by Julie Besonen, 12/31/2008
At the moment, we need all the good luck we can get. If that means eating pork—as many cultures believe—so be it. Pigs symbolize progress because they root forward, and there's no dwelling on the past. The rich fat content also implies wealth. Chickens scratch around in the dirt, a most undesirable fate. Better to have roast suckling pig, a hallowed tradition at New Year's in Cuba, Spain and Austria. In Germany it's roast pork, sausages and sauerkraut. In New York, look for porcine pleasures from diverse ethnic corners of the world. Even if you're not superstitious, when it comes to pigging out, why take any chances?
While you're waiting for a table, snack on maple-and-bacon-roasted almonds ($4) and wash them down with a local beer. This smart, new American bistro also tantalizes bacon lovers with grilled house-cured bacon ($7) from the charcuterie menu and brook trout wrapped in bacon ($19). Then there's bratwurst ($9) from the gold medal-winning sausage maker Schaller & Weber. And heritage pork schnitzel ($21) is the plat du jour every Wednesday. Cool Brooklyn singles and families crowd in (there's a good kids menu) for nourishing comfort food, which thoughtfully includes first-rate vegetarian options.
The crisp-skinned pork here doesn't need a knife, or barely even teeth, it's so melting on the tongue. Porchetta is typical street food in Rome, which makes you want to move there and have this delectable slow-cooked fast food every day. Chef Sara Jenkins has brought the practice to the East Village, slathering aromatic herbs, salt and pepper over boned, free-range Hampshire hogs, then roasting them at a low temperature for five hours. She'll stuff the supple meat in a sandwich ($9) or plate it with vegetables ($12). This clean, tiny storefront offers just a few stools and minimal standing room, so it's not a place to linger. Unless, that is, you're considering more porchetta for the road.
There's never a time that this Chinatown favorite isn't hopping, dealing as fast as they can with a line out the door. On pretty much every table is a bamboo steamer with Shanghai-style soup dumplings filled with pork ($4.65). They're called steamed buns on the menu, but the waiters will know what you want if you refer to them as "dumplings." Other pork-based dishes are equally delicious and big enough to share for two to four people. Moo shu pork ($10.35), braised pork shoulder ($14.95) and sliced pork with scallions ($10.35) glisten under the bright lighting and are all eminently satisfying. Sweet pork, spicy pork, double-cooked pork, stewed pork, pork chop—you can get it just about any way you want it here.
The name might look unpronounceable, but think "Superfly" and you're close. This ultra-casual place has a cult following, partly because it's so cheap (most dishes are under $10). Manhattanites are even willing to travel to Queens for it, and bloggers argue that it's the most authentic Thai food in New York City. As for pork options, there's ground pork with ginger, chilies, peanuts and lemon juice; fried pickled pork spare ribs; and pork satay. Want more? How about roasted pork with the mysterious "special house sauce"? It's ladled over rice, a sweetish mixture of shredded pork, chunks of pork and crispy skin cracklings. No matter how much you order, it's rare to spend over $20 per person here.
It's pronounced "Chi-KEE-toe," kind of like the banana. The word means "little" in Euskera, the Basque language. And it's not every day you find such wonderful Basque food outside of Spain. This simple lumber-and-tile cubbyhole (it has about 34 seats, including the bar stools) in Chelsea has an extensive tapas menu, good for sharing. If it's pork you're after, try house-cured pork loin with roasted green pepper ($7), a crispy sandwich of chorizo hash ($7) or spicy cross-cut pork spare ribs ($11). A warm sandwich of un-smoked bacon and cheese ($10) is another hot item.
Victor del Corral left Cuba in 1957 with the dream of bringing authentic Cuban food to New York City, and he succeeded within a few short years. The restaurant has remained a family business, as Victor's granddaughter is the third generation operating the classic Theater District haunt featuring soft lighting, colorful, tropical decor and warm service. To bring good luck in the New Year, the best way to go is hand-carved roast pig marinated in orange juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs ($24). And for good measure, feel free to order smoked ham croquettes ($9), corn tamales filled with savory pork ($9) and crispy marinated pork with warm yucca salad ($18).