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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Haven Gastropub, a Suckling Pig Adventure in Orange, CA

Haven Gastropub is a place I frequently visit with my buddies.  Great beer and great pub food.  This is a place where they are confident in their bold culinary moves.  What do I mean?  Well, what other pub would you find a foie gras cheesecake?  And how many places are conscientious enough to find local ingredients?  How many other places makes sure that their meats are humanely raised?  Not too many other places, that's for sure.  And I'm sure they know this, but they're indubitably good at cooking.

So we're having a good time, enjoying our beer with some of their fries with homemade ketchup, and we see a notice for suckling pig... we knew had to get it.  And damnit, my next reservation for suckling pig cannot come soon enough.

Now, a few things about the reservations.  It must be a party of 8-14 people and you must email them at least a week in advanced at  Despite what it says on their website, they did change it to an 8 person minimum, not 6 persons minimum.

When you email them, they will send you an email back informing you of specific details.  At the time we had our dinner, we were given choices of sides to go with the suckling pig and we chose to get (as per their recommendation) the asparagus with gremolata and shaved cheese, potato salad with bacon, and the au gratin potatoes.

In anticipation of this great feast, we arrived half an hour early.  No problem, we sat at the bar and that gave us time to indulge in a few of their beers.  They have a huge selection of beers on tap and bottled, so you'll always be able to find a beer that suits your taste.

We were promptly seated for our reservation and a few members of our party were running late.  During that time, they explained to us the beverages they recommend we try with our dinner as well as how they were going to run the dinner for us to make sure we were perfectly served.

A few of their recommendations were sold out just the night before, but we were able to make do.  We got the huge 3L bottle of 2010 Stone Double Bastard ($151), and a bottle of Hogwash, which was a Rose wine ($25).  Both, HIGHLY recommended to go with the dinner.

The Stone Double Bastard was a strong ale, similar to the more popular Arrogant Bastard.  Of course that bottle is yours to keep as a souvenir, or you can go down to the brewery in Escondido, CA and have them refill it for you!  We're never making the drive down there so we're keeping it as a souvenir.

I'm pretty novice when it comes to wine, and by no means even close to being a sommelier, but I felt the Hogwash was also great to go with our pork.  It's fruity and sweet and not only cuts the richness of the fatty pork perfectly, but I felt it was a much better palate cleanser than the beer.

Of course, make sure that your party has the stomach to take on this alcohol. We certainly did.

Now, you cannot have roasted pig without sides.  That's just too much overwhelming richness.  Thankfully, the sides that came with our dinner were splendid.  The portions were huge (just like the little piggy itself) and we had plenty of leftovers.

The potato salad with twice smoked bacon I felt was a perfect complement to the suckling pig.  Acidic, and somewhat still light even with the bacon.  And trust me, for bacon lovers like myself, they had plenty of bacon in the bowl.

Again, it was so perfectly light and refreshing, it really went well with the pork.  Possibly a must have recommended side.

The au gratin potatoes were so perfectly cooked.  It was packed with flavor and had just the perfect crust on it.  The potato was just cheesy enough and was not dry or a wet mess like some au gratin potatoes fall victim to.  It was absolutely wonderful.

However, it was just a bit too rich to go with the pig in my opinion.  My dining companions felt it was their favorite side dish -- and it very well could have been mine as well -- but eating it with the fatty pork was just a bit too much.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't hesitate to get it the next time I come back if my fellow diners wanted it, but it wouldn't be my first choice with the pig.

And finally, the asparagus with shaved pecorino cheese.  This dish also, was amazing.  The asparagus was really good as well.  It was cooked nicely and had the bite that asparagus should.  They don't skip steps here and I'm sure the asparagus was shocked after cooking-- something too many restaurants decide to skip on for some strange reason.

Again, a great complement to the pork.  And well, asparagus and gremolata was always a match made in Heaven in my book.  And in Haven, it was prefect with the pork.

Then came the pig.  Some of it was carved table side as we watched (and I admit, drooled).  Tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned suckling pig.  This is why you live guys.  It really is.

Because a few of our dining mates were a bit late, the pork skin wasn't quite as crispy as I was hoping it to be.  It got a bit chewy because of the wait -- but it was still amazing.  Yes, salty, however, you eat the skin with the meat pieces and there's nothing more to say.  And if you're not eating this like a pig (yes, pun intended) and you really listen hard, you'll hear the faintest trumpets from the mini orchestra in your mouth.  No joke.

Okay, so that was really all we expected, but they also mentioned that we'll have a little surprise.

Yup, chicharron.  Deep fried pork skin.  I've always believed that I've been a great person in my past life and now I'm certain.  I've been reincarnated and gifted by Haven Gastropub with their chicharron.  Perfectly crispy, with a buffalo sauce to go with it.  Dipping it in the spicy sauce, taking a bite out of it, I wish I can relive that moment in my life forever.  But... that wasn't all...

Yes, it's what you think.  Pork brains.  Disgusting?  Heck no.  If you call yourself a foodie or if you have any conception of culinary delicacies, this is it.  I've had pork brains before, and was always a fan, but I've never had it done like this.  Roasted over microgreens... and of course some toasted bread to go with it.

Why must you be so good to me?  Haven Gastropub, I think I have found my one true love.

I don't think I need to mention this, but this was definitely one of the top three dinners of my life.  I've been to the Thomas Kellers and the Gordon Ramsays, but Haven Collective, thank you for your culinary gift.  Any of you guys reading this, please, do yourself a favor and find a party of foodies and come here.  Make sure you invite me.

Haven Gastropub
190 South Glassell
Suite C and D
Old Towne Orange, CA 92866