"Do you want to eat at a restaurant called Pig Heaven?" asked Lauren, knowing very well what the answer would be. It was the best invitation I'd heard in a long time, in addition to possibly being the most awesome name of a restaurant I had I had ever heard of in New York City. In just three syllables, it goes straight to the heart of your desires: "We have pig, and we killed it for you."
But what if you don't eat pork? Hell, what if you don't eat meat? This Upper East Side institution—it's been around for over 20 years—has everyone covered. The menu outlines food in categories of pork, no pork, hot pork, cold pork, vegetarian, and then some. Vegetarians can eat their dishes of tofu and vegetables (somewhat) peacefully as their carnivorous friends dig into porky dishes wafting swinely fumes in their direction.
When I ordered the small barbecue pork butt (the term "butt" refering to the upper shoulder; yeah, that's not confusing at all) or char siu in Chinese, I was afraid that "small" could've been a misnomer, resulting in a plate laden with more pork than one should consume in one meal. Not to say I didn't exceed such an amount, but I was relieved to find that the small size actually was a diminutive pile of glistening fat-oozing pork strips unlikely to cause me much stomach distress. If there were more more slices of sweet, tender pork in front of me, I definitely would've eaten them. The pork was accompanied by a dipping sauce that tasted something like watered-down soy sauce (probably had other stuff in it, but I'm unable to identify flavors, you know). The pork didn't really need the extra flavor, but I dipped it anyway because it was there.
As much as I enjoyed the barbecue pork butt, what I should've gotten was Lauren's small suckling pig, aka slices of baby pig comprised 50% of rich, slightly crisp, porky skin fat and 50% tender meat. If the portion had been any larger, it would've been deadly. Biting into a chunk of fat doesn't always qualify as an enjoyable experience, but when it's the fat of a baby pig, it's hard for it to suck.
Olivia's sweet and sour pork was unexpectedly made of pork-based meatballs. I thought it would be more like whole pork chunks coated in sauce. It wasn't a bad dish, just not memorable.
Jones was the lone non-pork eater with his diced chicken with hot pepper sauce and peanuts. Lots of peanuts. I didn't try any, but I think he ate most of it. THUMBS UP!
Is it fair to say we offset our pork consumption by eating it with brown rice? Probably not. I usually go for white rice, but in this case the nutty flavor of the brown rice went well gnashed together with the varying flavors of pig-based origins.
The complimentary pickled vegetables of cabbage and cucumber-like things, which tasted more sweet than tangy, also went well with the pork. And the rice. And, hell, by itself.
Across from the cashier's counter was a table overloaded with pig shaped items. If you have an old piggy bank laying around that you don't want, I'm sure they'd be glad to add it to their collection.
While the restaurant's dessert menu looked interesting (the important note being that they had one at all, a rare occurrence in Chinese restaurants) and potentially tasty (like the bread pudding with orange sauce), we opted out of it so we could eat at...
Andre's Cafe, a Hungarian restaurant and bakery! Just walk up five blocks and you too can cap off your Chinese meal with flaky Hungarian baked goods. Your stomach will be a frothy bag of multicutural flavors! Like a United Colors of Benneton ad, but with partially digested food instead of smiling, attractive models.
Jones and I went with fat logs of apple strudel, layers of light, flaky phyllo sheets wrapped around loads of soft apple chunks. I thought it could've used more sugar. A lot more sugar. But then I guess it would've tasted more like sugar and less like fruit, which probably isn't the point.
Lauren and Olivia opted for the cherry and cheese studel, which I liked more than the apple. It had a lot more going for it: sugar, the tartness of the cherries, and creaminess of the cheese, all mooshed together. The apple studel is the boring kid in the back of the classroom who doesn't say anything (like me!), while the cherry and cheese studel is like...the opposite kid. The perky one who talks a lot and has nice hair. You know.
And there's Lauren, Jones and Olivia, just for visual proof that people are willing to hang out with me.
I'm quite unfamiliar with the Upper East Side, but at the very least it i has pork and strudel going for it. I'm looking forward to my next night of pork fat and cheesy cherry pastries. It will happen.
1631 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10028