Proving that pigs do fly, Chinatown‘s Pig and the Lady opened its first global outpost in Tokyo this past Saturday to lines and packed houses. Pig’s signature banh mi sandwiches and flavor-bomb pho noodle soups are here, along with recent menu items from Chinatown.
Chef Andrew, Mama Loan and Alex Le
Hawaii was in the house in a big way opening night, with the entire Le family — chef Andrew, brother and Honolulu operations manager Alex, Mama Loan Le and the other Le siblings — joining family, friends and Pig staffers who flew in to celebrate the moment. Hawaii people filled a good portion of the 80 seats and there were plenty of impromptu reunions. Saturday was also Andrew Le’s 36th birthday — nearly six years to the day since Pig expanded from a farmers’ market stall to a restaurant in Chinatown. “It’s still sinking in,” Le said.
The food? Near-exact replicas from Pig’s flagship, with subtle variations because basic ingredients taste different here. The pork chop, slicked in umami-rich fish sauce and herb flavors, is more tender and juicy than the Hawaii version. The broth of the chicken pho resonates with intense chicken flavor, more so than the meat. The soft serve — pineapple and coconut this week — is creamy and light, with a clean finish that reminds you how good Japanese dairy is.
Transit General Office, the Japanese conglomerate that brought Pig to Japan (and is opening about 10 more global concepts in Tokyo this year and owns more than 100 restaurants in all), flew in Le, sous chef Kristene Moon and pastry chef Jessica Fu weeks ago to taste and tweak recipes. It was important to Le that his signature boldness and funk, the distinct yin-yang combinations of sweet and sour, spicy and salty, come through in Japan.
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On a rainy Monday in Tokyo there are still lines to get in. Those who do will see touches of the original restaurant in Chinatown, down to a fake red-brick wall and bathrooms decked out in movie themes. Here’s a taste.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a Pig fan since its pre-restaurant days. I frequent Pig and the Lady and its sister eatery, Piggy Smalls in Kakaako, and have traveled with the family and written about them considerably. In Tokyo I’m rooming with Mama Le and while I flew myself in, the family is picking up my hotel tab. There is no objective distance here. I’m thrilled these pigs are flying.
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