I've been to The Salty Pig in Boston's Back Bay a few times since it opened back in 2011. I immediately loved the concept -- a warm, inviting space with a view of the kitchen and lots of cheese, salty meat, and pizza options.
Since my last visit, Kevin O'Donnell became executive chef there. Kevin was a sous chef at Mario Batali's Del Posto and was also named "a new American tastemaker in Paris" for his work at L'Office. I was invited in to try a sampling of his new-to-the-menu dishes. How could I resist?
We started the evening with a glass of Manzanilla sherry, expertly paired by The Salty Pig's manager Jillian Rocco. Jillian had a wealth of information to share about the sherry as well as the other sips we had throughout the evening. (I think it would be fun if she did a whole class on sherry.... or maybe a whole dinner pairing.)
For the amuse-bouche we each had a small toast topped with house-made stracciatella and aged balsamic vinegar. The cheese was mild and made up of strands of mozzarella enrobed in cream. The whole bite was lightly sweet from the vinegar.
Kevin followed this first taste up with some salty pig snacks. He placed a board before us with small squares of fried dough wrapped in prosciutto and topped with shaved Stravecchio cheese. I couldn't get enough of these perfect salty bites and may even try to recreate them at home.
The next salty pig snack was a small shooter of Swiss cheese and potato soup with chorizo powder. (Kevin explained that he makes the powder by dehydrating chorizo and grating it on a Microplane.) The powder added just that subtle essence of chorizo flavor and heat to the otherwise mild soup.
The final salty pig snacks were skewered squares of house-made head cheese topped with dried fruit mostarda. I'm not a big fan of the texture of head cheese, but I appreciated the meaty flavors paired with the sweetness and bite of the mostarda.
We switched to a super tight, taut, acidic (Jillian's very accurate descriptors) Chablis before digging into the first course: a roasted beet salad with charred endive and winter citrus, creamy feta dressing, and frisee. To add a little crunch and salty contrast to the sweet roasted beets, there were also miniature fried beet chips. I can get behind any winter salads like this one that boast citrusy, bright flavors and colors that pop.
The next course paid tribute to Kevin's home state with some grilled Rhode Island calamari. The calamari was plated with fried artichokes, lemon aioli, kalamata olives, and a kalamata vinaigrette. A little char is definitely welcome to chase away winter blues... and so are the acidic flavor of lemon and the saltiness of the kalamatas. And who can turn down a lightly fried artichoke?
We delved into a warming dish of house-made gnocchi with lamb neck ragu, ricotta salata, and lemon next. Jillian poured us some Nebbiolo to go with this hearty course. I was so impressed with the light gnocchi and pronounced flavors of this dish.
Our last savory course was one that showcased the whole pig. It was a pork tasting with winter squash, chanterelles, roasted grapes, and Tuscan kale. The pork belly, which was nicely crisped, was one of my favorite components of the dish, but I just love how there are different pork parts and preparations all on one plate.
As I always say, you can't end a meal without dessert, and Kevin made sure we didn't, serving us vanilla bread pudding with maple and walnut ice cream and cranberries. By now most of you know I never go out of my way to order bread pudding (truly, I avoid it) because soggy bread doesn't do much for me, but the texture of this bread pudding was more like a firm custard and less like wet bread. With this course we sipped on a sweet sherry with a dry finish.
I left feeling satisfied, like I'd tried a number of interesting dishes, but didn't feel like I needed to be rolled out of there because nothing was overwhelmingly heavy... though everything tasted super-indulgent.
Definitely get over to The Salty Pig to try these new menu items, and if you want to try a bunch of different things like I did, you can now sit at the chef's counter and get a chef's tasting menu, which will change often but could be similar to what we had during this tasting.
Do you have any favorite salty pig snacks?
This dinner was complimentary, but as always, my opinions are my own.