Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bindi's Pork Cheek Vindaloo

It was over barbecue at Percy Street that BJ and I were discussing that there are only a couple of regions in which the culinary traditions exclude swine; the Middle East, Muslim nations of Southeast Asia, and India. The Hindu and Muslim dietary restrictions of most of the country yield a food culture in which cooked pork is a stark rarity, thereby yielding its absence from Indian menus in the US. We'd moved onto another topic when Jason joined us and divulged a tale of intrigue.

Jason works at Bindi, a downtown Indian restaurant from which you shant expect a nine dollar lunch buffet. He mentioned that the head chef, George Sabatino, was celebrating his departure to Barbuzzo by preparing a tasting menu that culminated in a pork cheek vindaloo. What a coincidence.

We were immediately interested and planned on the experience, one presented with a touch of class over my last pork outing on Oregon Ave. I arrived at Bindi yesterday evening with BJ and Katey, our squad equipped with a bottle of Castillo ready to dilute the exotic mixers at this BYOB. Once seated, our waiter noted our choice of spirits and recommended a bright yellow mango mixture that masked the quality of our rum in the best way possible.

The meal began with a single bite of raw halibut, continuing with dueling preparations of chicken liver, and a skate wing far more agreeable than any previous incarnation of the bottom feeder that I'd had. Each dish represented a balance in texture: the radish and pickled mustard seed garnish on the halibut, the liver coupled with watercress, and the crusted skate wing all contained a component, veggie or otherwise, that added an appropriate crunch to its respective protein. Finally, it was time for the pork.

Pork cheek is a stringy, gamy cut of meat coming from the head of the pig. Katey mentioned that it's not considered a tender cut of pork, which is what I was expecting. It requires careful cooking to soften its texture while maintaining its moistness. BJ noted that what we were presented with was braised, and braised well. The meat came apart on my plate and in my mouth much like stewed goat meat, only less chewy. Of all it's accompanyment, the slices of pickled fuji apple complemented the pork cheek best. Beneath it all, the grits and oyster mushrooms contributed two extremes of texture. I knew the soft and crunchy mushrooms from authentic tom yam (lemongrass soup), a dish I associate with life in Thailand and not with desi food. The combination of flavors and textures provided a detailed statement in each bite, depending on the ingredients that ended up on your fork. Though Indian themes present in this dish were, at times, overshadowed by the few atypical ingredients, the aforementioned texture balance hit its peak between the kale and the pork cheek. The kale's slight bitterness countered the buttery composure of the meat, making for a complex end to leave you thinking.

There was so much going on on my plate that I never had a moment to consider that I was consuming the very face of the animal with which I am engaged in this delicate dance. The apprehension is certainly more apparent in traditional pork meals in which the flesh is the unapologetic centerpiece. It didn't get its chance to bother me within all its edible framing. I think the rum helped a little too.

This was a gourmet experience that I had to have as soon as it was mentioned, and I have absolutely no regrets despite this being a step in the direction of special occasion eating for regular pork eaters, something I vowed to move away from in the pepperoni post below. Whatever I tackle next will have to be real street.


  1. I can practically taste the food you described-- my mouth is watering!

  2. Pork Vindaloo is very common in are several other pork dishes-sorpotel etc....

  3. Interesting post. I especially liked the line where you describe your relationship with pork as a "delicate dance."