Hats Off to Greenwich Village's Fedora
Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon (APDC) has had an inordinate influence on Gotham gastronomy lately. Its hog-happy, lard-intensive menu transforms every part of the pig into mousses, grills, croquettes, roasts, salads, terrines, sausages, tarts, and fry-ups. Vegetables, fish, and poultry are kept to a minimum, while tongue, marrow, sweetbreads, and trotters from an ark's worth of animals form another of the restaurant's fatty obsessions. Famously, a huge lobe of foie gras settles like a storm cloud over the craggy landscape of the restaurant's poutine. (Insert your own cardiology joke here.)
Locally, the Breslin's April Bloomfield isn't our only chef to have knocked off an APDC dish or two, but more recently two Quebecois gastronomes—who both cheffed under APDC's culinary director, Martin Picard—carry the tribute further. At Long Island City's M. Wells, Hugue Dufour has regrooved several of the Montreal restaurant's dishes during the nine months the diner's been open, while Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly has lately been installed in the West Village with a similar agenda. His new restaurant, Fedora, is situated just north of the intersection of West 11th and West 4th streets—if you don't live nearby, you might have to hire a street urchin to help you find this paradoxical corner.
The place is the third in Gabe Stulman's Sheraton Square restaurant empire, which everyone seems bent on calling "Little Wisco." Justifying the term, Fedora serves booze distilled in Door County, Wisconsin, and a good portion of the staff hails from the Dairy State. Stulman himself comes from Madison, and all his places have a college-town feel to them. Fedora occupies a walk-down space formerly home to a notorious tavern of the same name. Extensive refurbishing (even the landmark outdoor sign is now a facsimile) has turned a timeworn dive into a trendy boîte. Banquettes radiate from the antique bar—which dates to 1917—and the walls are hung with a distinguished black-and-white photo collection.
239 West 4th Street
Slideshow: Inside Fedora: Another Tasty Montreal Incursion in NYC
The food? Let's first consider things that bear the APDC imprint. The so-called "crispy pig head" ($12) sounds a bit alarming, but you don't have to struggle with the whole cranium. Rather, face parts have been reduced to little breaded lumps, which, when fried, become oozy and oh-so-delicious. In the Montreal original, the lumps play hide-and-seek among greens in an excellent vinaigrette, but Brunet-Benkritly embroiders on that by sprinkling chopped egg white and replacing the dressing with a thick gribiche. Score!
Tongue is another borrowing, steamed to fibrous tenderness. It comes with a mayo-dressed salad of shredded turnips and apples that I initially mistook for a Parisian celeriac remoulade. It's a perfect illustration, though, of how Quebecois chefs use winter vegetables in clever ways to get through their long hivers. No imported Chilean produce for these guys! Any Montreal restaurant is likely to have beef tartare topped with a raw quail egg on its menu, but Brunet-Benkritly improves on the formula by sprinkling little clods of crunchy rice among the deeply carmine chunks. One of Fedora's liveliest entrées is skate wing ($25) with a marrow-filled shinbone resting on top, like a shotgun leaned against an easy chair.
But the chef has several non-Canadienne tricks up his lard-encrusted sleeve. The English schoolboy classic of toad-in-a-hole is parodied through the addition of tomato sauce and shreds of tripe that you don't always realize you're eating until it's too late. The dish makes you feel increasingly happy as you whack your way through it, like a pith-helmeted explorer in a spongy red jungle. Asian accents appear, too. A delectable quarter fried chicken ($23) is offered in a bowl on rice tinged with sweet vinegar; alongside find a Japanese cucumber salad. American popular culture also gets a nod: A duck leg comes smeared with something that tastes like bottled barbecue sauce, to surprisingly good effect.
There were only three duds that I could detect. One was the so-called "big pork chop for two" ($58). While you expect something magnificent in the size department, what shows up is a pair of average pork chops in a soupy reduction, with a slaw thrown haphazardly into it, making it look a little like a trash heap. What a mess! A plate of sweetbreads and octopus gets the same treatment as the crispy pig face, but the pair don't belong on the same plate, and the salad wilts with the application of something called red butter. Rock shrimp salad sounds good, till you discover the crustaceans remain uncooked. Nobody likes to eat raw shrimp, except maybe the Japanese.
What made you choose the shrimp salad, anyway? Like its forebearer, Fedora invites you to stick it to the nutritionists with a big plate of greasy flesh.
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