Restaurant Review: Green Pig Bistro

Clarendon's newest bistro serves up daring dishes in a space that makes diners feel at home.

Only a confident chef-owner would open a first restaurant with a short menu—one with appetizers such as kung pao lamb sweetbreads, blood cake and an ox heart Reuben sandwich, no less. That would be fourth-generation Arlington native Scot Harlan, whose Green Pig Bistro has been serving up rich dishes using underutilized meat cuts—everything from nose to tail—since its launch in Clarendon this spring.

Harlan brings to the table an American take on French country fare, not to mention an impressive résumé, having previously worked as a pastry chef in the stellar kitchens of David Bouley and Daniel Boulud in New York, Thomas Keller in Las Vegas and, closer to home, at 2941 in Falls Church. He shares his culinary duties with another native Arlingtonian, co-chef Will Sullivan, who last cooked at Lowcountry in New York.

Harlan’s great love of cooking is evident not only in the adventurous menu, but also in the warm and highly personalized décor of his gastropub. Inside, one finds a vast collection of cookbooks on display, and walls papered with recipes torn from the classics. The open kitchen exhibits an impressive assortment of spices and herbs in glass jars. (Also on view are the large saws that he and Sullivan use to break down whole animals.)

Perfect for large groups, the eatery has a wide communal table with seating for 20 in the center of the main dining area, right next to Harlan’s colorful collection of more than 100 pieces of vintage enamel ironware. (Yes, someone has been visiting eBay.)

After two dinner visits and a Saturday brunch, I can say that Harlan and his crew know how to make customers feel comfortable and relaxed. Servers are friendly, and there when you need them. First up, a gratis bottle of still or bubbling water is brought to the table. Nice touch.

The menu has a lot to cheer—including some mainstream meat and fish options—although anyone watching their caloric intake should choose carefully. Unexpectedly sweet or heavy sauces often come into play.

Case in point: brunch. Bringing a pal in tow, I ordered the harmless-sounding blueberry French toast and a ham-and-cheese sandwich for us to share. The former turned out to be a dense tower of egg-soaked brioche, covered in a super-sweet blueberry compote. And, in an extra-French rendition of croque-monsieur, the nice-enough sandwich was coated with a thick Mornay sauce. Two bites of each and we called it quits. Too rich. Next time I’ll stick with the basics: bacon and eggs and some of Harlan’s terrific banana bread.

At dinner, I’m partial to an appetizer of succulent “buffalo ribs,” which are not bison, but rather long-braised, spice-seasoned pork ribs—firm and meaty. I also enjoyed the beet-and-strawberry salad, made tangy with vinegar and topped with a hefty scoop of creamy burrata. And, odd though it may sound, the chefs’ unorthodox pairing of fresh octopus and melt-in-your-mouth pork cheeks works. Served with cucumber-yogurt sauce, it successfully plays interesting textures and flavors off of the two in a new twist on surf-’n’-turf. Another winning starter is the Pig’s own version of a Maine lobster roll, which tucks spicy rock shrimp inside a cute, buttery brioche roll. All go well with any of the microbrewery beers available, such as Oskar Blues Dale’s pale ale, a Harlan favorite.

The kitchen has its off moments. This taco lover was deeply disappointed when served an oval dish piled high with chopped pig’s ear, shredded pork and vegetables, but with nary a corn tortilla in sight. (I then found them, soggy-wet and buried beneath the filling.) And to my taste, those delicate lamb sweetbreads lose their identity when lathered in a sticky, sugary Chinese-inspired glaze.

For both brunch and dinner, the house offers a delicious bacon cheeseburger, made extra juicy by grinding beef and bacon together. Attractive, crisp french fries receive their awesome flavor from a deep-fry bath in duck fat.

Farther down the entrée list, it’s easy to praise the perfectly seared rockfish fillet, arranged in a light corn purée with a diced, crisp vegetable medley. And whereas rabbit is so often dry, the Pig makes a luscious patty of the braised and pulled meat, serving it with a brilliant orange purée of carrot and sugar snap peas.

For an ultimate pig-out, try the whopping pork shank and belly feast for two, which comes with plenty of creamy grits and some of the finest chopped greens I’ve ever tasted. This porcine pleasure far outmatched the forgettable “bistro” steak—a fist-sized chunk of dry flat-iron cut, with no flavor help from added marrow butter.

The chefs' baking talents continue to shine in sides of soft, sweet Parker House rolls and textbook-perfect cornbread (a recipe from Sullivan’s grandmother), served with maple butter. So good, and so easy to fill up on.

When it comes time for dessert, it’s hard to resist the kitchen's playful doughnut or banana cream cake, filled with peanut butter ice cream, smothered in chocolate sauce. I couldn’t! 

Categories: Food & Drink