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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pigging out in Winter Park

     Who can resist a restaurant by the name of The Ravenous Pig? First of all, anything pig perks up my attention. Maybe it is the fact that when I converted to Islam I was told pig was a big no-no. I tried to not have it and succeeded for about 18 months, and then… plunged into it like a savage.

     I learnt about this restaurant while volunteering at a local greenhouse that supplies their organically grown produce. Chef-owners James and Julie Petrakis are firm believers in the green movement that Central Florida is experiencing and want nothing but the best for their restaurant. This translates into greens that can be eaten right off the root, since they are grown on irrigated towers that avoid the plants from actually being in contact with the earth. Literally, they grow on air.

     This restaurant is in the heart of Winter Park, the chicest district in Orlando, Florida.  One can almost drive by it without noticing it – and that would be a pity.  It has a few tables outside but I recommend inside sitting.  The ambience is very lively, modern where it has to be, but also sleek and sophisticated.  There is a bar area and 3 small dining rooms.  I sat in the middle section when I went, and was immediately and was always waited on with timely and undivided attention.  The servers will always ask about drinks you may want to start your meal with (as they are very keen on cocktails in this restaurant).  I ordered The Ravenous Pig Old-Fashioned, a classic old-fashioned but infused with bacon.  It had the crunchiest, perfectly shaped bacon slice on top, which gave the drink just the right amount of flavour.  It was excellent.

     For those days when we just want to get drunk and hug our blues, I recommend the Ginger in the Rye, a smoky, highly complex cocktail that will carry you over anything.  It is made with Rittenhouse Rye whiskey, Cynar aperitif, ginger liqueur and Dolin French vermouth.  The ingredients are poured over a block of ice the lasts forever, so it will not taste watered down, not even as you finish it.  The mint garnish provides a note of freshness.  Drinking this cocktail is like smoking a robust Cuban cigar.

     As my starter I tried the House-made Charcuterie and Artisan Cheese platter.  It seemed to me the best way to honour the nature of the place, as well as its intent of focusing on gastro-pub cuisine.  What exactly is gastro-pub cuisine?  Basically, the concept entails bringing pub fare into a more sophisticated experience.  No other course could be as representative of the concept as this one.  It came beautifully presented on a walnut chopboard, and it included a jar of pickled vegetables, a chicken foie gras topped with chocolate bits, two of the thinnest sliced salumis – sopressata and tartufo, a truffled terrine, rustic toasted bread, a slice of sheep’s cheese from Wisconsin and Dijon mustard.  Each bite was a delicacy to be savoured, and the perfect food to linger on with a group of friends on an informal outing.

     Another one of their traits was the Umami “Bloody Mary” Oyster Trio, composed of three New England oysters in a sort of di-structured Bloody Mary – one with vodka and celery, the other with a hint of spicy tomato and the last one with Worcestershire sauce (this last one my favorite).  We chose champagne as the drink, and a basket of deliciously warm and very cheesy Gruyère biscuits with smoked sea salt butter to accompany it.

     A fulfilling, yet light lunch potage, the Tomato Soup is much more than the concept we might be accustomed to for this dish.  Made with seasonal, organic heirloom tomatoes, it is both warm and cool, as the dish in itself is served warm, and is topped with a cool basil crème fraîche.  Whole cherry tomatoes of all colours and green tomato crostini provide the incipient mixture of flavours from the garden.  I could have this every day.

    Last but not least, dessert came in the form of a what I would call a hint of a custard; a Zellwood sweet corn panna cotta, elderflower strawberries and Earl Grey twille.  It was as light as a plume, making for the end of a pub experience that carried none of the heaviness usually associated with it.

     If one is not as light as one would hope after the main course (a probable feeling), one can always order The Sweets Board, an assortment of home-made salted caramels, raspberry marshmallows and chocolate chip cookies made with beurre noisette.  Two of each, they are perfect to round up the meal with a nice espresso.

    The one concept that pervades at The Ravenous Pig is that nothing is left to chance.  Even in the bathrooms, the cozy decorations are detailed and unique.  Where else could one find a copper water can in the shape of a pig?

     Apart from the food, this was hands down my favorite feature, because it shows the dedication and passion put into this place. 

     If planning on going, be aware that the menu changes with the seasons, and new experiences keep coming up all the time.  Also, if going on a Friday or Saturday, reservations are de rigueur at least 3 weeks in advance. 

     You can get some of the recipes and an explanation of the concept of the restaurant in their book, which includes excellent photos and be purchased directly from their website at

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