"Le Trou Normand" is, at its heart, a French trick for eating beyond your capacity. Literally translated as "the Norman break," it's the tradition in Normandy of taking sips of apple brandy or cognac between courses of a rich meal to aid digestion and stimulate the appetite. The new FiDi restaurant that bears its name keeps the tradition alive by serving course after course of some of the best pork in the city, along with a long list of complex, nuanced cocktails to keep you eating more.
Trou Normand is a spinoff of Bar Agricole, the SOMA restaurant that's gotten accolades since its opening in 2010 for its excellent bar program and stark, beautiful, LEED-certified design. While that restaurant's poured-concrete interior takes modernity to the extreme, Trou Normand offers a warmer, more welcoming space befitting the restaurant's place as a sort of living room for FiDi workers. It's a sliver of a bar, L-shaped, with some of the tallest windows I've ever seen that let in light at lunch and happy hour (and breakfast, too, I'd wager — the restaurant serves food all day). In the evening, the room is suffused with a hazy glow from the angular lanterns hanging from the high ceilings.
Its biggest design element is a huge line-drawing of a naked lady reclining above the bar, and if you look closely at the other oil paintings in the room, there are plenty of artistically rendered boobs to be seen. Which sounds like it could be a design style called Bro Moderne, but is really more Euro-Chic, just another way to convey the idea that you are sitting somewhere decadent and should act accordingly.
So where do you start on chef Salvatore Cracco's menu of 20-odd variations on charcuterie or salami? The easiest thing to do is to order the chef's choice, a representative assortment that comes on a massive, rough-hewn wooden cutting board. But you can assemble your own with only a little more effort. I was rendered speechless by a few of the items: the ciccia with its lush, intense porkiness; the finocchiona, a fennel-laced salami that manages to be light despite its grease; the Tuscan salami, flecked with lardo like a checkerboard. More were worthy, if not astonishing: the mulberry pate, the sage salami. The only off-note was a chicken cocci, which was a little dry and uninteresting, but that's what I get for ordering chicken sausage.
The charcuterie plates come with baguettes that have the ideal ratio of airiness to chew, a small pile of fennel and dill to cut through the fat, and ramekins of sharp mustard and quivering aspic, a sort of meat jello. I never quite figured out what to do with the aspic. It added a sliminess to the meat and bread I found off-putting, and its mild flavor wasn't especially interesting on its own. But I liked the gumption the restaurant showed in serving aspic in 2014, as well as the interesting food-for-thought it provided. We've lost all knowledge of how to eat a food that was everywhere a half century ago, a sure sign as any that it's ready for a comeback.
By now you're sitting at the long bar, or maybe in one of the large, cushy, communal leather booths, eating salami and pâté with your fingers like an emperor, lack of inhibitions aided by a cocktail. As you'd expect from the Bar Agricole team, the drinks are spectacular. Heavy on citrus, richly layered with the ropy flavors of Armagnac, cognac, and Calvados, they blend into each other — variations on a theme, instead of something starkly different. You might start with a Dempsey, a mix of gin, Calvados, grenadine, and absinthe, or a Sleepyhead, with Armagnac, ginger, mint, and cava. And when you decide that another will absolutely put you in your cups, there's a short list of affordable, mostly French wine by-the-glass and harder-to-find beers like Austrian lager and French farmhouse ale.
Eventually you will probably want to move from charcuterie to something more substantial. Arancini are always a good bar snack, little fried balls of rice, meat, and a slight hint of lemon with a shattering crust. There are house-made potato chips so thin they're almost translucent, which taste simple and pure like the potatoes they come from, with just a hint of vinegar and salt. A tangy assortment of pickles makes an excellent foil for all the meat.
And then there are the chicken wings. God, they're good. They're seared so they have a crust, but they were some of the softest wings I've ever encountered, the meat sliding off the bone with only the slightest provocation, and with so much fat you'd swear they were a different animal altogether. They rested on a bed of peas three ways — shelled, in the pod, and in a puree with a little mint — and generous hunks of fatty guacinale. The extreme carnivore's take on spring veggies.
I ordered the wings at lunch, along with a pork belly sandwich, and fully expected the latter to be the standout. It was its first day on the menu, though, and still needed something. The pork belly was everything it should have been (I will still fall for perfectly seared pork belly even after all these years), and the mustard and sauerkraut were pleasant enough toppings, but it needed another element to balance it — maybe arugula, like the Italians put on porchetta. Other sandwiches included housemade sausage and broccoli raab; there's also a delightfully salty, rich pork ragu.
But the MVP of my visits to Trou Normand was the pork chop, which was easily the best I've ever eaten. It was huge. Salty. Sweet, in the way that great pork can be. It was also $27, but it served three of us. And after we ate the meat we let slivers of its fat dissolve on our tongues. You can order dessert (affogato and Mission Pie), but who needs sweets when there's more pork fat?