So naturally when the time came to launch his own restaurant, Harlan decided to open....a bistro. But not some Mon Ami Gabi faux-French bistro, complete with dark woods and movable-type “chalkboards,” serving up hangers and filets and strip steaks to suburbanites rushing to catch the latest Steve Carell flick. No, with his forthcoming Green Pig Bistro in Clarendon, Harlan plans to serve suburbanites off-cuts of meat and — gasp! — offal. You know, classic rustic French cooking.
“I’m not trying to make people eat differently, but I want them to,” said Harlan, who finds Michael Pollan’s approach to changing eating habits a “little militant.” “I think the only way that they’re going to eat differently is to give them something that’s nostalgic and then throw a little sweetbreads on the side.”
Harlan’s draft menu for the Green Pig looks to be a tantalizing taste of whole-animal cooking. It includes roasted marrow, cold lamb tongue salad, sweetbreads, beef shin, duck liver and a crispy pig plate of ear, skin, foot, head and belly. The chef, I should note, isn’t sure how many of these dishes will make the final cut.
“It’s going to be tricky to get away with any of that,” Harlan said after the Saffron King dinner last month at The Occidental. “I was even thinking about having....You know, how Chinese restaurants have their own ‘other’ menu or something like that? You got to get into the club first. I don’t know...I think people are moving in that direction. All the chefs and critics, we all seem to love [whole animal eating], when it’s done right.”
Harlan plans to hire a chef de cuisine, even though he will split time between the savory and pastry sides of his kitchen. His approach to the Green Pig, he says, will favor cooking technique and skill over pricey, pristine ingredients that start to push food costs into the danger zone.
“I’d rather pay for labor and technique than pay for ingredients and glassware. I’m literally buying used plates from places. I’ve been on an eBay tear,” Harlan said.
“I want to do a steak frites program, but no loins,” the chef continued. “I want to be able to do flatirons. I’d play with them a little bit in the [sous vide] bag. I might braise them at medium rare for a while to loosen them up a little bit before I sear them...I mean, steak frites shouldn’t be a ribeye.”
The Green Pig is scheduled to open early next year, and when it does, the bistro will represent a homecoming for Harlan, a native of Arlington. The Green Pig is located in the former American Flatbread space, which closed last December after a short, contentious life. Harlan knows the competition is fierce in the Clarendon neighborhood, where diners apparently like their prices low and the plates piled high.
“I’m keeping my costs low and my prices low. I mean, I’ve got...what’s-it-called across the street? Cheesecake Factory. If I can keep my prices better than them, I think I’m in good shape,” Harlan says. “I mean, I can’t give you a whole head of lettuce and three chicken breasts on a salad, but...”
And then Harlan trailed off, lost in his own thoughts about how a fine-dining pastry chef hopes to open a bistro and compete against the Cheesecake Factory.