A Shrine to Swine

Posted on October 16, 2010


Pata Negra restaurant in New York’s East Village

A Shrine to Swine
by AnneLise Sorensen

The slender, dimly lit Pata Negra is owner Rafael Mateo’s shrine to swine. “It’s simple,” he says. “Spanish ham is the best in the world.” The menu showcases varying grades, from salty, deep-red jamón serrano, Spain’s house ham, to one of the world’s priciest meats, jamón ibérico, which comes from free-roaming, black-hooved (“pata negra”) pigs who forage for acorns in Spain’s southwest. Mateo timed the opening of his restaurant with the lifting of US restrictions on this Iberian delicacy, which he orders from the first Spanish slaughterhouse certified to export to the US. The dark-purple ham, streaked with fat, is nutty and creamy, melting on the tongue like pork-scented butter. “It’s ham candy,” says Mateo. Also on offer are Spanish cheeses from Murray’s; the manchego lends a tangy counterpoint to the cured meats. The wine list’s minimal, but well selected, with a focus on weighty reds from La Rioja. Pata Negra’s one-room, cocoon-like interior has a half-dozen high tables topped with miniature white candles; burgundy curtains billowing around the door; a frosted-glass front window; and Spanish tunes from Manu Chao to wistful Bolero love songs.

Travel Transforms (or, Aha!) moment: So this is what pig tastes like if it subsisted on a diet of acorns.

Read my review of Pata Negra in New York Magazine.