It’s no secret that Harlem has become somewhat of a mecca when it comes to food and entertainment. People who wouldn’t dare venture pass 59th street are now making their way up to 125th street just to see what all the talk is about. Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster and Samuel Thiam’s Maison Harlem are two popular attractions that regularly inspire New Yorkers to hop a train or Uber uptown for a delightful dining experience. But, does anything exist beyond 125th Street? Rumor has it that it does.
Though you won’t find too many downtown residents taking a trip way uptown, Washington Heights offers quite a bit to its local residents. One of the gems is The Pandering Pig. This charming restaurant is one of uptown’s best kept secrets. The owner and chef Nicole O’Brien and her husband and Wine Director, Senator O’Brien, coined the term “Frenocal” to describe the cuisine they serve. Frenocal means Sonoma-influenced French Northern Californian cuisine and that’s pretty much what you get – an array of deeply-flavored dishes, perfect for the fall, California wine and a ton of organic and locally sourced seasonal vegetables.
The meal starts with appetizers including subtly sweet and deceivingly simple roasted brussels sprouts dripping with creamy Californian Point Reyes Original blue cheese and warm spiced apples & triple cream brie over garlic-butter toast. Additionally, they offer pate and cheese boards that are intended to share.
As for entrees, they have a unique selection ranging from grass-fed, California-raised, bone-in beef short rib, stewed in red wine with a trio of warm spices, served over fluffy parmesan garlic mashed potatoes and topped with mushrooms & sautéed carrots to traditional Coq au Vin made with local organic chicken quarters served over creamy polenta garnished with blue cheese.
Their signature dish, the Poulet de Sonoma, features a free-range chicken breast marinated in Herbs de Provence and California white wine with ripe peaches, blueberries, olives and capers served with fluffed rice and roasted asparagus. We’d be remiss not to mention their delicious and delightful red lentil soup with apricots that’s worth a trip to the Pandering Pig on its own. Rumor has it that this is the dish that sealed the deal for Senator when deciding to make his relationship with Chef Nicole official!
It was no surprise to learn that partner Senator O’Brien is a sommelier. His passion for wine is evident in his presentation. He takes pride offering a distinctive, curated wine selections for each dish while highlighting unknown labels and regions to create a one-of-a-kind dining experience. The Apple Ice Wine we sampled during dessert was splendid.
The Pandering Pig is a jovial cartoon pig mascot that greets guests as they arrive, with a sense of warmth that can be felt from the intimate yet comfortable space filled with plush velvet booths and wooden tables. The exposed brick and branch lighting also adds to its charm. The idea of an under-the-radar French restaurant tucked away in a barely visited part of the New York is something that makes residents appreciate the status quo. There can’t be too many locals complaining about having such a precious gem in their hood all for themselves. However, if you are looking to experience a bit of France with a splash California for the cost of venturing pass 125th, this spot may be just what the doctor ordered.
By Brandy Cochrane, Plant Candy