Trouble With Toast

The Iberian Pig | November 13, 2009

I travel a fair amount for work, and when I leave for more than a day or two, I do the good wifely thing and cook some meals for my husband to eat while I’m away.  While he certainly appreciates my efforts (let’s face it, otherwise, he’d be eating fast food for every meal–or just not eating), he is happy to STOP eating out of Tupperware containers when I return.  After one of my recent homecomings, we decided to go on a date and try the new Iberian Pig in Decatur.  I had heard some decent buzz about it, and I certainly enjoy Spanish food (having lived in Spain for a spell in college), but I was a little wary due to the fact that Atlanta has not really sustained an authentic, successful Spanish restaurant.

My first impression of the restaurant, other than “Holy crap, it is CROWDED in here,” was that I liked the space and the feel of the interior.  There is a lot of rich wood and some interesting furniture pieces, but nothing that obnoxiously screams Spain.  I found it tasteful and comfortable, if slightly lacking in “personalidad.”  The entrance/bar area is pretty tight, but we found a bit of space by the host stand and a very friendly bartender/manager came and took our cocktail order.  I must say, it was nice to have someone come to us, rather than having to lean over the people who were actually dining at the bar in order to get a pre-dinner libation.  We had a little bit of an issue with the hostess (she pronounced my name horribly wrong, causing us to wait an additional 10-15 minutes to be seated, after we’d already had to wait for our reservation), but we finally wound up at a cozy table toward the rear of the restaurant.

We wanted to think about strategy, so we ordered the obvious first: a plate of meat and cheese.  We opted for manchego, idiazabal, and the famous jamon iberico for which the restaurant is named.  The portions were fair for the prices, and the plate came with some bread (already “seasoned” with a tasty olive oil), sausage, and olives.  It also came with a sauce that turned out to be espresso aioli, but it truthfully reminded me of honey mustard more than anything else.  We didn’t need it, since the meat and cheese selections were delicious on their own.  In particular, the jamon iberico was buttery, tender, and rich, with an occasional, well-placed wallop of saltiness.  When combined with my lovely glass of Rioja, that ham transported me right back to Madrid.  We also ordered some tapanade (which came on the same crusty bread), but I’m not an olive lover so it wasn’t my favorite.

The menu has a LOT going on, and it was hard for us to choose where to go from there.  We decided to stick with the smaller plates (even though some of the “entrees” looked intriguing), and our next round included a pork belly special and the stuffed piquillo peppers.  I cannot exactly remember the presentation of the former, but there were some thinly-sliced apples and a reduction sauce.  The flavors were nice, especially when you got a bit of everything all in one bite, but I found the meat to be somewhat overcooked.  The peppers were very tasty (filled with delicious soft cheeses) and reminded me a great deal of dishes I ate in Spain.

Despite being “tapas,” the portions were quite large.  We found ourselves nearing full capacity, but I really wanted to see if the churros were like the ones I would devour after dancing the night away at a Madrid discoteca.  The pastries were hot and fresh, and they were correctly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Unfortunately, they were VERY heavily dusted with cinnamon, to the point that I couldn’t taste anything else.  Additionally, the thick chocolate that accompanied the churros, while authentic in terms of texture, had a spicy, chili-flavored element that again masked the comforting taste of the fried dough itself.  With a lighter hand, the dessert would have been perfectly successful.

I found the prices to be reasonable and the wine list to be worthwhile, though I will say that the beer and cocktail offerings didn’t really speak to us.  Service was good in the beginning, but as our waiter got busier, he grew less and less attentive and we had to flag him down fairly frequently.  The owner came by to say hello, and he seems genuinely enthusiastic about what he’s trying to do.  My final (for now) verdict?  I would like to return to the Iberian Pig, though I will temper my expectations somewhat when I do.  I think if you go with a hankering for truly authentic Spanish cuisine, you’ll be a little disappointed.  However, if you are openminded, and if the restaurant can work out some of its service and flow issues, then there are many good meals to be had.

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