Story by Stefanie Gans, Dining Editor • Photography by Kate Bohler
There must be a blueprint, some-where in Brooklyn, detailing food trends.
Fetishizing swine would rank first, including, of course, a commitment to nose-to-tail butchery. A communal table signifies a dining showpiece, although customers might not appreciate dinner with strangers. Dim, dropped lighting, exposing bulbs in caged wire, will whisper a dull, modern glow. The new South must rise, sprinkling pimento cheese, Anson Mills grits, skillet cornbread and fried chicken as odes to antebellum.
Arlington’s Green Pig Bistro grabbed the list and piled on every trend it could fit into its rustic farmhouse space.
This highly stylized, husbandry aesthetic has been playing countrywide for years now, enough so that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein built the IFC sketch television show, “Portlandia,” mocking this hipster ideal. Green Pig could be their sound stage.
Torn pages from iconic cookbooks plaster the wall for a faux-DIY look. Owner Scot Harlan, a fourth generation Arlingtonian, lent his collection of brightly colored, much-prized Le Creuset pots and pans for a mini-museum piece in the middle of the dining room. The narrow walkway between the front bar and the dining room shows Harlan’s cookbooks: Behind a glass wall, dimly lit like a Smithsonian exhibit, James Beard cookbooks share shelf space with Momofuku’s dessert queen Christina Tosi. Nearby sits the six-volume, 2,400-page “Modernist Cuisine” series, selling on Amazon for over $450.
The Green Pig pulls from icons of cookery, from Southern staples, from Asian influences and from urban bohemianism, suffocating the restaurant under the heft of trend overload. Authenticity is lost in the heavy-handedness of fad chasing.
But that doesn’t mean the food isn’t pretty good.
Where “small plates” once crowded menus, “snacks” took over as the new mid-course option. Compounding that trend, as complimentary bread service continues to diminish, (Green Pig charges $5 for Parker House rolls), snacks fill that void, enticing diners to order something before they even chose an appetizer.
While the bread-to-fish ratio smothers the tiny shrimp in Green Pig’s fiery Asian take on a New England roll, the trio of pig tacos models what’s right about casual-upscale dining today.
Braised pig shoulder brings heft to the tiny, soft tacos, tossed with avocado and coleslaw, and decorated with a dozen crunchy strips sliced from half of a pig’s ear. Priced fairly at $6, Green Pig sells 100 tacos a day, one of its most ordered items.
Many of the appetizers could pose as meals. Thin, wide strands of shaved celery swirl elegantly around stacked ribs. The light green of the celery heightens the intensity of the flaming orange-red hot sauce pooled below. Ribs stand in for chicken, on this play of Buffalo wings. The ribs start with a 24-hour rub before braising in pork stock and then spend two minutes in the fryer, finished by showering in a glaze of butter, honey and the classic Frank’s RedHot.
Duck confit shines here, especially after a 45-minute run through the smoker, that lets the bird avoid any stringiness or toughness and remains tender, dotted in between house-made ricotta cavatelli.
The smokiness seeps into the light butter and duck broth, and behaves well when the 75-degree egg’s yolk meets the dish’s playmates.
Poutine, a Canadian dish of cheese curds, gravy and fries, has been appearing South of the border for a few years. The Green Pig elevates the dish with the use of duck liver. Fries lay beneath a rich gravy padded with duck stock and duck liver butter. Oregon’s Tillamook cheddar, appearing quite often on this coast recently, subs successfully for the authentic cheese curd.
Harlan’s kitchen, co-run with Will Sullivan, borrows from the brains behind the molecular gastronomy textbook “Modernist Cuisine,” blending cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, carrageenan (seaweed extract used as gelatin) and water to manipulate the dairy into a Velveeta-like goo for a burger topper. The bacon burger (bacon ground into the meat) sits rather small for $16 and isn’t nearly piggy enough for the $4 up-charge.
Meals fly to the table, with entrees arriving while appetizers are still being finished or just being taken away. The no-reservation policy can translate into waits and servers pushed for quick table turnover.
When a too-sweet, strawberry-infused (trend alert!) tequila cocktail remained half full through dinner the waiter rightly inquired. The answer: No time to drink this pre-dinner cocktail before pork started flying out of the, of course, exhibition-style kitchen.
Pork rolls deep in the $39 pork shank for two (or three) with four different iterations of the animal. The shank won first place, as it slid off the bone, almost dissolving in the mouth. Pork belly took last: tough, too fatty, unfortunate for such a prized cut.
Harlan worked the sweets department of 2941 and the short-lived, but totally gorgeous Inox, and still develops recipes at Green Pig. Though doughnuts come out tough, the kitchen makes good on frozen treats.
Ice pops, another artisanal to-do, relieve the heat and burst with deep fruit flavor, bringing fun, whimsy—and the possible brain freeze—to the kiddie treat.
Green Pig, though, seems to have played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, grabbing trends and blindly sticking them wherever.
Harlan, calls his restaurant “An American take on a French bistro: You can go in any direction.” Maybe Harlan should pick one.
1025 N. Fillmore St, Arlington; 703-888-1920; greenpigbistro.com
Hours: Open Wednesday through Monday for dinner. Open Saturday and Sunday for brunch.
Average entree: $13-20 ($$)