Big flavors and a pig's head at this Spanish nose-to-tail restaurant
The hype: Casual Spanish restaurant Dehesa takes its fame from its dedication to nose-to-tail—not for pioneering the concept, but for chef-owner Jean-Phillippe Patruno’s (affectionately known as JP) creative takes on typically unsexy parts. Offal for lunch? Ask and you shall receive.
The vibe: Cozy, intimate and very communal, Dehesa’s interior of forest tones and wooden finishing puts one immediately at peace, in a quiet haven away from the chaos of North Canal Road. Since the emphasis is on communal dining, a long table takes up a large part of the restaurant, putting diners together in a casual but comfortable setting. The open-concept kitchen/bar offers a quick peek into food preparation—and the opportunity for a chat with Chef JP and the team.
The food: Moving beyond just showcasing alternative cuts, Chef JP highlights big, bold flavors that won’t necessarily sit well with all; but will leave a strong impression (and taste) after your meal. The extensive menu doesn’t taste entirely cohesive, which might have to do with Chef JP’s personal background—born to an Italian father and Spanish mother, and having grown up in France, he brings to the table that same eclectic melting pot of flavors. It’s a lot to swallow, literally, but it works.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with the Pimientos De Padron ($14)—charred peppers with sea salt, and one of the chef’s specials. It’s amazing what a heavy salting hand can do for an unassuming vegetable; the peppers were soft but not limp, and made for a reliable side to keep returning to throughout the meal.
On to heftier sides, the 4-piece Jamon croquetas ($14) are filled with gooey cheese and potato, and topped with spicy iberico for a kick. Venturing into the realm of seafood, the menu includes the Carabineros Carpaccio ($34)—simply a giant red sweet prawn served with caviar. The raw prawn is sweet and sour all at once, and the serving of caviar is generous; but the star is the soft shell prawn head, flavorful and deep-fried to a perfect crisp. Another bold dish to try, and our personal favorite, is the Dehesa octopus ($28). A theatrical show of flame-grilling melts the strips of lard over the octopus, keeping it moist and tender. The bed of mashed potatoes it rests on has a welcome sour tang for when the fat gets too indulgent (and a tad salty).
And if you thought that was the end of the big flavors, think again. Dehesa’s crowd favorite, the Crispy Pig’s Head Dehesa Signature ($28) marries the terrifying contents of a pig’s head—in the form of pulled pork and chorizo bits—in a tasty meat pie Sweeney Todd’s Mrs Lovatt would approve of. The crisp of the skin pulls everything together (literally!) so you won’t even remember you’re eating ears, cheeks and nose. A soft yolk on top drenches it all in gooey goodness.
For the more cautious, the squid ink Arroz ($28), or rice, is a good substitute. The arroz is a lovely change from your usual Spanish paella—rich, sweet and bursting with flavor. There’s a choice of baby octopus or big sweet prawn (cooked this time); go for the prawn if you want something extra juicy.
And before you call it a night, don’t skip out on the gin panna cotta ($15), a creamy, milky dessert with berry compote and crumble. The gin kicks in as a lingering aftertaste, making for a boozy treat to end an indulgent meal.
The drinks: You’ll need one of Dehesa’s many wines to wash down all that strong flavor—choose from Spanish and French wines, or premium reds available in bottles. The Angosto Sauvignon Blanc ($14/$70) is a refreshing white wine from Spain that pairs surprisingly well with the heavier dishes, and makes for easy drinking throughout. There’s also a unique list of sherries, sangria and spirits if that’s how you roll.
Why you’ll be back: Gorging on pig’s head probably counts as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you won’t be scuttling back for another mouthful any time soon. But if you’re one for the big flavors and a chef who dares to push the boundaries of what’s typically expected of European cuisine, Dehesa is a dependable establishment to keep your eye on. And the affordability doesn't hurt.