian/Spanish/American/Italian tapas you'll find elsewhere. Iberian Pig seeks to replicate the original, authentic Spanish tapas experience - the menu offerings are comprised of traditional ingredients and combinations. No sushi, no sliders. Instead you'll find lots of cured meats, Spanish cheeses and flatbreads.
We started with the charcuterie, which, in hindsight, was my favorite part of the meal. We chose 3 types of cured pork, all in the Iberico category. The menu tells you the pigs dine on acorns, and you'll detect a distinct nuttiness when you chew these wafer-thin slices of goodness. We also got 3 cheeses, my favorite being the Valdeon, which is a pungeant blue cheese made from both sheep and goat's milk. Stronger than grocery store blue, but not as ripe as gorgonzola. Fantastic.
Next we moved on to the regular tapas. We liked the Albondigas ($7), wild boar meatballs stuffed with dates, peppers, and roasted tomatoes, finished with a pimenton creme and oyster mushrooms. You can't go wrong with oyster mushrooms in my book. I've noticed they've become increasingly popular on the menus of upscale Atlanta restaurants, and I'm happy about it. If you haven't had wild boar, I can tell you it tastes more like beef than pork. Good, but not excellent.
Here's something that was excellent - the braised veal shank ravioli ($9). Each lovely ravioli burst with flavor, and the topping - rioja cream sauce, black truffle creme fraiche, white truffle oil, roasted shitake mushrooms and fresh thyme - could you just die hearing that, much less eating it? Iberian Pig needs to convert this into a main dish, so the gluttons among us can eat unto our heart's content (or until our stomachs explode, whichever comes first).
We also loved the Pulp a la Parilla ($14), grilled Mediterranean octopus with roasted fingerling potatoes, garlic, watercress pistou and little bits of bacon. As all of you know, bacon is always a welcome addition to any dish. However, it's the watercress pistou atop the perfectly grilled, firm but not chewy octopus that makes this dish.
Cheese lovers should definitely order the Croquetas de Queso ($8), chevre with honey-citrus yogurt, and lavendar honey. Goat cheese with honey is an excellent combination, and the citrus lightens up this heavy, fragrant dish.
And by the way, the Spanish olives are in some kind of divine olive oil with sherry vinegar, which Kyle compared to tasty plastic. I know that sounds odd, but it just tastes like it's been processed a little differently. If plastic could be appetizing, this is how it would taste.
It's a little dark in the dining room for my taste, but if you like a happening scene, Iberian Pig is for you. It was packed both inside and out last Thursday, and that's apparently the norm.
Now for the service - some of the best I've received this year. Patrick was a true gem, a sommelier with good suggestions who is also extremely knowledgeable about every dish on the menu. He's so attentive and pleasant that you'll want him to pull up a chair and join your feast - although you don't want him to actually eat any of your food, because you'll want it all for yourself.
Verdict: Perhaps Decatur's best restaurant.