Iberian Pig , the kinda-sorta Spanish restaurant on Decatur Square, has got such a warm vibe, such a true spirit of hospitality at work, such an ambitious food and drink menu and so many fans that I always feel kind of churlish when I admit it isn't my favorite.
The food comes at a reasonable price and looks so happy that in the past I've wanted to like it more than I was able. But I always left wishing there were fewer bits of dried fruit, pungent cheese and other doodads in many of the dishes. They often ended up tasting like an over exuberant pile up from the Whole Foods salad bar.
But I did check in recently and it seemed to me that chef Chad Crete had tuned things down a little to good effect. For instance, the namesake ibérico ham now arrives with only a few good oil-cured olives and some bread rather than the espresso aïoli that used to make its perplexing self known. I loved our portion of richly fatty paleta ham from the shoulder rather than the leg. This beautiful plate of seared sea scallops with bacon and fava beans could hold its own at any restaurant in town. Also very good: fat lengths of chorizo sausage grilled until they burst open like popcorn, caramelized in their juices and topped with a mild slaw.
Some of the old excess remains apparent. A salad of shaved kohlrabi and green apple is sweet and oily in its scallion-ginger dressing and outfitted with so many sliced almonds, blobs of goat cheese and bits of roasted pepper that it seems more 1970's ladies' magazine than Spanish tapa.
These chewy, balsamic-drizzled eggplant slices seem to have come from a different kitchen than the scallops. I shouldn't make fun of the plating, but the asparagus star does kind of remind me of the felt cut-outs my kids brought back from art class. Okay, that was churlish. But really, the eggplant needed a good salting or overnight soak in milk to be rendered as something nice to eat. And why did it have to be slicked in a syrupy sauce?
Service, as always, was top notch. This is a really warm-spirited restaurant. And some of the food is pretty good.