First Look: Piggy Smalls
The little brother of The Pig & The Lady hits new flavors.
From left: Piggy Smalls’ pastry chef Gino Ojano, chef de cuisine Brandon Lee and executive chef Andrew Le hamming it up at yesterday’s media preview. The new restaurant opens Oct. 14 at Ward Village.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
And that little brother has a distinctly different personality. He dresses differently—this place is devoid of that signature Chinatown red brick and boasts an abundance of natural light—and acts differently—the menu here features healthier dishes. Piggy Smalls is wholly its own restaurant, though the P&L genes are evident in the layered Asian flavors, impeccable plating and playful creativity.
Dare I say, this kid might be a little more fun, too.
“They’re both equally unique in different ways,” says Le, who earned our Restaurateur of the Year award at this year’s Hale ‘Aina Awards. (See the complete list here). “But they share our common value, to make food as delicious as possible.”
Inside Piggy Smalls, which took over the space vacated by Kua ʻAina Sandwich Shop.
Aside from a couple of P&L classics, the menu at Piggy Smalls, which took over the space vacated by Kua ‘Aina Sandwich Shop, features dishes with combinations I’ve never seen before: Moroccan green papaya salad with carrot purée and cumin ($12 for a small portion, $17 for a large); fresh tajarin—a thin, flat noodle common in the Piedmont region of Italy—with smoked suckling pig, grilled cabbage and grapefruit ($17); and a massive, family-style centerpiece called the Babi Guling Special, a dish inspired by the famous roast suckling pig of Bali, with turmeric, macadamia nuts and Thai ginger and accompanied with green bean and coconut urap, pork chicharrones, blood sausage, chili sambal and fried garlic rice ($32).
This isn’t the kind of restaurant you just pop into for a simple sandwich or burger.
The menu was a collaborative effort between Le and Piggy Smalls chef de cuisine Brandon Lee, who previously served as P&L’s sous chef and has been with the restaurant since it opened. “[Brandon] came up with the flavor profiles and we talked extensively about what type of food he wanted to do,” Le says. “From there, we composed the menu together … He’s a big reason why The Pig & The Lady has been a big success.”
One of Lee’s creative concoctions is the scallion arepa, which debuted at the Hale ‘Aina Awards gala on Sept. 25. This take on a scallion pancake features a spicy anchovy XO sauce, pickled charred corn, avocado crema and cilantro. The combination offers interesting textures with a bit of heat. “It’s all of my favorite things,” Lee says. “I get to incorporate my Chinese heritage.”
Another twist is the loaded baked potato beignets ($8). These super light balls of fried dough sit on a bed of potato and cheddar mousseline, fried onions, ham dust and fresh chives. This dish kept the flavor of a loaded baked potato but removed the caloric guilt.
The star of the starters is the hurricane-style creamed corn ($10), an ingenious blending of the local favorite hurricane popcorn—butter, furikake and kakimochi—but on creamed corn with crème fraîche. The mini “popcorn” is actually popped sorghum, which is part of the grass family.
The scallion arepa features pickled charred corn topped with a spicy anchovy XO sauce and avocado crema.
The loaded baked potato beignets are reminiscent of a baked potato with cheddar cheese and chives—but without all of the guilt.
A fun and playful dish, this bowl of creamed corn is topped with furikake, kakimochi and popped sorghum. Hurricane style!
This plate of roasted cauliflower comes with curried raisins, a spiced tomato sauce, yogurt, cilantro and zataar.
On the very persuasive recommendation of manager Alex Le, we ordered the farmer’s goulash ($17), a vegetarian take on the traditional Hungarian stew. Pillowy dumplings are stuffed with potato and leeks in a hearty, tomato-based stew of vegetables and sweet paprika—key to this dish—with pickled carrots and dill. It’s hard to come by filling vegetarian dishes, and this one really stands out.
While Piggy Smalls offers three noodle dishes—garlic shrimp cold noodles, Mama Le’s pho bac and vegan pho, which we assumed would be flawless—we ordered two dishes that stood out as out of the ordinary for P&L.
One is the pho-strami ($16), one of two sandwiches offered here—the other is the beet box ($14) with roasted beets and smoked chorizo chickpea spread—made with spiced beef pastrami entirely made in-house over three days, from the brining to the smoked finish. in a $10,000 smoker bought specifically for this location. A thick stack of thinly sliced pastrami is slammed into a crusty baguette with Sriracha onions, pickled mustard seeds and the restaurant’s signature Awesome Sauce. The key is to eat this with the accompanying pickled carrots, cucumbers and daikon. It’s a lot of sandwich, which is exactly what Lee wanted. “It’s definitely a labor of love,” he says.
The other dish we tried—again, on Alex Le’s recommendation—is the grilled branzino amandine ($31), a fish dish you don’t often see here. Branzino is another name for the European seabass, which has white, moist flesh and a clean taste. The fish is deboned, dredged in flour and fried in browned butter with fish sauce, braised daikon (that also soaked up the butter sauce) and pickled grapes. It’s quite a presentation, too, with its fins up and mouth gaping. It feels more like a fine-dining entrée than something you can order alongside hurricane-style creamed corn, but it works.
The pho-strami sandwich is packed with spiced beef pastrami, Sriracha onions and pickled mustard seeds. It comes with a pho broth for dipping.
This location aims to serve more vegetarian options, including this farmer’s goulash with dumplings stuffed with potato and leeks in a Hungarian-style stew of veggies.
The grilled branzino amandine features a whole fish, deboned and finished in browned butter.
Save room for dessert, prepared by P&L’s pastry chef Gino Ojano, who gets playful with his offerings. He transforms the traditional French tarte tatin ($8) into something inventive, topping the apple tart with Vietnamese salted lemon and candied macadamia nuts. And he serves slushies here ($6 each) in flavors that change often, perfect for a post-beach refreshment.
We tried the sweet avocado doufu ($8), a play on a panna cotta using Mrs. Cheng’s maple soy milk and creamy avocado, topped with a corn crumble, Hawaiian Vanilla-roasted strawberries and a black pepper meringue. (The pepper is very subtle.) “I wanted an earthy feel,” Ojano explains.
Our favorite, though, is the Milk & Honey ($8), a wedge of a soft sponge cake that’s soaked in four kinds of milk—regular milk, heavy cream, condensed milk and coconut milk—overnight, then paired with honeycomb candy, local bee pollen, whipped Frangelico (hazelnut-flavored liqueur) on the side and adorned with edible flowers. It wasn’t as heavy as it sounds but easy to eat—and hard to share.
This sweet avocado doufu is a fun take on a panna cotta with corn crumble and Hawaiian Vanilla-roasted strawberries.
My favorite dessert is the Milk & Honey, with a soft sponge cake in four kinds of milk and honeycomb candy.
What I loved about the dessert, though, had nothing to do with the flavors or ingredients. I loved that the team used old-fashioned china—much of it found at local thrift stores—for plating. It gives the experience a warm, nostalgic feeling, like I’m eating at my grandma’s house.
“This menu is based on things we love,” Le says. “We just do it with a different spin on it.”
The restaurant seats about 50 inside and another 30 outside on a long, communal table made from mango wood that separates into smaller ones. (The outdoor space, which should be done by Friday, is designed by Fishcake’s Maura Fujihira and will include hanging lights and succulents to give it a very fairy-tale, woodsy feel.)
Starting on Friday, lunch and dinner will be served daily, with no break between service. Breakfast is coming soon.
Ward Village, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, 777-3588, thepigandthelady.com