Walking Spanish: Suckling Pig at Meigas, aka “The Foam Place”

Written by Matthew DeBord on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



Meigas

350 Hudson St. (King St.),

627-5800

www.meigasrestaurant.com



Meigas is a
new and stupendously good Spanish restaurant on Hudson St., basically just around
the corner from Film Forum, on a stretch of the city that I like to think of
as High-Toned Tribeca–that corridor between the West Village, with its
cozy vibe, and Tribeca proper, which is high-toned inside the buildings, but
still kind of grimy and authentic at street level. Not so the Hudson Square
vicinity, a little dash of midtown delivered unto lower Manhattan. Glass and
steel, shiny, glistening, populated by citizens in suits. Women who are done.
A distinct absence of the nylon apparel better suited to night jumps into enemy
territory than nocturnal forays into food service.


Meigas fits
perfectly into this demi-neighborhood. Unlike the tapas bars–Ñ,
La Paella, Xunta, Rio Mar–that now dot Manhattan, their limber casualness
and often thoroughly mediocre food parts of the whole Iberian allure that they
successfully assert, Meigas is a true restaurant. Its kin is Solera, the underrated
uptowner that, regrettably, suffers from its location. Meigas, however, is a
much more ambitious exercise in restaurateurship. The culinary model, at least
as far as I understand it, is the currently celebrated El Bulli, on the Costa
Brava near Barcelona, where Ferran Adria has claimed, at least for the time
being (until Ducasse gets his new place open over here), Alain Ducasse’s
title as Best Cook in the Whole Wide World.


Adria’s
signature is foam. He transforms all manner of food into foam and applies it
to plates for the baffled consideration of the globetrotting gourmands who flock
to his restaurant. I had heard that Luis A. Bollo, Meigas’ chef, was also
in the foam business. I mentioned this to a friend while we were discussing
where to eat one night.


"Let’s
try this foam place out," I said.


"Foam?"
she replied.


"Yeah,"
I deftly countered. "Foam."


I was surprised
to discover that a dinner reservation at what we began calling "The Foam
Place" was no problem. I guess there’s a chance that on the weekends
the joint buzzes, but during the week, and early (we dined around 8), the large
dining room was only about two-thirds filled. (The bar, however, was packed.
And if the tapas–nine choices, all under $10–I witnessed on a follow-up
visit were any indication of what one can order along its polished, quarter-of-a-block
length, then it’s going to remain packed for the foreseeable future.)


Spain possesses,
depending on whom you talk to, either the world’s number-two or number-four
wine culture. (Behind only France; or behind France, Italy and California, respectively.)
I ought to find in myself an innate simpatico with the Spanish: I like sherry
and Rioja and reflexively admire the elegant, swashbuckling breed of golfer
the country produces (Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and, more recently,
the teenage phenom Sergio Garcia). I’ve seen some pretty wonderful work
coming from the current generation of Spanish artists. It’s one of the
portions of the planet where seafood and meat and a kitchen ideology of Mediterranean
freshness combine. They nap at noon. They wear colorful clothing. The women
are hot.


Anyhow, this
is mere background to preface what I am compelled to describe as one of the
three or four most exciting restaurant meals I’ve eaten in New York in
the past year. The point is that I was primed for pleasure. I’ve eaten
a humongous buttload of Italian and French food. I was ready for something similar,
but at the same time completely different. And Meigas did not fail to deliver.


The room itself
is fairly corporate, but in the era of pre-weathered and over-fauxed micro-themeparks
such as Pastis and Balthazar–where the food is more or less fine, but hardly
commands attention commensurate with the decor or the crowds–corporate
can be refreshing. Sometimes a brand-new restaurant should look brand-new. Meigas
does. You enter on Hudson through a glass vestibule with shelves that showcase
assorted Iberian art objects. The aforementioned long, polished bar is separated
from the main dining room by a series of frosted-glass partitions. A vast and
fastidious cheerfulness governs the space, but the tablecloths are still starched
and white, the gently curving chairs still upholstered with a somber mocha fabric.
Above, the high ceiling features a vaguely Southwestern (though I guess we know
where that originally came from) pattern of turquoise diamonds. There’s
actually a scrolly wallpaper border running along the ceiling line. This is
a brave esthetic in a city where a lot of people seem to want to be transported
to Peru or Paris or Vienna. It’s a Spanish restaurant in New York that
wants to come off as a Spanish restaurant in New York. It doesn’t want
to fool anybody. It wants to fit in.


Except where
that screwy mural is concerned. The main room is dominated, all along the east
wall, by an immense painting of…I’m not sure what, exactly. It’s
some kind of Spanish seacoast scene overhung with a glorious blue sky thick
with cottony clouds, in the middle of which hovers…a gossamer witch, who appears
to be either conjuring up or hexing a hovering table laden with food. Yep, it’s
bizarre, in a twisted Spanish sort of way. It’s as if El Greco met Dali
and they cracked open a bottle of Lustau and went crazy, but kept their spirits
up, evaded hallucinations and depression. There’s an amiable occultishness
to the thing. You can’t take your eyes off it, but it won’t scare
small children.


The food, on
the other hand, might, though only if your children dislike the idea of Piglet
being hacked up and roasted. The suckling pig is not to be missed–it’s
a portion only of the newborn creature, but plenty for two to share. The skin
is crisp and vibrating with flavor, while the flesh is–as it’s supposed
to be with cooked baby pig–the antithesis of what we’re used to when
consuming the often arid "other white meat." For one thing, suckling
pig meat is tender, moist and pink. It oozes and dribbles. It tastes like pig,
and when was the last time you tasted that? It’s served with a honey and
sherry vinegar sauce that achieves the desired effect of counterpointing the
lush meat with a one-two sweet-and-sour punch.


We also gave
the homemade bacalao a whirl, and were not disappointed. Grilled to flaky, dewy
perfection, it’s plated with a side of stewed squid and onions that perplexed
me until I returned a few days later and studied more closely the menu. Other
platos that tempted were the grilled monkfish, with clams and mussels;
and the roasted loin of rabbit wrapped in bacon. There are also a grilled rib-eye
and a chicken stew on the menu, as well as a vegetarian dish that I think might
function as a good appetizer for a large dinner party.


Our waiter,
an informative guy with a mustache and an almost relentlessly enthusiastic demeanor
(typical of the entire staff at Meigas, a well-trained and devoutly professional
crew), steered me away from the wine I had planned to try toward a ’94
Vega Izan Reserva from Ribero del Duero. It was pleasantly surprising, not as
robust as what I’m used to in Spanish reds, a delicate and fragrant and
almost rosebuddish wine whose light body and limpid color reminded me of a French
Burgundy. (Meigas’ full wine list is pretty impressive, a comprehensive
but well-selected rundown of the country’s trendy and reliable regions
and styles, and there’s a special list of notable reds, all reasonably
priced.)


Appetizers–of
which we sampled three–were pretty thrilling, satisfying and simply good:
pimentos del piquillo rellenos, peppers stuffed with marinated tuna and served
cold; txipirones calamares, baby squid in its own sepulchral ink, with Basque
rice on the side; and my personal favorite, falda de ternera, a breast of veal
stuffed with veal sweetbreads, squid and onions, topped with a nest of slender
onion rings and surrounded by a sauce of Rioja and squid ink that I used two
baskets of Meigas’ amazing bread to sop up.


What about
the foam? Dessert was the only course where we got any: almond-crusted chocolate
croquettes accompanied by coconut foam. This was one of the more interesting
desserts I’ve eaten in years, each of the three croquettes served on an
individual spoon. It’s diabolical, to present three pieces to a pair of
diners. Assuming both are stunned mute by deliciousness, it all boils down to
a fight over that third spoonful.


This time,
I won. But there will be a rematch. I can promise that. Meigas is where you
go to eat extremely well when you’re sick and tired of trying to pretend
that you don’t live in New York, or that you do live in New York but can
eat as if you don’t, or…or some other dipshitty permutation of that notion.
Meigas is, without a doubt, the most ethnically genuine premium restaurant (appetizers,
$8-$16.50; entrees, $18–and $66 for the rib-eye for two) in town right
now. It’s slow cuisine–the suckling pig takes half an hour to prepare–for
people who like to eat and who would never, ever wear New Balances to dinner.
Find a tie and wear it, bravely, downtown.


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