t says: I came across this article the other day, and consulted a as to his opinion. He had a lot to say …
a says: I agree with the article completely. Whisky is no different than wine, you may enjoy a $400 bottle more than something cheaper but anything well made, over $15 is getting into personal preference, not actual quality. I’ve had most of the whiskeys on this list and agree that they are excellent alternatives. Willet (rye) is the only one I brought back from Kentucky so you know I love the distiller – the bourbon is available in PA I believe. Never had/heard of Larceny. Michter’s is awesome but still quite expensive. Can’t say I’ve had Glen 15 but it ain’t American whiskey so whatever for this conversation. Finally, I have a bottle of EW SB in my home right now. It’s one of my go-to bottles between $20-$30 – the others being Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Craig 12, and Weller 12 (the “poor mans Pappy”).
t says: My phone has sooo many photos. And while I wish I could have posted on each one, I know it just isn’t going to happen. So get ready for another lightning round!!
t says: g and I hit up Petruce et al the other night. Yes, we know, Petruce has been out there for a while now, getting rave reviews – people have already been there and opined, so there’s no need for another blog post about them. Right? Ah, the glory of having a blog: we can write about whatever we want, whenever we want! And this time, we’re writing about Petruce et al!
October 2014, Friday Dinner, Party of 2. Although we arrived on time, our table wasn’t ready, so we took up residence at the bar and began constructing a plan to attack their wine list. Would we be disappointed like at Townsend, where I boo’d their no-BYO policy? Well, to be honest, I didn’t even ask if Petruce allowed outside wine! WWHHAA!?!? Have I taken ill? Did I run out of wine? Did I suffer a blow to the head? Not at all – I knew their wine list was actually going to be interesting. Like wine-nerd-interesting! Not a single Cali-cab on the list! No boring Chardonnays! And do my eyes deceive me – are those boxed wines on that list? So I was down for paying by the glass, ready to see what the wine program could surprise us with. For our meal, we did an Elbling (super-tasty – a nice lighter white wine with good acidity and surprising length for a white) and a not-on-the-menu Cava. Why cava? Well, g was originally going to go with a Cremant de Limoux (Domaine Collin – a super-awesome sparkler we’ve had before) but the bartender offered the cava, and then was able to compare-contrast the wine to the Domaine Collin to see which she’d prefer – that’s some good wine-nerdery right there – we were impressed! And then for the main, I ventured for a Cahors (i.e. Malbec from a specific region in France), and for her main, a pork shoulder, the “wine guy” recommended a rich off-dry white (that’s right – not a red!), which was perfect. So Petruce gets some big points for their wine. Will it appeal to everyone? Nope. Will it appeal to wine snobs? Not really – it’s not like these are big-name bottles or anything. But it will appeal to wine nerds. Yay!
Ok, enough about wine. Let’s talk food … with pictures!
Not pictured was the pork shoulder. And with that pork shoulder, g felt like she “won” dinner. That’s a pretty impressive statement coming from g, and here’s why: the usual course for dinners is that g goes for either cow (she loves a good steak frites) or lighter fare (seafood, veggies), often foregoing pig as it’s often too fatty, too rich (usually I get the pig and she’ll take a bite … before claiming that her steak, veggies, or seafood is superior). But not this time – she went for the pig, and it blew her away. I agree – the pig was delish! I don’t know if it “won” – as it was equal to the duck for me – but I will say that the leftover pork shoulder made for a super-awesome omelette the next day.
Other awesome things: service was spot-on the whole night. They cleared the tables with efficiency. The chef occasionally delivered dishes (our table was right next to the kitchen), with a smile. They did give us an extra course (spicy octopus) because the server felt like g’s wine would also pair well with spicy, and nothing we ordered was at all spicy (so he did it for the fun of the meal, it seems!). g recognized one of the chefs as one of her faves from Little Fish. What were the bad things? Well … there wasn’t really anything to complain about. While nothing we had was quite gotta-have-it-can’t-live-without-it-crack-addictive, it was indeed some excellent food, excellent wines, and excellent service. It’s going to go toe-to-toe with Serpico for us, which is amazing. Maybe it’s more along the lines of a Talula’s Garden (but without the cheese … which is a big minus, but more interesting drinks)? Bravo for a great new restaurant for Philly!
t says: It had been a while since the four of us (g, t, a, v) went out to eat for dinner, so we were super-psyched when v’s new resolution – “New Restaurant Fridays” – took us to Townsend on East Passyunk. You see, we’ve been so strapped for time lately that g and I just kept on going back to our favorites: Serpico, Sotto, Mercato, etc. Not only that, we couldn’t even make it to all of our favorites (it’s been ages since we’ve been back to Talula’s Garden!) So the real question was going to be this one: could Townsend put on a strong enough show to be added to the rotation? Let’s find out …
September 2014, Friday Dinner, Party of 4. To get things started on this very special occasion, I called up the restaurant and asked them if they did corkage. Nope. That’s a big fat negative. They played it as, “we have a wine list that pairs excellently with our food – we don’t allow outside wine”. Now, I’m ok if a place just doesn’t want us to bring wine – that’s fine – just say: “we have a full bar and we don’t allow outside wine” – and I’d give you more props for saying: “bringing your wine eats into our profits” (because really, that’s what restaurants really mean). But if you’re going to have the audacity to promote your excellent wines, you better back it up with … some excellent wines. When we arrived, we were greeted with a wine list … and no actual suggestions on what they recommended to pair with each dish. That was weird: what happened to the excellent pairings? That’s ok – this wasn’t a’s and my first rodeo. Next we were surprised by the markups. Like “holy crap” markups. Spending over $40 for a bottle of Gruet is insane. Absolutely insane. Finally, the wines kinda sorta sucked. I had a rose that tasted like water-downed grenache (a felt it was more like rubbing alcohol), a mediocre red (and a steal at $8/glass!), and a pretty run-of-the-mill French chardonnay. Basically, not a single “oh I can’t believe they have that” or “whoa – where is that from?” … just “meh” after “meh”. Ok – time to step down from my wine soapbox and get on with the food:
As you can see, our descriptions here are a little on the light side. Normally we gush or put forth some real criticism. And you know what, we did have some things to say about their food as we were leaving that night – we had some real strong opinions … but we forgot them all … because we immediately had our brains melted … by this:
So I guess that’s it. Townsend was fine for food, but not better than another’s in the immediate area. Then consider their wine list which got 8 thumbs down from the gang, both for assaulting our wallets and our palates. And while their very attentive and kind service tried to save the night (they’re not Talula’s Garden good, but still good), ultimately, we expect the noise will die down, as people go back to the restaurants like Fond that sparked the dining explosion in Philadelphia … and could very well keep it burning for years to come.
t says: g and I hit up Lolita for lunch on a lazy Saturday a little while ago. I had to admit that I was a bit reluctant at first, as they were no longer BYO; I was afraid that Lolita had lost the one distinguishing feature that set it apart from the rest of the restaurants in the Marcey-Valerie empire. While most people tended to bring tequilla to Lolita for margaritas, I routinely brought wine, as there were several dishes on the dinner menu that were serious enough to demand a serious drink. Nevertheless, for lunch, wine was not a necessity for me, so we walked on over to 13th street and got down to business …
September 2014, Saturday Lunch, Party of 2. God the menu looked good. It was insane. g and I wanted one of everything. Maybe we were starving? In the end, we settled on the basics:
g and I will be back to Lolita – and we’ll bring along a and v, too! But of course … we’ll have to go for lunch, as I think for dinner, we’d miss bringing our own wine and/or tequilla …
t says: bw hit up Solomonov’s latest restaurant, Abe Fisher, and volunteered a beautiful review. Let’s see how he liked it!
bw says: As I was the first to arrive, I had to wait at the bar until everyone else got there, which gave me time to survery the terrain, and to see that Solomonov himself was there overseeing the new place, heightening the expectation for the food to come. The wine list had a nice selection of different varietals. However, all of the wine was $12/glass! While there are times where I’ll spend that much for a glass, it’s nice to have options in the $8 or so range. Knowing some of the wines on the list, I knew they ranged between $8 and $16 per bottle, so having a few on a lower price range didn’t seem too unreasonable.
As more of our party arrived, it became apparent that our table wasn’t going to be ready soon. In the end we ended up waiting half an hour for our reservation, which wouldn’t have been a big deal except that we all had to get up early the next day and so were fading by the hour. I attribute the delay to it being a new place crowded for restaurant week, and the staff still trying to figure out how long each table would linger, with the result that tables were booked to close together in time. The staff was very nice with multiple people coming up to apologize including the manager. In these conversations, it seemed as if they were going to offer us something on the house, but they didn’t which meant the conversations sometimes ended with the awkward thought of “but…”. In the end, they gave us an extra dish as a suprise in the middle of the meal, which was very nice, but we didn’t know that at the time.
Eventually we did get seated, so now we can talk about the food. The menu is set out as three sections (veggies, fish, and meat with five options in each catergory), and you select one item from each per person to be shared amongst the table. So, with four of us we had everything but one from each set. Note that our menu was subtly different throughout that than which was online (perhaps the one online was a preliminary one). The meal starts with a selection of savory rugelach, which I was pleased to see as a baking fanatic and lover of rugelach. There were three options with a different topping (poppy, sesame, and caraway) and filling in each. I can’t remember the fillings as much as they were pretty subtle (with the taste being dominated by the topping and the dough), but I think they were prune, chicken, and fish. Even though the fillings were playing only a supporting role, the dough itself was a perfect rugelach texture with a crisp exterior and soft interior.
The first round (vegetables dishes) then came out. First was kasha varniskes, which were basically ravioli, their soft texture contrasting nicely with crisp peas. Next was borscht tartare which was juliened beets with a roe topping. The beet flavor was good, but at first there wasn’t much to distinguish these from other beets. For the second spoonful though, I sampled them with a piece of the hard-boiled egg which was on the plate seemingly as a garnish, and this extra element really elevated the dish by adding a second texture and a nice smooth undernote of egg flavor. We then got roasted brussel sprouts, which were accompanied by a nut (which I think were marcona almonds, although this dish isn’t on the menu posted online, so I can’t confirm). Again, the brussel sprouts themselves weren’t any better than those that seem trendy on many menus now, but the contrast between them and the nuts and cream sauce was nice. The last course was roasted carrots which soon made itself apparent as the “dark horse favorite”, possibly the best carrots I’ve ever hard. They were cut into small chunks and had a nice soft exterior, a firm interior, and a hint of char. Served with pumpernickel croutons that had the just the right combination of crunch and chew and topped with gouda, this dish was the stand-out of the vegetables.
The fish dishes started with a raw and marinated duo of bass, which was good, although not really memorable. Next up was a gefilte fish (which was trout stuffed in trout), which was also good, although I can’t conjure up the particulars. The smoked sable cake, was SMOKED. It had a nice contrast between a crisp crust and a soft fishcake middle, but the smoke taste was almost too overwhelming. We then had a grilled salmon over corn and tomato slaw. I’m not a salmon fan, so I was hesistent, but this dish is how to convert people to salmon; by far the best salmon I’ve ever had, with the salmon-ness not being too overwhelming and a great gradient between the side on the grill and the other. Then, they brought the shrimp fried rice, which we hadn’t ordered, but was on the house to compensate for the delay. It was a firm rice patty topped with shrimp, pastrami, and a barely poached yolk (which was a little “food trends of five years ago” but did add a nice note to the dish). The rice was nicely done, however I think the shrimp and pastrami got a little lost. This dish probably would have been great when shared between two people where each person would have gotten more of the two meats, but split amongst four, they went a little thin.
By now had become apparent the one flaw in the service. We were still using the same plates we started with (and would the entire night). This (along with pacing) is a quandry that happens at every tapas-style restaurant. Amada always seems more interested in giving you ten items at once than they are at making sure you’re able to eat them all at the their hottest and freshest. There the plates can become an issue too, but at least enough of the items are served on toasts or don’t have sauces, that your plate doesn’t become too messy and they just change it once in the middle. But at Abe Fisher, every dish needs to be spooned onto your plate while sharing, and all of them have sauces or toppings. So, your plate quickly becomes a mess. It’s then a shame that all of the flavors can get mingled together and degraded as the meal goes on. I wish they had changed the plates after each flight of courses.
Corned pork belly led the meat courses out. This was thin slices of pork belly topped with a raisin chutney and little challah. They all went really well together, but once the bread note ran out (as their wasn’t much) you were left with the thin pork belly, and although the contrast of the fat and corning rub was nice, the actual pork flavor seemed to get pushed to the side. Up next were the veal schnitzel tacos. These almost didn’t make the cut of the dishes we ordered, but they were the universal choice for the best dish all night. The veal was perfectly done with a light breading providing a good crunch and a radish salad on top providing a crispness. We then had the sweet and sour meatballs, which had a lot of flavors going on that all melded very well together. Unfortunately, there were very few meatballs in the dish and it was mostly zucchini, and as someone who doesn’t like zucchini this meant that I didn’t get very much of this dish. Last was a Roumanian skirt steak that like all the meat was perfectly cooked. It was another standout which was harmed only by the broccoli topping (which was very flavorful) being slightly overcooked.
Next came dessert. These we essentially got individually, but I first got a little taste of the black and white cookie cheesecake ordered by someone else. I can’t remember the flavor of the “black” side; “white” was lemon. Both were tasty with a nice texture that was softer than what I would have expected from a classic cheesecake. My main dessert was an apple strudel, which was overall phenomenal. It didn’t get to the apple-pinnacle attained by “apples for Olivia” at Pomme in St. Louis, but it was an amazing apple dessert with apples baked into a nice thick caramelized crust and topped with walnuts. While I loved the hearty thick chewy crust, it meant that when baked into a muffin shape, it had structural integrity problems, in that it was hard to cut off pieces without crushing the whole thing. It might have worked better in a more traditional flat strudel shape.
So, overall, it was a great meal worth the hype and the wait. It had some of the same strong northern European spice notes as Noord, but whereas there they tended to dominate the two dishes you would order, at Abe Fisher there was more of a contrast across all of the many dishes so that you could get the strong notes of such things as caraway without them overwhelming the palate. And even though as is evident above, some of the dishes were less memorable than others, almost everything was perfectly cooked, and each dish offered a unique contrast of textures. In addition to the tapas-style menu perused above, the menu also offers two larger dishes in a Hungarian Duck and Montreal-Style Ribs. Our waitress described the ribs to us, and although I can’t remember all the specifics of the preparation, they sounded amazing. I definitely want to go back to try them (be forewarned: they take 45 minutes to prepare to order, so call ahead).