Living in the midwest, my wife and I don’t have access to the swanky restaurants that one can find in places like New York or Las Vegas. It is kind of a problem, because we both love delicious food. Luckily, a few years ago a restaurant called A Pig In A Fur Coat opened up in town, poised to deliver five star quality food to the people of Madison, Wisconsin. In 2012, they began hosting a fixed price tasting menu to help ring in the new year. From the very first year to the present, we’ve had a standing reservation for this event and it never disappoints.
This year the offering was out of this world, and I figured I would share our experience. WARNING: You are about to see pictures of the most delicious of foods.
The Components: Foie Gras – Chicken Liver – Cherry – Balsamic – Bombolini
A wonderful way to start off the meal: something light, yet delicious. The star of the dish is of course the foie gras / chicken liver pate; a light, creamy spread that is combined with the bombolini, a doughnut-like pastry. Underneath is a cherry “jam” base, accompanied by a 12-year balsamic reduction, which adds just enough sweet and tart to balance the richness of the pate.
The Complete Bite: Bringing all the components together into a complete bite really roots the taste as it should. A slight chewiness from the bombolini is the main textural component, while the foie gras and pate bring in a creaminess into the bite. It is finished off with the stronger acidity and fruitiness of the cherry and baslamic, completing the picture.
The Pairing: 2013 Adriano Adami – Prosecco – Glera – Veneto, Italy.
A light and dry start to the meal. When paired with the dish, the bubbliness of the prosecco helps to reintroduce the flavors of the dish, allowing you to savor the flavors without flooding your mouth with an alcohol.
The Components: Venison – Egg yolk – Juniper – Lemon – Parmigiano Regiano – Cracker
The egg yolk comes as a sauce for the dish with the parmigiano within it. The venison is a tartare with the lemon and juniper; it is a great treatment for a relatively lean meat. Sprinkled around is shredded egg white that brings in a unique, springy texture.
The Complete Bite: With the cracker, bringing together a complete bite is a snap. Right away, the cracker gives you a crispy texture that is quickly offset by the tartare. It falls apart in the mouth, letting the wonderful venison flavor take over. The egg yolk sauce keeps the dish from drying out and, along with the egg white, makes up for the lack of fat in the venison. The lemon, such a small component of this dish, kicks in at the end to perk up the entire experience.
The Pairing: 2012 Domaine Filliatreau – Cabernet Franc – Loire, France.
A surprisingly light cabernet that works wonderfully with the venison. Alone, the wine has slight body and a good nose, perfect for an appetizer course. Once paired with the bite, the taste of the wine opens completely. This dish could easily be overshadowed by a strong red wine, but this Cabernet Franc informs and compliments the flavors of the venison and lemon rather than washing them out.
The Components: Gnocchi – Lobster – Chestnut – Terragon – Black Trumpets
The gnocchi is cooked perfectly, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself in my opinion. The chestnut comes in two varieties on this dish: as a puree underneath the dish and as a sprinkling on top. Also on top is a black trumpet mushroom. Taken separately, the components are a little uneven in their seasoning, most notably the chestnut purée which lacks in salt and the black trumpets that are slightly over seasoned. The only other issue I had with this dish was the chestnut crumble which gave a bit of a gritty texture.
The Complete Bite: Slight problems with the components aside, the complete bite is wonderful. The gnocchi are soft but not mushy, and the texture works quite well with the lobster that has a bit more firmness to it. The purée brings the addition of chestnut through the bite that helps offset the stronger flavors of the mushroom and the lobster, and also add a sauce-like quality. As long as you don’t go overboard with the crumble, the textural addition is a welcome one, and helps sustain the flavor.
The Pairing: 2011 Quinto do Monte d’Orio Madrigal – Viognier – Lishboa, Portugal
With the first entree being lobster, the obvious choice is white wine. However, this white is so light that when tasted by itself, it is a bit underwhelming. The airy flavor, especially after the red in the previous course, seems strange. Once you start eating the course, however, the pairing makes a lot more sense. The lobster and gnocchi can be a heavy combination, therefore a lighter white is the ideal counterbalance.
The Components: Rabbit – Veal – Black Truffle – Root Vegetable – Kale – Chanterelles – Lardo
This course was a treat! First, the veal is presented as a saugage, ground and stuffed inside of the rabbit. The chanterelles are meaty and well-seasoned, and the root vegetable puree, which I believe was celery root, is smooth as could be with no graininess. The kale is sauteed just enough to be soft but not limp, and has a bacon flavor to it, which is how I like my kale. Finally, a lardo powder is served on the side to allow you to have as much as you want per bite.
The Complete Bite: Getting everything together with this dish is a bit of a challenge for how many components it has, but the result is well worth it. The rabbit is moist, without any gaminess to it. The puree adds creaminess to the dish as a whole, while the rabbit gives the bite some body. The kale and mushrooms go well together and don’t overwhelm the taste of the meat. The lardo has a heavier flavor, but there is just enough of it to keep every bite balanced.
The Pairing: 2011 Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione – Sangiovese di Lamole – Chianti, Italy
A great choice that compliments the dish properly. It doesn’t have as much of a before / after as some of the previous courses, but by this point you’re three glasses in and don’t want the wine to overwhelm the flavor of the dish, which it did not.
The Components: Hook’s Aged Blue Cheese – Baguette – White Chocolate – Pecan – Honey
This course is a welcome surprise before dessert. Individually, the components are quite good. The bread is as crispy as a cracker and the cheese, sourced from Hook’s, a Wisconsin-based cheesemaker, is delicious (of course!) It has that perfect tang that you expect from a blue cheese. The rest of the components (white chocolate, honey and nuts) bring forth sweetness as well as crunch.
The Complete Bite: This is a dish that needs to be a complete bite in order to work. Together the sweet and savory ingredients blend perfectly. It starts off tart from the cheese, with the bread adding a savory snap. Right away you taste the honey, the chocolate, and the nuts. This cheese plate worked great at this stage of the meal, acting as a bridge from the savory courses to the dessert.
The Pairing: Cesar Florido – Muscatel – Jerez, Italy
If you chose to pair this honey flavored liqueur with the dish, then you might find that this pairing renders the honey on the plate redundant. A very sweet drink, it prepares the palette for dessert, and the flavor combined with the blue cheese is just exquisite. Without this pairing, the honey on the plate makes more sense, but then the diner misses out on a delicious liqueur.
The Components: Semifreddo – Coffee – Hazelnut – Cocoa – White Chocolate – Whiskey – Creme Anglaise
The final course is made up of many components, but its composition makes it the easiest dish for combing the ingredients into one bite. The semifreddo tastes of coffee and hazelnut with a hint of whiskey, and cocoa powder on top. Scattered on the plate are shavings of white chocolate, and whole hazelnuts line the bottom like a crust.
The Complete Bite: Amazing! A great way to end the night. The semifreddo is cold and icy, with a texture somewhere between really frozen ice cream and custard. The coffee and cocoa powder stop it from being overwhelmingly sweet. The white chocolate crumbles and melts in your mouth while the hazelnuts bring both a crunch and a slightly savory component.
The Pairing: 2012 Hauner – Malvasia delle Lipari – Aeolian Islands, Italy
Smooth and mellow, with notes of nuts and honey, it brings forward the great hazelnut flavor of the dessert while reinforcing the honey flavor from the previous course.
Another successful year end dinner with Pig In A Fur Coat leaves both a feeling of satisfaction as well as a twinge of sadness at the knowledge that there won’t be another one of these menus until next year. However, I take comfort in the fact that everything on their regular menu has been delicious as well. If you’re ever in Madison looking for some place to go with friends or family, I can’t recommend it enough. Even in the “middle of nowhere” it is good to know that you can find a restaurant of this caliber, where the ingredients are fresh and local, the atmosphere is fun, and the chef is full of surprises. Can’t wait until New Year’s Eve 2015–but in the meantime, I am definitely going back for that bombolini!