after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Meritage: Solid Food for the Price

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t says: My dad and I took a “Sushi Basics” class at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.  It was a ton of fun!  What was particularly interesting was that our instructor, Chef Anne Coll, was obviously not Japanese – not Asian at all (from what I could tell).  That said, she wowed us with her extensive knowledge of and experience with preparing Asian foods – she used to be at Susanna Foo in its hay-day).  She was very pleasant and an excellent teacher, explaining to us the finer points of making sushi rice (super-important), slicing fish, and cutting cucumbers.  We thanked her for a great time and bid her farewell.

Fast forward several months.  g and I found out that Meritage (a restaurant which co-workers of mine bashed as “the worst restaurant in Rittenhouse”) was getting a new chef: Chef Coll!  g and I were super-enthused, so we added it to our list of restaurants to visit (we wanted to wait until after it had been open for a bit to work out its “opening pains”).  But of course, by the time we wanted to go, LaBan had given them 3 bells.  For those unfamiliar with LaBan, 3 bells is quite a good score, especially given the price point of this restaurant – no entree was over $21 (at the time – I spotted a $23 entree on their website recently)!  So, while every restaurant in the city that gets 3 bells (or more) becomes instantly booked for the ensuing 2 months, Meritage was super-booked!  Fortunately, we managed to go twice, once in November (on a weekday) and once in December (during the first snowstorm that gave us >20″ of snow).

12/2009, Tuesday Dinner, Party of 3.  Service was top-notch throughout the entire meal – our waiter was both friendly and informative about the dishes that were offered and his “favorites”.  We opted for the dumpling appetizer and found that while they tasted good, they were not revolutionary – g and I have made better dumplings, ourselves.

Our friend went for the tuna tartare and the pork cheek.  Having spent some time in Japan, I half-expected him to be very critical of the tartare, but he actually seemed very happy with the dish.  The pork cheek blew him away – it was tasty and so tender that exclaimed, “well, guess I don’t need this!” as he put down his knife and used just his fork.  I went for the “duo of pork” which featured a tea-smoked tenderloin and pork belly.  The tea flavor was very subtle in the tenderloin, which was well-cooked.  Having had Cochon’s tenderloin, with its rich, deep flavor, I felt a little let down – but don’t get me wrong – it was still a very nice slab of meat.  Fortunately, I felt that the pork belly was on another world, a definite high note in the meal – it was flavorful, cooked superbly, and made me want to go home and cook it myself (I have, and it wasn’t very good – I’ll get it eventually).

g had a good-but-not-mind-blowing hanger steak with chickpea “fries”.  Personally, I loved the chickpea fries – I felt they were novel (although perhaps borderline gimicky) and tasted great with my pork.  g liked them, but only ever admitted they were “good”.

The desserts were solid dishes, too, as I remember eating them all, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember exactly what we had.  I want to say that we had the chocolate bombe, some sort of pot-de-creme, and some sort of apple fruit tart.  It was a pleasant finish to a very solid meal.

12/2009, Saturday Dinner, Party of 3.  Meritage was so good (and reasonably priced) the first time that we planned a second visit with our other friend.  To start, we sampled the BBQ pork sliders as our appetizer – the meat, bread, and sauce made for a delightful sandwich which was NOT too sweet (I dislike super-sweet BBQ sauce).  That said, our friend, who’s from Alabama, reminded us that it wasn’t the most “authentic” BBQ ever (nevertheless, he said he’d eat it again).

g went for the chicken and I had the Jersey monkfish.  Both were superbly cooked.  g’s chicken was great (and we’ve tasted a lot of bland chicken in our time).  g felt that my dish was a little too salty, so perhaps the sauce contained too much ?soy sauce? – but I liked it a lot (I preferred mine to hers, and she preferred hers to mine).  Our friend, at our recommendation, went for the pork cheeks, which were once again dynamite (I think he’s started searching for pork cheeks in markets to try and cook them at home).  However, his lamb chops, judging by his reaction were satisfactory but unremarkable (at least there were no complaints).  Sadly, we were all too stuffed for dessert.

All in all Meritage provided for us two solid meals.  The portions were a nice size for the price, especially because within walking distance from our apartment, there really aren’t a whole lot of New American restaurants that fit this bill (e.g. Audrey Claire, which has yet to impress us and Matyson, which, while tasty, gives far too little food for the dollar).  No dish we had was “bad”, and the few pork highlights were absolutely inspiring.  I especially appreciate some of the creativity in Chef Coll’s dishes and I feel that, over time, Meritage could be huge!

What keeps us from going back?  Well, Meritage is NOT a BYOB.  That said, their wine list is less expensive than it used to be, with wines by the glass coming in at $8 each.  Nevertheless, for $16, g and I could have had a whole bottle of wine at a BYOB, not just two glasses.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 February 2010 at 1:43pm

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