after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Ladder15: Ansill’s [Pricey] Return

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t says: We heard great things about a Chef David Ansill, formerly of the recently closed restaurant called Ansill.  He apparently was no stranger to innovating food.  Well, he was brought in to head up Ladder15’s menu – and when I started seeing things like Korean tacos and lamb empanadas on the menu (and getting favorable reviews), g and I knew that we were going to have to try out the “bar food”.  When a friend of ours happened to organize a surprise gathering at Ladder15 in honor of his girlfriend’s birthday, it was destiny; this combination of friends and food could not be missed.  What we (or maybe just I) did not realize is that this put into motion a series of actions that would result in a meal unmatched in terms of calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, and, of course, manly meatiness.

3/2010, Friday 7:30, Party of 10.  g and I arrived late.  We hate arriving late.  We wished that we could say something like “that’s how we roll” – but it’s completely unintentional and embarassing.  Fortunately, when we arrived we found that the gang didn’t wait for us – they were seated at a row of high tables on stools, laughing, drinking, having a great time.  We even spied a few people (kp and cm) doing beer flights – it looked like fun!  The space was very open and fresh – it all seemed very new, probably because the place actually is kind of new.  It was the standard Philly-bar-dark, which had me a little worried at first (how would I be able to “eat with my eyes” in the dark?), but because we were seated near the window, there were absolutely no such problems.  I noticed that there were some stairs up to the left that led to a second floor (?that had bathrooms?  no idea …) and also to a third that was completely hidden from view.  It’s nice/intriguing to think that something exciting or illegal goes on up there, but that’s highly unlikely.

We want to point out that there were three others of the cast at this one meal (k, cm, kp) as well as a lot of friends who I hope want to be added to the cast – I hope they all make comments below or send me their impressions to add to the post (about the food or the atmosphere or recent gossip or pregnancies or whatever), as I would love to include them – but I totally understand if they have actual jobs and actual lives and actual hobbies …

As soon as we sat down, our appetizers came to the table – our friends had already ordered the pork spareribs, fried cauliflower, and lamb empanadas.  I liked what I saw.  I liked what I tasted, too!  The meat on the spareribs was tender, and the sauce was salty (in a good way) and sweet.  The fact that I was allowed to lick my fingers without getting weird looks was awesome.  The ribs were topped with what looked like french fries … they were not french fries … they were some very spicy french-fry-shaped pieces of some kind of radish, I believe.  They were perhaps a little too hot for some people at the table, and I think they were also just too hot for the dish, itself – but I do think that incorporating a bit of spice to the dish was a nice idea.  I had high expectations for the lamb empanadas, but was ultimately a little let down.  Don’t get me wrong – they were tasty fried lamb wontons (let’s call a spade a spade) with a hint of curry and some fruity chutney on the plate, and it tasted good enough so that I might consider ordering it again … but I wanted it to change my life.  Alas, my life remained unperturbed.  The fried cauliflower was tasty – but I would have liked a little more crunch on them – their texture was a little soft.  But as far as bar-food vegetables are concerned, they weren’t bad!  The dipping oil they were served with confused me a little – it didn’t really taste like anything (or was overshadowed by all the other flavors of the other dishes).

On to the mains … cm and I split the Korean tacos and the Burger15.  I’ll go first with the tacos.  They featured soft flour tortillas with kimchi, kimchi sauce, and marinated, cooked meat (among other components).  You get two – one’s short rib, the other’s pork belly.  Desiring a bit of both, I cut each in half.  The short rib one was quite good – it did remind me a bit of kalbi in a taco, so that was a success.  The meat was soft and tender, complete with the palate coating fat that makes pork belly so delicious.  Then came the subtle spice and cabbage taste of the kimchi that cleansed the palate – very nice.  I liked how the kimchi added a bit of fresh zing to the taco without making it taste too vegetal.  In my opinion, the pork belly was superior – but maybe it’s because I have failed at cooking pork belly at home?  cm preferred the short rib (which was delicious!), but suspects that the pork belly might have cooled and hardened up a little by the time he got to it.

Next came the Burger15.  This burger was insane (in construction).  It had a huge patty of meat (?sirloin?) topped with short rib and caramelized onion and mushrooms.  If there was cheese, I missed it.  It was accompanied by a split bone (for bone marrow) and a side of “truffle sauce”.  There was also a small vessel of what I can only imagine was pan drippings … which was completely unnecessary (as I’ll get to).  cm brought up a great point: is this a burger?  He’d argue that perhaps this is not so much a “burger” as a “meat … thing … between two buns”.  I agree with him completely, but I guess I’ll call it a “burger” from here on out for simplicity.  The ground meat was done a shade or so above the “medium” that we requested (or maybe it was a little dark in there?), but it was still tender and juicy.  However, between the patty and the short rib and the onions, there was luscious drippy oil everywhere – so even if it was well-done it’d still be juicy, but I guess that’s ok – this wasn’t meant to be a healthy meal.  How’d it taste?  All in all, it tasted … “good”.  It was certainly was decadent, but only tasted “good”.  In my mind, burgers are about the whole package, from the meat to the toppings to the bread.  Clearly, Ansill feels that if you put a lot of [expensive/fancy] things on top of the meat, it makes the burger taste better.  I disagree.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Rick Bayless: “Truffles don’t make things taste good, they just make things expensive.”  I feel that this is similar – shoving a bunch of fancy ingredients on top of a burger doesn’t automatically make it taste better – it just makes it expensive.  Personally, I’d prefer it if Ladder15 exercised a bit more restraint – if they toned down the proportion of meat (or focused on making the ground meat, itself, taste better) and cleaned its appearance (it was a lot of brown on brown between the meats and the toppings, and it was dripping oil), then maybe it could compete with my favorite burger from Supper.

Oh, and the burger came with fries.  They were crispy and added a starch to try and combat the shear volume of protein on the plate (the poor ?brioche? bun didn’t even stand a chance), but, in my opinion, could have used some salt.

g says: I was ready for a burger that night (long, long week…), but after reviewing all of my options, I was intrigued by a pork sandwich made with a soft pretzel bun. What an inventive idea – I love soft pretzels (and it seemed oh-so Philly, too)! So, I ordered the pork sandwich, which consisted of slow-roasted pork, whole grain mustard, lettuce, and tomato on a soft pretzel bun. The combination was even better than I expected, so I was super happy with my choice (although, my “Dr. Strangelove” cocktail also played a part in that, I’ll bet). That sandwich and its side of cold potato salad were just what I needed on a Friday night with friends. And t declared it one of the best things he ate that night, so I know it wasn’t just me. I was actually really impressed by how nicely the birthday celebration turned out as a whole – there was plenty of room at the table, the food and drinks were good, and our server was prompt and friendly. I would definitely return with a large group for another celebration.

k says: I thoroughly enjoyed the birthday celebration, although my food was only “eh.” I got the portobello sandwich with pesto and sun dried tomatoes on some kind of multigrain bread. Unfortunately, the primary taste was oily. Now I know that mushroom, pesto and sun dried tomatoes are ingredients that soak up oil, but i’ve had a similar portobello burger at Local 44, which is super delicious and not oily tasting at all. My plate also came with homemade chips, which severely lacked salt and tasted like burnt potato. Still, the atmosphere and the friends made for a lovely evening, although next time I’ll order a drink so as not to start any rumors…

t says: In conclusion, I feel that the food was good – a definite improvement over “bar food”.  g’s sandwich was so tasty – that’s some super-soft pork.  There was some bacon going on in the potato salad, too!  I’d order g’s dish and some Korean tacos for a super-awesome food coma …  Ansill’s pushing the envelope, and I appreciate that, but I kind of wish that he’d push it a little further because the rest of the city has already caught up to frying vegetables, braising short rib, and presenting pork belly with Asian flavors (EVERYONE’s doing pork belly).  And, like all “bar food” … it definitely came at a price.  If this was a normal restaurant, I don’t think I’d quite make it back.  But at a bar, it might be excusable to charge so much for so little – judge for yourself: 3 empanadas for $9?  2 tacos for $11?  1 burger for $18?  (Although the normal, non-ridiculousified burgers were more like $11, so similar to other bars).  To conclude, I’ll let cm get straight to the point … and then give k the last word …

cm says: The food was good, but it was a little pricey, and maybe a little too trendy for me.

k says: Finally, to pick up on a point that t made burgers do no need to be $18. i know a place, coming soon to a neighborhood near me, where a delicious burger is at the tip of your fingers for $7.50. No, not just one delicious burger, but at least 10 burgers with creative gourmet toppings including a burger of the month. I will expand more on this at a later time.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

28 March 2010 at 8:10pm

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