A friend sized up the menu at the new Willy Street restaurant A Pig In A Fur Coat and summarized it thusly: Nothing I want to eat at prices I don’t want to pay.
At first blush, I tended to agree, but an actual visit yielded one of the most creative, exquisite meals to be found in Madison, with a menu that is priced appropriately.
Partners Dan Bonanno and Bonnie Arent opened the restaurant in late May, breathing new life into the old La Rocca’s Pizzeria site.
The building is now a dark, attractive gray with a mustard yellow door. Curtains, an iron sign in the shape of the restaurant’s pig logo, and two decorative trees out front add lots of character.
Inside, strangers converse at big communal tables, and others sit in a row of closely spaced butcher block two-tops. My companion complained that the lights could have been “a smidge dimmer.”
She also thought that one server wearing cut-off jeans and another sporting a bandana around his head was a bit casual for the feel Bonanno and Arent are going for. But that didn’t bother me one bit. It kind of appealed to me. Our server was extremely friendly and helpful in describing menu items.
Arent seated us and explained that the menu was designed for sharing with small plates feeding one and large plates feeding one and a half people. Plates come out as they are done, she said.
Food arrived swiftly on a Friday night and everything looked beautiful.
The homemade ravioli ($11) with ricotta in the middle and the yolk from a duck egg was a marvel. It was finished with a brown butter sauce, Parmesan, truffle oil and a crisp slice of bacon on top.
“Oh, my God. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said my companion as she punctured the egg yolk that had been cooked into the giant circular ravioli.
Just as ingenious was the pork belly ($12), which personable chef Bonanno explained to us in detail when he stopped by our table for a chat. The square piece of cured meat had a great briny flavor. Bonanno said he rubs the meat with herbs and cooks it for six hours. He finishes it off in the wood-burning oven until it is slightly crispy on top. Pea puree and pea shoots served with it cut the fattiness a bit.
Our third small plate, beets ($9) surrounded by goat cheese, walnuts and arugula and drizzled with balsamic vinegar, was straight-forward, a nice balance to the other dishes. The dish benefitted from a goat cheese that didn’t overpower the beets.
A large plate trout dish ($22) featured a whole, fresh fish with its skin and head intact. It was nicely seasoned with the wood-burning oven providing a light crust. It was served with a melange of fennel, tomatoes, potatoes and peapods.
The only misfire were the dates ($7) paired with chorizo and doused in an overpowering piquillo pepper tomato sauce. Sweet and savory can work together, but in this case it just seemed jarring.
More than compensating for the disappointing dates was the sfingi ($8) dessert course, five Sicilian doughnut balls made with orange zest, ricotta, cinnamon and nutmeg. They were fried to order, almost like a beignet, and covered with a restrained amount of chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.
A Pig In A Fur Coat may turn some people off with its odd name, with its daring menu — we avoided the blood sausage, tripe and bone marrow — and with its price tags. But give Pig a shot. This is swine to swoon for.