I’ve been meaning to post about a not-so-new-anymore Madison restaurant that opened on Willy Street a few months ago. J and I made our first (and so far only) visit to A Pig in a Fur Coat not long after they opened for business, and I thought I’d wait to post until we made it back. But, the local restaurant critics have already had their say, so there are plenty of opinions now from which to sample.
Nick Brown for MadTable (more feature than review): “The restaurant’s name was inspired by a dish called ‘fish in a fur coat’ discovered by one of [co-owner Bonnie] Arent’s sisters when she was traveling in Kazakhstan…. [Co-owner Dan] Bonanno says the restaurant’s small menu will occasionally be continuously updated to reflect what local producers have on hand. ‘We have a lot of young, cool farmers that we’re working with, he says, ‘and we want to grow with the seasons.'”
André Darlington for Isthmus: “Broken up among ‘snacks,’ ‘small plates’ and ‘large plates,’ the menu gives diners free rein to explore a tightly edited selection of honest food. And by honest I don’t mean simple or lazy; I mean there’s an open wood-fired oven churning out good examples of rustic Euro fare that’s not necessarily easy to execute. The style here isn’t mannered or overwrought; it’s straightforward largess…. Pig staff is helpful; the food earnest and soulful. The bar for good eating on Williamson has been authoritatively, if hedonistically, raised.”
Lindsay Christians for 77 Square: “Executive chef Dan Bonanno, formerly of the Italian restaurant Spiaggia in Chicago, likes rich, fatty meats, but he has a keen sense of balance and doesn’t overcomplicate quality ingredients. On Tuesdays, he sources from the Eastside Farmers Market one block away…. A Pig in a Fur Coat doesn’t have the funky, laidback look of the Weary or Lazy Jane’s, or the tropical heat of Jolly Bob’s and Jamerica. But to sit together in a welcoming room, drink a couple beers and share a menu built around simplicity, skill and bacon may be just what Willy Street needs.”
Samara Kalk Derby for Wisconsin State Journal: “Just as ingenious was the pork belly ($12)…. 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…. 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.”
The restaurant was still ironing out a few minor kinks when we stopped by in early June, but the food was fantastic! One small glitch made for an interesting culinary experiment. Our order of sardines ended up being served without the herb pesto, and we started on the dish before we realized anything was amiss. After a couple bites, a ramekin of the pesto made it out to us, and the before-and-after experience made clear how amazingly the herbs pulled the whole dish together. We also had the pork belly, that now-ubiquitous dish at this sort of restaurant, but it really was worth it. Soooo good. One minor disappointment was that their beer is all bottled—it was a bit jarring in such a beer-loving town to have not even a few taps, when drinking a local microbrew from a bottle is something I can do at home anytime I want. Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to returning as soon as our pocketbooks are feeling a bit more flush.