The Scholastic Epicurean is a guest blogger who lives in the Metro Atlanta area. He is a culinary expert with a refined palate and a love for fine food and drink. He has traveled the world and like the Intercontinental Foodie, he is always in search of the perfect meal.
With the bulk of my family living on the west coast, I don’t get to see nearly as much of them as I would like to. One of the many things that appealed to me about moving to Atlanta, aside from what seems like boundless opportunity is the fact that my Dad’s work occasionally requires him to travel here to visit one of his company’s sites. This gives me an opportunity to see him a little more often than what I might normally get to if his work did not take him here. Since Dad was here for one night only, I had to pick a good spot for us to grab a meal and catch up.
Tonight’s culinary adventure took us to the Iberian Pig in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. While I’ve been around and near that portion of town, I’ve never actually been in Decatur, so this was an adventure all around! As any good realtor will tell you, it’s all about location, location, location. And I believe that the Iberian Pig has a prime one. Located in the heart of Decatur Square, the Iberian Pig is surrounded by other trendy, upscale shops, restaurants, and bars. When approaching the restaurant, you can see people all around, hanging out and having a good time. It certainly bodes well for an evening when the energy all about is fun.
I walked in and greeted my Dad who had arrived ahead of me and was seated in the bar. One of the things I noticed when I entered was a modern, yet warm and homey design. The restaurant was decorated in dark woods, brick behind the bar, with accent colors that reminded me very much of the flag of Spain. The design is very much in keeping with the Mediterranean theme they were trying to convey.
We decided to grab a drink in the bar before heading to our table for dinner. While looking over the menu, I noticed that they had an extensive wine list, with (obviously) very Spanish influences. If you like Spanish wines, this is the place for you!
My dad, normally a big wine drinker, decided to go with the Caipirina which is the national cocktail of Brazil. It’s made with Cachaça (Which is a liquor similar to rum, only instead of being made from fermented molasses, it is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice), simple syrup, and limes. My dad having taken several business trips to Sao Paulo over the course of the last few years for work pronounced his beverage nearly as good as what he gets when in Brazil.
While a Caipirina would have been just fine, I was feeling in an adventurous mood, so I let the bartender guide my selection. He suggested that I try the Iberian Old-Fashioned. I looked at the menu and noticed that it had bacon infused rye as an ingredient, how could that possibly go wrong? Let me first start by saying that bacon infused rye is amazing! Whoever decided that this would be a great combination should have a holiday declared in their honor. The combination of the bacon flavored rye, maple syrup, citrus oil, and bitters created a drink that not only had a little bite to it, but was also slightly sweet and smoky flavored. It’s one of those drinks that when you have it, you won’t soon forget it.
After having a drink at the bar, we decided to secure our table in the restaurant. Our server came over and greeted us almost immediately. After making sure that our drinks had been refreshed, she took us through the menu. It became immediately obvious to me that not only was she incredibly passionate about the restaurant and the food that it served, but that she was incredibly knowledgeable. I’ve been to way too many restaurants where when you ask for a suggestion as to what to order, you get a lukewarm response. This was not the case tonight. As it turns out, before she started working as a server at the restaurant, it was one of her favorite places to have a meal.
Dad and I decided that tapas was going to be the way to go tonight as it would allow us to sample many different menu items and not be married to just one dish. As a starter we decided to go with the charcuterie and queso sample platter. We selected the Caña de Oveja (which is a semi-soft cheese made from sheep’s milk that has a consistency of brie on the outside and goat cheese on the inside), the Monte Enbro (another semi-soft cheese made from goat’s milk, this cheese had a dusting of ash which added a slightly smoky flavor to the cheese), and a side of Jamón ibérico ham (which tasted very similar to prosciutto). All of the selections were excellent, and when paired with the strawberry-lime and the raspberry-serrano gastrique, it added a sweet flavor that provided just the perfect amount of bite.
Continuing on our culinary adventure we selected the pork cheek tacos. These were made with slow roasted pork cheeks, a fire roasted corn salsa, an avocado crema, arugula and fresh lime. The dish made a nice transition from the meat and cheese course to something a little heartier. The avocado crema provided a nice subtle flavor that cooled the kick from the salsa inside the taco.
We then moved on to the Lamb Ribs. The lamb was slow cooked and glazed in Kalimotxo (which is a drink that consists of equal parts red wine, and cola). When the dish was initially described to me, I was concerned about the inclusion of Coca Cola because I was afraid it would be overpowering to the dish (That and I couldn’t actually imagine someone cooking with a Coke). It actually which provided a sweet yet earthy flavor to the ribs. It was subtle, and barely noticeable. The ribs ended up being so tender that you could slide the bone between the tines of a fork and the meat came clean off the bone. It was served over a bed of lemon-herb rice grits, the consistency of which made me think of a good risotto.
The next course was something known as Huevo Con Trufa, or eggs with truffles. This wasn’t just eggs with truffles, but was combined with more slow roasted pork cheek. The egg was Sous-vide and still had a runny yoke in the center. When it was broken open, mixed through the truffles and pork, and then served over a rustic Spanish bread, it had the makings of a hearty dish.
The last item that we had for the night was an empanada stuffed with a suckling pig. This is an item that’s not normally on their menu, and apparently there was only one of them made for the evening. Our server decided that Dad and I looked like we were having a lot of fun so she offered it up to us. The empanada came out a perfect golden brown and had a nice crunch to it when we cut into it, but was still flaky when eaten. The combination of the melted manchego with a touch of paprika, and the pork worked very well together.
All in all, the food was good, but I can’t say that any one of the things we ordered outshined anything else we ordered. I don’t know if this is a sign that we ordered well, or we didn’t order well. Ultimately though I think this is a sign that we probably could have ordered anything from the menu and had the confidence that it was going to turn out being pretty good (though I’m not sure I can use the word excellent); and I think that anyone who reads this and decides to check it out can order with confidence too.
Having spent many years in the hospitality business I’m particularly attuned to great service. I would much rather spend my money in a place that provides excellent service and decent food as opposed to decent service and excellent food. That said, I think the Iberian Pig falls into the former category.
As I mentioned before, our server was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the restaurant. She gave us many good suggestions, taking into account our personal preferences and her own experiences. But nothing that I ate surpassed in my opinion the Iberian Old-Fashioned I had to start off the evening.
At the end of our meal our server even brought my Dad and I a glass of Cava on the house so that we could have a little reminder of the fun evening. I thought it was an excellent touch, and reminded me of my old Marriott days where they instilled in us that details and unexpected treats can go a long way towards building brand loyalty. I can see that philosophy seems to be in force at the Iberian Pig.
While I didn’t pick up the check for dinner tonight, looking at the menu, I could tell that the prices were about what I would expect to pay at a similar caliber of restaurant. Specialty cocktails ran about $10 a glass, wine by the glass was roughly the same. The average tapas price was between $8 and $10 as well. Anyone heading in to the Iberian Pig would probably spend about $35-$50 per person without any alcohol included. One or two memorable dishes in addition to the high quality service would totally make that price point worth it.
Service & Value: A+ (Service)/B (Value)
A couple things to note, my dad and I arrived at the restaurant about 6pm, and the place was rather quiet for the first hour or so. Both of us attributed it to it being a Tuesday night maybe people just didn’t feel like heading out for dinner. But by the time we left about 9ish, the place was hopping. I imagine that this might have a little bit to do with the fact that the Decatur Square MARTA station is across the courtyard from the restaurant. It’s a great spot to have a late happy hour or snag a bite to eat before heading home. If a Tuesday night is any indication of what the rest of their week is like, I would strongly encourage reservations; especially if you were to want to dine on a Friday or Saturday evening, or anytime after about 7pm on the weekdays.
In conjunction with the restaurant filling up, the noise level raised accordingly. This is one of those places that as more people come in, it becomes a little harder to have a conversation. The hard wood floors and open ceilings bounce sound around, so there is a slight din that gradually increases. This is a solid date place, but it may not be such a great idea for dates one or two while you’re still getting to know one another! Save it for number three and beyond, and know that they will be sufficiently dazzled by your taste.
I would recommend the Iberian Pig to anyone who has a love of pork, or is just looking for a really chill place to spend an evening enjoying good food, great drinks and great company!
The Iberian Pig:
121 Sycamore Street
Decatur, GA 30030
Credit Cards: Yes
Good for families: No
Full Bar: Yes
Mon-Thurs: 5pm – 10pm
Fri-Sat: 5pm – 11pm
Sun: 5pm – 9pm