The Pig and the Lady
I first heard of this "restaurant" via one of the 50th's original food bloggers; Reid of Ono Kine
Grindz. I use the term "restaurant" lightly as The Pig and the Lady is a "pop-up" restaurant
meaning that they are utilizing the space of a pre-existing restaurant during its off hours. This
concept is not a new concept, pop-up restaurants have been around in the Bay Area for several
years - usually it's started by up and coming chefs who lack the financial principal to start from
ground zero. On other occasions it's run by experienced chefs - some already with established
restaurants - who simply want to experiment outside of their usual domains or perhaps serve
unique ingredients that may be frowned upon by County Health inspectors. Often these venues
are run from private homes and skirt zoning and health code regulations by asking for
"donations" rather than "charge" for the meal.
In this case, The Pig and the Lady is the brainchild of CIA graduate and former Chef Mavro sous
chef, Andrew Le along with noted local food writer Martha Cheng who aside from being the
primary food writer for a weekly publication also did her "time" as a line chef. The current
facilities that they use are courtesy of non other than Hank Adaniya at his Hank's Haute Dogs
who in his previous life ran Trio in Chicago with chef luminaries such as Rick Tramonto/Gale
Gand, Shawn McClain and Grant Achatz holding court in the kitchen. It's widely known in the
50th that Hank has an eye for talent and it's no wonder that he allowed the duo of Le and
Cheng to hold court in his kitchen.
Since this venture just started in June, the menu primarily focuses around nouveau creations in
Chef Le's comfort zone; Vietnamese cuisine. In fact, he also has his mother holding court in the
kitchen though I hear Mother and Son often disagree on menu items "this isn't how it's done in
Vietnam". Eventually The Pig and the Lady plan on offering a changing menu based on the
cuisine of the world. On this evening the menu read like this:
Asian pear, toasted rice puff, banana blossom salad, kaffir lime sauce
maitake mushroom, pickled lotus root, jicama, jasmine rice croquettes
Braised Pork Belly
crispy rice cake, turnips, poached quail eggs
rice noodles, brisket, tendon
Coconut Pandan Toast
lychee, basil seeds, thai basil, vanilla ice cream
Wine Pairings Anyone?
Since this isn't your typical brick-and-mortar traditional restaurant, bringing your own wine is
encouraged so in usual fashion, our regular wine-n-dine group pondered wine pairings with each
dish. Since typical Southeast Asian cuisine usually has flavor components from each of the basic
taste sensations - sweet, sour, salty and bitter - lighter fruity wines usual are the rule of thumb.
And if chili pepper heat is expected, wines lower in alcohol pair a lot better since they don't
magnify the capsaicin burn. My initial pairings included a 2002 Huet sparkling Vouvray
(Chenin Blanc based sparkler with loads of fruit, sweetness and palate cleansing acidity and
effervescence), the Harushika daiginjo sake and a 2008 Reichsrat Von Buhl light fragrant
German Pinot Noir for the pork dish. For good measure, I also brought a NV Tarlant Extra Brut
Rose Champagne which was intended to start the evening but uncorked as an after dinner
aperitif. Of course, as was expected our wine-n-dine group brought way too many wines! About
a dozen Pinot Noirs alone just for the pork dish. I actually counted at least 30 bottles (for 11
diners) though "only" about 20 or so wines were actually uncorked. However, we did share our
wines with neighboring tables.
Gourmand Worthy or Just Another Fad?
Let me say right off the bat that the meal was worth every penny! The only challenge with the
meal was that certain wines worked better with certain flavor components of each dish so it was
difficult for me to definitively say that a single wine was the best pairing for any one dish. As if
that's a problem. That simply means that the cuisine was versatile enough to pair with a variety
of wine types.
As each dish was served, Chef Le explained each dish to the diners including his interpretation of
classic Vietnamese cuisine. The 1st course was the first time I had sashimi served with a kaffir
lime sauce - usually the only time I see kaffir lime leaves are in Thai curries. Combined with a
banana blossom salad and Asian pear, this was Chef Le's interpretation of a classic Vietnamese
poisson cru. Silky sashimi with crunchy, earthy banana blossom and crisp rice puffs then a hit of
crisp sweet pear and finally earthy, savory kaffir lime sauce... totally blows the traditional
sashimi with shoyu and wasabi out of the water! My favorites wines pairings were the sparkling
Vouvray, daiginjo sake and the off-dry Riesling.
The 2nd course showed that Chef Le wasn't just a one course wonder. The curry sauce alone
would have been great with a bowl of somen of udon. And depending on what bite you took,
the wine pairing preferences varied quite a lot. The curry sauce itself was great with the German
Spatlese Riesling, the pickled lotus root (hasu) was better with the sake while the maitake
mushrooms were perfect with the German Pinot Noir. Talk about a flavor party in your mouth!
Then came the meat dish - Braised Pork Belly. Rich and unctuous but not really fatty on the
palate. Served with poached quail eggs that looked like bocconcini mozzarella... until you bit
into them with that brief ooze of yolk. I wonder if Chef Le actually intended this dish to be his
interpretation of Bacon & Eggs? And of course, pork and Pinot Noir are like the Fred and Ginger
of the food and wine world. My faves were the German, 2000 Scherrer and 1994 Au Bon Climat
And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we were served Chef Le's mother's Pho.
Without a doubt, the BEST pho broth I've ever had with a touch of five spice. Not oily, not
salty but just hearty goodness! Probably the biggest compliment came from Mr C - who usually
is busy taking meticulous wine notes during every tasting - who stated that the pho didn't even
need wine, it was THAT good just by itself.
Unfortunately for dessert, it followed that glorious pho so it probably didn't get the full
attention it deserved. But it was also very good, an updated take on a typical Vietnamese
breakfast with a buttery coconut toast with vanilla ice cream on a basil seed and lilikoi (passion
fruit) sauce with fresh litchi. The 5-puttonyos Tokaji dessert wine took the dessert to new
Am I recommending that you take the next flight to the 50th simply to sample a dinner at The
Pig and the Lady? No, unless you really want to (they still have seats available on 7/15, 7/19/
and 7/22). What I am suggesting is exploring that transient world of pop-up restaurants in your
neck of the woods. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the creativity and quality of the
cuisine. And who knows? Maybe you'll someday say that you were there at the beginning of the
next Thomas Keller's career.