A Steely Dan cover band was setting up the other week where the Feasting Room’s dining space should be. This was at 8 p.m. on a Thursday, and Italy had just beaten Germany in the Euro Cup semi-final. College Street, where the restaurant is, had gone hairier than usual. The air was damp hot outside so people weren’t just late and cursing about European football and the idiots who blare their horns and hang from car windows, but also dabbing away sweat when they arrived.
The staff didn’t seem fazed by any of it. They had set the little back patio with a dozen tables, and chairs and tea lights. There was a pair of older couples in one corner, friends of the chef’s parents, it looked like, laughing as they sipped verdejo from inexpensive glasses. There were young, quiet couples; a pair of bearded cooks who’d come in on a night off; a group of thirtysomethings who looked like graduate students, arguing about where Steely Dan had got its name. And everybody was primed for pig that night: for pig’s ears, neck, jowls, snout, trotter, heart, ham and other, less identifiable bits.
The Feasting Room is a temporary, pop-up restaurant that’s housed inside the Orbit Room, a music club. It closes down each night before the bands come on, and is intended to last just six months.
Its 29-year-old chef, Noah Goldberg, has a dream of a résumé: After university he worked at Lee, on King Street, then moved to New York, where he cooked for Daniel Boulud for a year and a half. Most recently, he was in London, where he spent two years as a cook at St. John Bar and Restaurant, the cult-status spot that started the international nose-to-tail craze.
The Feasting Room is also an experiment, a lab as much as a restaurant. Mr. Goldberg picks a different animal each week – he’s cycled through lamb, pig, duck, cow, rabbit and chicken so far – and creates six-course tasting menus from its parts. Every Monday, when the week ends (they’re closed on Tuesday and Wednesday), they empty the fridges and start the heavy work of creating a new menu from scratch. “We could have played it a lot safer,” he said.
Mr. Goldberg sent out two amuses for pig week: crackling, sublimely porky shards of pig’s skin served with a bowl of creamy apple sauce, and then dates stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in oven-crisped pancetta – devils on horseback. There was a simple fresh sweet-pea soup next, with ribbons of crunchy-chewy pig’s ears. The ears softened just enough when you dunked them. It was very good ham and pea soup.
He served a thin slice of pig’s spleen that had been layered over pork belly and sage leaves and rolled into a pinwheel. It tasted mildly organy, but the velvety texture was what you noticed. He offset it with a salad of pickled carrots, artichokes and fiddleheads. I’d never eaten pig’s spleen. Nice stuff.
But the best of the savouries was pig’s trotter stuffed with pork shoulder. The little packages were breaded and fried to crunchy, and served with chopped, herbed, vinegar-smacked mushrooms on top. It all sat above a pool of creamy polenta. It was the sort of dish you remember for months afterwards. If you’re a pork person you fantasize about food like this.
For dessert, Mr. Goldberg’s sous chef, Adam Weisberg, made pistachio and pig’s blood Nanaimo bars. He built them from the usual coconut and chocolate base, up through a layer of pistachio purée, then sweet mousse made with a bit of the pig’s blood – you could hardly taste it – and a snap of dark chocolate on top. He draped a cluster of tart, tiny golden currants over the squares.
The plate was bake-sale Canadiana, only better. It was a pork dish, too.
After those six courses (and the two amuses) you didn’t even feel too full or fat-laden. A meal like that takes a hell of a chef.
But cooking a new menu every week in a space you can’t control is a tough commitment. Other nights were less successful. The duck-week dinner I had there was good for the most part, but short on magic. (The best of it: frisée salad topped with confit gizzards, plus foie gras ice cream with bananas Foster.) Some of chicken week was excellent: the moistest, crispest, most perfectly seasoned fried chicken I’ve had in the city, for instance. Other dishes tasted much more like works in progress.
Though the changing menu is the Feasting Room’s weakness, it’s also what can make meals there so exciting. Thanks to the concept, Mr. Goldberg can’t stop creating, or learning, or improvising, and you can taste that, dish by dish and week by week.
It’s an imperfect debut, but the cooking and ambition are promising. I’m looking forward to when he has his own place.
We're introducing stars to our restaurant reviews
So, we’ve introduced a star system. Why? Because it just makes things easier for readers. Here's how it works: One star and above is a good restaurant and a place we're recommending. We plan to save four stars for the very best places in the city. Stars reflect the food, service and atmosphere, with price taken into account.
No stars: Not recommended.
1: Good, but won't blow a lot of minds.
2: Very good, with some standout qualities.
3: Excellent, well above average with few caveats, if any.
4: Extraordinary, memorable, original, with near-perfect