January 10, 2005 | Ask Gael
Why on earth call your place Porcupine?

    The small armored critter you and I fear strikes chef Matthew Weingarten as wild but cuddly - “rustic, like my food.” And it was his idea that a small, very plain, but agreeable bistro with a warm and professional welcome on the edge of Soho be dubbed Porcupine. The chef’s itch for invention can be as unpredictable as that spiky namesake. A delectable-sounding squash-radicchio starter turns out to be a mushy salad, and cauliflower is wildly overcooked, as is the halibut (even though smartly nested on artichoke purée with pancetta and toasted hazelnuts). The suckling pig we loved at first tasting for its impeccable crackle of skin is too fiercely spiced a week later. But good news is that the triumphs outweigh the stumbles. Sweet lettuce soup is a lemony pleasure, and the sirloin shell with Swiss-chard tart is steakhouse-quality - meaty, yet tender and perfectly cooked. Indeed, so much is good here (and modestly priced) that we’d come back for raw yellowtail with shaved autumn vegetables, savory rabbit ragù on hand-cut noodles, the lush baked rotolo with ricotta and caramelized onion, and the odd, crisp pancake of braised veal breast with lemon pickles. A generous appetizer serving of homey celery-root pudding with braised veal cheeks could be dinner for me.

20 Prince Street near Elizabeth Street. 212 966 8886

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