after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Marigold Kitchen hangs with the big boys

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t says:  a got in on a free reservation a while ago and was gracious enough to suggest that it be our January FTC meeting.  And where would we be going to kick off the new year?  As we pondered the list of 30%-off restaurants , we spotted one place where we absolutely had to go: Marigold Kitchen.  a and v had been for restaurant week the past fall and loved it.  g, kp, and I had never been.  It was go-time!

Since making the reservation in 2011, there were a few [free!] times that the dinner needed to be rescheduled, increasing our anticipation (or maybe it was just my anticipation).  At one point, a and I got talking about the wine for the dinner.  I suggested that we add some element of a blind wine tasting.  It was eventually decided that a would choose a bottle, I would choose a bottle, and the rest of the table would have no idea.  It was going to be a show-down and we were pretty sure that it was going to be fun!

In preparation for dinner, I decanted the wine and sent teaser pictures to a.  I’m mean like that.

poor corksmanship on my part

my mystery bottle decanting ... (I have no idea why I poured it into my half-bottle decanter)

I poured the wine [with a funnel] back into the original bottle and g and I headed off to the restaurant.  Taxis conspired against kp, but g waved her magic taxi-finding wand and we saved the day by picking up kp and arriving at the restaurant only 10 minutes late.  Fortunately, v and a were there and situated.

As we settled in, a explained to the server what was going on regarding the wine.  The server guy seemed a little lost; I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  In case he mixed up the decanters, I had already tasted my wine beforehand (it was the first time I had ever had it) so I was pretty sure I could pick it out if I needed to.

The menu looked delicious – I found at least three apps and three mains that I wanted to try.  It was almost painful trying to narrow the options – the blind double red wine tasting that was to come helped me out.  Little did I know that what I was choosing was only half of the dinner experience.  Actually – it was more like 1/3 of the dinner experience.  One-third of the dinner experience was the wine.  And the last 1/3 was the food that just comes out of the kitchen – it was amuse bouche galore!  We were sent no less than 7 amuse bouches for the meal.  While we wrote down all of the amuses, I think I can say with complete confidence than the “best” ones were probably the simplest:

it's not cappuccino ... it's butternut squash bisque with thyme foam!

Yea – it looks extremely boring, but the taste was so vivid.  It tasted even more like butternut squash than actual butternut squash (e.g. like when you eat Capo Giro gelatos and they’re “mango” is even better than actual mangos!).  And I know that foam is super-frilly (e.g. maybe they could have just added thyme to the soup), but I believe that there really was something special about having such a powerful flavor in a light foam.  Maybe it’s because it’s very pleasant to have a little thyme foam mustache to lick off your lips and accent the butternut squash flavors lingering after your last gulp.  Whatever it is, kp is going to steal this simple flavor combination for future soups – all he needs is one of those foam canister thingees.  Done deal.

Another awesome amuse was our first amuse: the mango lassi (not pictured).  v preferred the chestnut ravioli with fennel salt.  Everyone had their preferences among the amuses, but the butternut squash  cappuccino was on everyone’s list.

My vote for “most interesting” amuse was the foie-stuffed grape:

looks like a few grapes, right? WRONG. There's foie in there!

When the waiter came around with this little spoon that looked like a sprig of grapes (one for the each of us), we were perplexed.  Foie?  In grapes?  And how’d he get it to look so natural?  As I ate my grape, my mouth was so confused.  The exterior skin was totally grape.  And then the foie’s texture was kind of like a softer, over-ripe grape, so that was still expected.  And then the unmistakeable butteriness and flavor of foie crept in.  Confusion!!  And then v swore there was some kind of chocolate taste going on her mouth and I could’t help but agree (but as far as I know, no chocolate was in it).  So weird.  I wanted to do it again!  But alas – we had none left.

breakfast-style foie

Another impressive dish was the foie appetizer: “breakfast style foie”.  It had a slice of foie torchon with cinnamon foam what I think was a blueberry compote.  The other side had a nice slice deeply seared.  If I closed my eyes and smelled the dish, I swear it was like French toast made from blueberry muffins and a side of some kind of breakfast meat (?breakfast sausage?).  And it kind of tasted like that … but 10x better.  As I’ve said before – I’m not a huge fan of foie by itself as it’s a very powerfully gamy flavor and a pretty mushy texture – but when chefs find a way to mix the foie with other flavors, I’m a happy guy.  This foie presentation totally hangs with the likes of Fond and Bibou.  It’s fussy, yes (more foam!), but how can you complain if it tastes this good?

The main courses were pretty solid (three of us got venison, two of us got rabbit), but I think compared to all of the amuses and appetizers that we had had beforehand, none of us were really blown away.  I did the venison dish, which featured a small-but-thick slab of venison accompanied by a venison scrapple.  Both preparations were “very very good”, as it was technically executed quite well, but all of the whimsy and creativity of flavors and cooking in the amuses were absent, so it came up shy of “excellent”.

a says:  I agree with t on all counts. The mango lassi and soup were the most flavorful and interesting dishes of the night. My marinated boquerones were a pleasant surprise in that I don’t normally love anchovies but found these fresh, light, and well-paired to the apple salad. My experience with the venison was much like t’s – a nice preparation but I thought the scrapple had more going on. (v interjects: The helping of scrapple was outstanding. I ate scrapple twice in the same day, once at Cochon – they have an updated menu for brunch which is excellent – and once at Marigold. Both were great, but I preferred Cochon’s.)  My profiterole and mint ice cream dessert was imaginative and whimsical but lacked something, in the end.  [It was] one of the most enjoyable meals from start to finish that I’ve had in Philly. However, none of the dishes had the depth of flavor – that ‘wow’ factor – of say a Bibou pig’s foot or the fish soup at Han.

t says:  Oh yea!  My dessert was the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate one – it was chocolate in all kinds of forms and textures.  The whimsy was back, which I appreciated, but the depth of chocolate wasn’t all there.  They backed away from a deeper/darker chocolate and went for a sweeter, milkier chocolate that, while fine, didn’t really hold up to the red wines that were on the table.

In conclusion, I will say that I believe that the amuses prop up the meal to something really special. I mean, it was probably a 3.5 hour meal and at no point was anyone bored.  At one point, with a glisten in my eye, I remarked that I felt like some of the tastes reminded me of Bryan Sikora’s cooking – back in the old days of Talula’s Table (and Django) … back when he’d surprise you by making something that looked unfamiliar taste familiar, or something that looked familiar taste completely new … back when his food kept me on my toes and kept me thinking … Oh those were the days …

I only wish that some of that fun would find its way into the mains.  Regardless, I believe that Marigold, like Cochon, is one of those under-the-radar Philly restaurants that are making wonderful food and pushing boundaries, even if no one is giving them any credit.  Better make reservations and go there while you still can …

But wait!  There’s more!  We forgot about something!  What could it be … ?

the wine! we forgot about the wine!

It’s been a pretty long post, so we’re going to have to save the wine showdown for the next one.  It’s coming, I promise.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 February 2012 at 1:17am

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