after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘Aimee Olexy

the “secret supper club”

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t says:  a, v, g and I are huge Aimee Olexy fanboys.  We can’t help it.  Be it the Table or Garden, we just love to go.  And now: Talula’s Daily.  We came, we saw, we ate, and we were happy …

menu

the menu for the evening sounded reasonable – nothing too crazy-or-exciting – just a pasta dinner, right?  trust me – it’s more!

squid

the squid was served on a single plate and it was lovely – nicely done and coupled with pickled watermelon rind and those super-hot-peppers.  the aioli was a little bland (we were hoping it’d be a little more herb-y), but I think that we were pleasant surprised overall with the homey-yet-better-than-an-Italian-restaurant appeal.  a solid start!

salad

this salad rocked my socks.   seriously – why would I ever eat a salad with un-grilled vegetables ever again?  every single component had the perfect texture (forkable, but with enough bite so you weren’t just eating mush) and that corn on the bottom was so vivid in flavor.  i really think this salad ruined salads for me …

pasta

now we thought the pasta was going to be the main event … but we were wrong – the meatballs were!  we were alotted so many meatballs that i cried uncle well before the food ran out.  they were soft in texture, with great flavors of pig and cow, and then covered in a pasta sauce which was made with ORANGE PEEL.  It was like a summer-kissed tomato sauce – very unique.  Now, I can see how traditionalists might poo-poo this kind of tinkering with tomatoes, but even g, the through-and-through-South-Jersey-“my-mom-makes-the-best-gravy”-Italian liked it!  So mad props to the chef on this one!

cheese

the cheese melted our faces off …  like, we entered the restaurant with faces, but we left with nothing more than a few specks of blackened skin clinging on a singed skull … i can’t remember what the cheeses were (my temporal lobes were also damaged in the aforementioned face-melting incident), but they were all so delicious, with unique personalities of flavor and texture that i don’t care.  Sure, there was dessert, which included a lovely home-made-lookin’ crisp and ice cream, and sure, it was also a wonderful close to the meal, typical of a meal at neighboring Talula’s Garden, but they had us at the cheese …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

2 September 2013 at 6:49pm

Aimee Brings Some Thunder: A Review of Talula’s Garden

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t says:  Ah yes, it’s now time to put up our Talula’s Garden experience.  We’d done Talula’s Table a number of times (the farm table and the chef’s table … twice), but now it was time for Episode 3: Return to Philly (Episodes 1 and 2 were obviously Django and Talula’s Table).  Here we go!

4/2011, Sunday 6:30pm, Party of 2.  We first arrived and were greeted by the friendly hostess.  She did offer us a seat at the “communal table” and wasn’t the least bit dismayed when we said no.  While we normally wouldn’t mind something like a communal table, g and I feared a JG Domestic-esque nightmare (which apparently has been rectified since the last time we went) and instead went for a normal two-topper.  And it’s a good thing we did (more on why later – it has nothing to do with the communal table being bad or anything like that …).

g noted that everyone appeared to be friendly and happy; it was nice to see that while they were most likely stressed out of their mind (it was their first weekend officially open), they were quite pleasant!  As our server greeted us, she let us know as nicely as possible that there was a corkage fee for the wine that we brought (I knew there was – it’s $25, but as soon as you order 3 glasses of wine, you’d spend more than $25 anyways …) and then proceeded to explain the menu and how cheese could be incorporated whenever/wherever you wanted.  It was a neat idea.  Knowing g, she’d probably make a whole meal out of cheese if she could.  But alas – we went a more traditional layout: app, main, cheese, dessert.  So let’s bring it!

veloute of sweet pea with squid

g was very impressed with this dish.  The texture was velvety and lying underneath was what we can only presume was squid ink … and she ate every last drop.  She even ate the squid … she normally avoids tentacle-containing animals, but she couldn’t resist!  But as good as it was, it paled in comparison to mine …

oxtail consomme with marrow dumplings

So here’s the skinny on the oxtail consomme ….  It doesn’t look like much (and it’s not helped by my camera and photography skills that suck).  And that hunk of meat doesn’t look flattering … but it was magnificent – tender and flavorful – not as gamy as oxtail can be, but definitely in-your-face cow.  And then there was the consomme, which was equally flavorful (it was so good that g even snuck her spoon in to taste the broth inbetween my spoonfuls), the perfectly brunoise veggies (at least, I think they were 1/8″ cubes), and those little dumplings which had a nice bite to them with a subtle flavor – mostly getting flavor from the broth around it (so I’m not sure if the marrow added a whole lot – it might have been too subtle for me to really appreciate amidst the rest of the dish).  At first I felt that the crouton was a bit unnecessary – but then I realized that it  allowed me to completely clean the bowl, not letting a single drop escape, so it was indeed useful after all.  So I take the lead, 1-0.

As I had mentioned, g and I opted for a two-topper.  The table we were assigned was seated somewhat near the hostess stand, which is where Aimee was fluttering about, so we were in prime position to try and get her attention (we wanted to say “hi”!).  I tried to convince g that it’d be a good idea if I did my over-eager smile and wave, but she felt that it was too creepy.  So she kept the look-out and eventually caught Aimee’s eye sometime after our appetizer.  She came over to greet us, making us happy and giving us an opportunity to shower her with praise for how great everything looked (and to thank her for moving back to the city) and the successful first course.  She seemed a little nervous, but it was her first official opening weekend, so she seemed a bit excited, too.  It was nice to see her!  As I’ve said in the past, she really has a way to make you genuinely feel like you’re special – which we appreciate – it really makes us want her to do well (which, in retrospect, is perhaps a very good talent to have for someone in the food industry).  So now that we had seen Aimee, it was time for our next course!

double the beef, double the fun.

g went for a manly entree (it seems like she always gets the manly entree) – but she promised to share (I was going to get it, too, but it’d be dumb to get two of the same!).  Those puddles of white were almost like a potato foam, and it was accompanied by a turnip and a carrot, both of which were divine (a divine vegetable?  yep – beautifully cooked texture).  But the real star was that rib (?boneless short rib?) hiding under that thick brown glaze on the left.  It … was … ridiculous.  It’s probably the single best short rib I’ve ever had – including the short rib we had at the Inn at Little Washington.  That’s no easy feat.  g wondered if it could have taken on the Inn’s sous vide filet as well, but I’m not quite sure that this braised piece of meat could have matched the texture/flavor imparted by the sous vide method – it was close, though.

Just some gnocchi and mushrooms, right?

Gnocchi and mushrooms.  No big deal, right?  In fact, you always see gnocchi and mushrooms (I think we’ve had it at Django, Talula’s Table, Osteria – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it at other Italian places and contemporary American places all over the city).  So what?  Brace yourself.  This, my friends, was no normal gnocchi-and-shrooms.  First off, there were a few different kinds of mushrooms on the plate – so it was a bit of fun trying each.  And yes, these gnocchi were a step up even from the normally exquisitely texture Django/Talula gnocchi in that they were lightly pan-fried/roasted/seared/something, so there was a  slight browning on the outside, giving it a bit of a super-thin-shell.  And there was the round yellow egg yolk that added a wonderfully unctuous sauce-like mouthfeel.  But it didn’t end there – because if it did, it would have only been on par with ever other gnocchi-and-shrooms dish in the city.  No, there was something different – something weird about this dish – and I still just can’t figure it out!  Everything I’ve described to you so far would suggest that this was going to be a rich-and-heavy dish (courtesy of gnocchi and egg yolk).  But no.  There was something else going on.  It had some sweet, but it had some liveliness to it.  Or was it some kind of acid.  Whatever it was, that some kind of something livened up the dish.  It made the gnocchi, mushrooms, and yolk have a lighter, zippier, more playful taste than what I was expecting.  At first I thought it was maybe those little red specs, which at first I thought were paprika, but I couldn’t get any of that smoky paprika flavor on the palate (so now I have no idea what those were, either).  You know – it was probably something so simple that I’m overthinking it (someone’s going to be like, “duh t, it was balsamic vinegar”) (EDIT: raisin puree!!  that’s what it was!), but it was definitely there and made this one of the best gnocchi dishes I’ve ever had (I would have said best, but it’s been a while since we’ve been to my former favorite: Babbo).  Nevertheless, it at least so far beat out Vetri (Vetri’s was a volatile gnocchi – I prefer a denser gnocchi), it beats out the old Django/Talula’s, it beats out Gnocchi and La Viola and Mercato and Melograno and Modo Mio/Monsu …  Maybe I’ll leave it as the best gnocchi dish in the city?  Will that piss off the Italians?  Probably.  *Shrugs* I’ll happily eat my words if they give me a better gnocchi dish.

queso

Obviously, if you dine at Talula’s, you have to get some cheese, too.  We went for the three-cheese “special” – they were described as being in the style of brie/camembert.  They were definitely on the lighter side in terms of flavor – no extremely-vegetal/musty/fungusy flavors here – just butter and creme and a pleasant twinge of ammonia towards the rinds.  Of course, there were more subtle flavors going on up in there (it’s not like they were all the same or anything), but I’m no cheese connoisseur so my feeble attempts to describe the differences would be met with laughter and ridicule.  I will say that the Inn at Little Washington gave us a bit more variety (and quantity) than that which we had here – but maybe that was our fault – there were some more elaborate cheese options on the menu which we had not chosen (I think kp would have disliked our cheese choices – he likes them stinky and funky).  For a split second, I was about to regret not being a bit bolder in our selection … and then the unexpected happened.  Aimee showed up with two glasses of cava.  She said, something to the extent of, “and nothing goes better with rich cheeses than cava.”  Aww – how sweet!  A simple gesture like a splash of free cava really put the dot in the exclamation point of the meal.  And you know what – g found that the cava was indeed a perfect accompaniment, and it really pushed these cheeses show off more of their subtle flavors.  Personally, I can’t drink more than a single sip of bubbles, so g also helped me with my glass, too (much to her chagrin I’m sure … rriigghhtt).  Meanwhile, I stayed with my red wine and enjoyed the cheeses and the substance that was in that jar all the way to the right, which was filled with what can only be described as liquid crack.  Ok – some people might call it “rhubarb compote” … I call it liquid crack.  It was delicious.  And it was versatile.  It paired nicely with each of the cheeses (although that’s not too hard to see – it’s not like the cheeses were assertive personalities) and it even worked well with our dessert:

Looks weird, right?

Welcome to the real dessert of the evening – I love me a good cheese, but I like to end on sweet.  This was the dark chocolate “cremeaux”, as it was called, which I can only describe as a cross between chocolate mousse and boardwalk fudge (i.e. it maintained the rectangle shape).  It was accompanied by some caramel (with salt I believe) and some chocolate crumbles, and some BACON DUST, and those marshmallows.  Ok, right off the bat … caramel and salt.  Winning!  Then bacon dust … winning again!  But why bacon “dust”?  I believe it was a good way to introduce the flavor in a very restrained manner.  While I would have been happy with bacon bits, this was a more tasteful/playful way to do it – not like an over-the-top-bacon-on-everything (it seemed to be mixed in with the chocolate crumbles the most).  We had seen bacon dust before at Talula’s Table when Bryan was there and were glad to see it back in action.  But wait – and then there was those marshmallows … winning even more!  I don’t know what  they did, but it wasn’t just a plain blow-torched marshmallow – it really tasted like it had been roasted over a campfire (and if it was just a plain blow-torched marshmallow, someone please tell me and I will go out and buy that blow torch, myself).  In summary, what you had was a chocolate-based dessert with a variety of textures (the crumbles, the marshmallow, the fudge-ness, the caramel sauce) and intriguing flavors (bacon, smoke, caramel).  It was a very solid dessert …

Now by this time, g and I had polished off a bottle of red wine.  We have never been able to conquer a full bottle of wine above 12% alcohol (we did a bottle of white … once).  So naturally, we started doing things we wouldn’t normally do with our food.  Like have some cheese with our chocolate.  Or some rhubarb with our chocolate.  Or some rhubarb with our cheese with our chocolate.  And throughout these experiments we came to the conclusion that the triumvirate of that cheese plate with the rhubarb compote with this chocolate essentially turned out to be the best dessert we’ve had in the city (I’m trying to rack my brain to see if we’ve had something better outside the city – and while I can’t think of any, I’d like to remain conservative).  Shazam.  Zahav’s hold over me since whatever desserts I had way back when I had lunch there with k was over.  Of course, a lot of wine had been drunken, so maybe we should go back and re-try this just to make sure we weren’t hallucinating (actually, it’d technically be an “illusion”, not a “hallucination”).

And there you have it.  This was a stunning meal.  It started off with a “very good” veloute and just kept climbing from there, ending with a bang.  Time for some critical analysis …  The food here is definitely not as fussy as the Inn.  Duh.  It was also less than 1/4 the price.  And it wasn’t as rustic as our Philly favorite, Bibou.  The food came off as something inbetween, appearing a bit more polished than Bibou.  As far overall “feel”, the food reminded me a little of what I think JG Domestic is trying to be: a homage to local ingredients, but cooked superbly.  But, as you can see from the pix, the food is presented with a little more of rustic touch versus JG – it’s not like they were stacking veggies into pyramids or making intricate sauce smear designs everywhere.  As far the quality of the food – it was just as delicious as Bibou (which I prefer to JG … Jidoori chicken be damned) and a better cheese/dessert course (keeping in mind that we’ve only tried one dessert and one cheese plate thus far).   I found it interesting that Aimee described Talula’s Garden as “trying to do something that people say ‘only a small retaurant can do’ … but for a bigger restaurant.”  I can see that.  But I also can’t even imagine how hard it must be trying to produce food of this quality as they take on larger and larger parties – I hope the quality won’t go down, because if Talula’s is going to last in this erratic restaurant scene, it’s going to have to rely on the food (surprise!), alone.  At this point, g and I are going to give Aimee the nod over JG – however, I have heard that JG has stepped up its game, so this will probably be a heated battle as the months pass.  I’m not sure who would win in a Talula’s Garden vs. Bibou fight, as Bibou comes in at a lower price point (per dish, and it’s BYO), but it is far more difficult to get to/from (cabs, even when called, don’t exactly come right away to Bibou for pick ups) as well as get in (Bibou reservations have become scarce since the Philly Mag list).  The FTC has a meeting therein June, so we’ll find out!

Drawbacks?  There was a bit of lag-time in the beginning between the bread and the first course and and the first and second courses.  But for the remainder of the meal, everything was smooth.

The only other drawback I have relates to my longing for a more intimate environment.  It’s tough for a space like that Washington Square place to come off as intimate or garden-esque – there’s super-tall ceilings, distinct eating sections, lights, colored walls, etc … but I really have to just get over it – Django is gone, and this is the future – take it or leave it.  And trust me.  I take it.  Plus, it’s not like Aimee could lower the ceilings or cut the dining room in half or anything.  I will say, however, that I’m really excited for the outdoor space.  Hell – I’d put a retractable roof and walls on that outdoor space and make that the restaurant because that’s what I think of when I think of “Talula’s Garden” (aside from the obvious garden-esque theme, it just really feels homey and close – I like that).  Yes, I know that the outdoor space has gotten a lot of criticism with people/bloggers claiming that it looks too much like a Terrain store or something like that – but what’s wrong with that?  It’s pretty.  It’s got character.  It’s got a splash of up-scale (gotta do something with Starr-bucks).  What more do you want?

In conclusion, we wish Aimee’s new venture a ton of success – the food and vision is deserving of it (also, all this time, I have neglected to mention that the chef, Michael Santoro, deserves a lot of praise, too!  Double-duh!).  I must admit some reluctance in giving Mr. Starr any of the real  acclaim (the parts of the business that I [perhaps falsely] attribute to him – the large space, the liquor license – aren’t exactly my highlights, however, if he comes with Aimee, then so be it), he has won these compliments out of me by hooking up with the right people and finding a way to deliver actually good food and not just an over-shnazzified environment (looking at you, Pod).  g believes this to be the best of the Starr restaurants.  I reminded her that Morimoto was a Starr restaurant.  She thought an extra 2 seconds and was like, “yea, so?”  Shazam again.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

18 April 2011 at 11:22pm

Something [Deliciously] Wicked This Way Comes …

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t says:  We just got back from Talula’s Garden.  Literally.  Attempting to write a full post while a bit buzzed on wine would probably not work out well, so we’ll just give you the sneak peak … and tell you that it was awesome …  More images and reviews to come later!

Heres the entrance ... we took the photo as we were leaving. And apparently our iPhone sucks in the dark ...

This is like the back yard we wish we had! Too bad it was just a little to windy/nippy for people to eat outside. Next time!

Its a fountain bathtub in the garden!

Ok, so the above pictures were not very informative … well … here’s another one that is equally a tease …

Heres the bread. But we were hungry ...

Ok, so we wanted to show you a picture of the bread.  You see, Django had flower pot bread.  And Talula’s Table (and the Pop-up over the past summer) did the gruyere grougere.  What’d the Garden do?  It did this very interesting bread that was in the shape of a very skinny muffin, textured like a croissant, and dolloped with [green] spring ramp butter.  And as you can see, it was so delicious that we ate it all before thinking, “gee, we should photograph this!”.  Oh well.  I guess that means that this entire post was a giant teaser … sorry guys … I promise more details and pics very soon.

What I can tell you was that the old couple to my right were hilarious.  The entire time, they were talking about how weird it was that the patrons were wearing jeans (never mind that g and I were sitting right next to them and wearing jeans), and how it must have been “modern cajjjj” or “chic cajjjj” or some nonsense like that.  Then they were like, “yea, there’s that guy there with jeans and a blazer with two daughters or something like that – it’s just too cajjjj.”  Yea … that guy … he was STEPHEN STARR.  He can dress however the hell he wants.  Duh.  And as for the rest of the place being “casual”, or “cajjj” as the old-trying-to-be-hip lady was mentioning – does she not understand the Django/Talula’s Table/Talula’s Garden shtick?  I guess not.  Then they started discussing how many restaurants they had left to visit on the Philly Mag “Best of Philly” list … ugh … go back to the Main Line where you belong …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

17 April 2011 at 10:16pm

Talula’s Table Pop-up: Maybe a Taste of the Future?

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t says: As I mentioned before, g and I were lucky enough to score reservations at this Stephen Starr event. Three of us went – it was a g, t, and cm outing! I’m telling you right now … there’s going to be a LOT to read – so let’s get started!

7/2010, Thursday 8:30pm, Party of 3. We arrived, not quite knowing what to expect. Would it be a restaurant? Would it be a warehouse? Would it be a tent? No idea! All I knew is that it was not BYO …

The venue turned out to be this place right on Washington Square that had an indoor section and an outdoor section. You enter what looks like a large outdoor patio, complete with umbrellas and lounge-worthy sofas and chairs and tables, and then find an entrance to the actual restaurant off to the side. It was a very unique layout. The outdoor patio also had a bar towards the back that was selling a selection of mixed drinks and wine. I have come to understand that anyone is allowed into that outdoor patio/bar area, even without a reservation – and cm believes that food was offered out there as well – so there may be a back door into these events.  The drinks were quite pricey, but perhaps on par with what you’d expect from Mr. Starr …

Speaking of which … we saw him. That’s right. Mr. Restaurant, himself, was seated in the outdoor part with another guest (no idea who it was). I guess he wanted to mingle over some drinks in lieu of eating the very fine meal? The funny thing is that g was the first (and only) of our party to recognize him and pointed him out in a very dramatic fashion: “cm … … that’s Stephen Starr …”. We confirmed via iPhone google images to ensure that she was correct. Never doubt your wife. We didn’t have the nerve to really say anything to him – but we really wouldn’t know what to say, as in all honesty, Morimoto and this pop-up are but shining stars in a sea of over-hyped mediocrity (cm and k also really like Buddakan – we have no beef with Buddakan – it’s good! – but we love Morimoto much more, given our penchant for raw fish – Pod is also good, but only on all-you-can-eat night).

As we waited for our table, we decided to enjoy a drink outside. g and cm both went for the raspberry sunset, featuring Patron, Cointreau, lime, and raspberries. From what I understand, it was quite tasty. I, on the other hand, went for the mojito. We all agreed – there was something special about this mojito. The ingredients didn’t seem like they were that different from the usual suspects that you’d find in a mojito (Appleton Estate V/X, mint, lime) – the only difference was that instead of mint it was “Aimee’s mint” – but I doubt that the source of mint, alone, could have made up for the dramatic increase in taste versus any normal mojito I’ve ever had (including the countless 10Cane mojitos I’ve had). In the end, we still don’t know what the secret was!

Right when we placed our order for drinks, we were told that our table was ready. We waited around for our drinks to be prepared and headed inside to be seated. The inside of the place was quite nice – almost like a Stephen Starr “light” restaurant. There wasn’t too heavy of a theme in there (after all, it is a “pop-up”), but, there were tall ceilings, nice tables and chairs, and, much to our chagrin, too much modern … “art”. A lot of the pieces that adorned the walls as well as the free-standing sculptures around the room were trying just a little too hard to be cool. This place was so not Django, which was more of a “rustic home” – with flower pot bread, mismatched silverware, well-worn Laguiole knives, servers in jeans, etc. So not Talula’s, either, which is even more rustic with its farmhouse table and chairs. In these places, because the atmosphere-o-meter was turned so far down, you could focus on the two most important things – the people you were there with and the food you were eating. What more would you need? So, yes, this restaurant was Starr-ified a little – but the one element that I think best captured Djano/Talula’s was the use of potted herbs as centerpieces … cute – very cute.

But enough about atmosphere – let’s talk about food. After we had ordered [I’ll tell you what we ordered below], we were presented with the “cheese bread”. No, they didn’t call it that – I call it that. It’s this small dinner roll-esque bread that is made with gruyere cheese. It was warm and airy and even more delicious than I have ever had it at Talula’s. It melts in your mouth as the flavor of gruyere comes on and fades away like a peaceful wave at the beach. It definitely brought me back to those chef’s table dinners. The three of us fought valiantly against our primal urges to demolish these poor defenseless little rolls. We lost the battle … and the rolls lost their lives. But then … magically … as if we had willed it into occurring with the sheer sorrow in our hearts for the shameful deed we had just done … our waitress came around and formally introduced us to the cheese bread they were serving that night and gave us each a roll. Holy crap. She totally forgot that she had already given us one! Score! The second one was as good as, if not better than, the first. We did take our time with our second rolls, but we ensured that our plate was absolutely clean … just in case she actually had anterograde amnesia (i.e. think “Memento” … or “50 First Dates” …).

When the wine guy came around, g had another moment of recognition. It was Brian [Freedman]! It was the dude from “The Wine School”. A while ago, a few friends and we took a few-hour course on Italian wines at the Wine School (Groupon rocks!), and we were super-impressed with both the presentation and quality of wines sampled (and quantity, too!). We highly recommend it. Brian was our instructor, and, while most of his jokes were “canned”, we liked his enthusiasm. He was no less enthusiastic at the pop-up restaurant. His passion for the wines he described as well as the descriptions, themselves, persuaded us each to venture an additional glass of alcohol. g and I went for two different glasses of red (mine was Spanish “Cap De Barbaria 2005”, g’s was an Austrian “Sattler St. Lauren 2006”), while maybe cm went for some French bubbly? They were all delicious and went well with the food – but I’ll leave the descriptions of the wines to those wine professionals out there.

Now, I feel obligated to warn you in advance that my descriptions of the food are going to be a little spotty. On one hand, a substantial amount of time has passed, and g and I have eaten out a LOT recently due to our move, so we’ve had a lot of very delicious food, and I’m easily confused. On the other hand, because I ordered a glass of red wine in addition to the mojito I mentioned above, my Asian genes probably kicked in, interacted poorly with the alochol, and prevented long term memory consolidation … sorry! Maybe g or cm can fill in the blanks?

We ordered three “middle” courses and shared. These were the smoked scallop ravioli, the chicken sausage, and the fried squash blossoms. g’s fave was the fried squash blossoms. I appreciated the play between the delicate blossom and the delicate fried-ness. They were accompanied by a green tomato ketchup which tasted so good that I wonder why green tomato ketchup is not commercially available (yes, I realize that perhaps one time Heinz may have had green-colored ketchup, but I don’t think it was the same as this ketchup made from green tomatoes … I hope …). Now that smoked scallop ravioli was something else. It had a sweet pea sauce and some micro-greens. And somehow you’d get that smokey flavor radiating throughout your mouth, surprising you as you chewed. The greens and peas added just enough vegetal zing so the dish felt light and summer-y. That was definitely a dish that had Talula’s written all over it – it was the kind of dish that made you close your eyes so you could concentrate on your mouth. The chicken sausage dish was good, but to be honest, I’ve forgotten any and all details about it, so it was definitely outshined by the other two.

We ordered three “dinner” courses as well. I was a little surprised at the expense of these courses, as I was clearly promised $22-28 on the phone both when I made the reservation and when I confirmed. The actual range was $28-30. Liars! I wave my fist at whoever it was propagating the deception.

The Kennett Square mushroom gnocchi was definitely the most massive of the three “dinner” dishes. It featured mushrooms, gnocchi, and cheese – what more do you need? The gnocchi were very soft and pillowy – less “bite” than I’ve experienced from Django. They actually verged on being as volatile as Vetri’s. That said, they were insanely rich – they filled your mouth with goat cheese that just begged to be foiled with the salty grated cheese and the mushrooms. A few interesting notes:

1) Outside of her mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing, these are the only mushrooms I’ve ever seen g eat.

2) The cm and I actually disagreed with g about whether the mushrooms were too salty – and it seemed that cm and I, two people who tend to want to add more salt to things, were arguing that perhaps there was too much salt, while g, who is super-sensitive to salt, argued that it was just fine. I think what we later found was that the grated cheese, itself, was very a very salty cheese – reminding me of a pecorino romano, so that’s probably the reason why the mushrooms had quite a salty twang to them. We agreed that the mushrooms in combination with the goat cheese was the way to go for maximal per-bite enjoyment.

Another dish was the beef cheeks, risotto, and cheddar. The beef cheeks melted in my mouth. I am going to find beef cheeks. Seriously. They were that good. The risotto was well-cooked – and I’m sure there were other components, too, but those beef cheeks … And you know what? g ate the beef cheeks, too! She normally doesn’t go for cuts of meat that sound gross (e.g. oxtail, pork belly), but she ate these beef cheeks. For me, of the three larger dishes, this one most reminded me of Talula’s, as, much like the smoked scallop ravioli, there were a lot of different flavors at play. It made me want to sit back and just think about them. I like food that makes me question the meaning of eating …

The other dish was a duck (prepared sous vide) in cherry sauce with tater tots. I’ll leave it to my trust dinner mates to describe it because I just can’t remember it at all! I know it was there, but it was one of the last things I had tried, and by that time, I had reached the bottom of that glass of wine …

We did venture the “Not Your Granny’s” cheese course. And while I could tell you each of the cheeses (I have the list right here), it’s better if I just tell you that the cheese were great, and their pairings were awesome. I’m going to stick all of my “vintage gouda” in caramel from now on … I will admit a little disappointment that Aimee, herself, didn’t present the cheese plate (some other blogger mentioned that she did), but they seemed very busy that night, and, to be honest, we could just visit her in Kennett Square, so we’re not crushed.

Finally, we were given an Eclat chocolate with our bill. Gotta love Eclat. It’s not your normal caramel-filled chocolate. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, go and buy some right now.

Summary: There was a lot of good food to be had. I personally feel that the highs were right on with Talula’s (which is not shocking as I saw some of these dishes on their menu!). True, some of the dishes missed the mark for me, but a “low” for Talula’s is still above mediocre dishes I’ve encountered elsewhere – so perhaps that’s not a fair assessment. I suspect that given more experience with serving up 90 diners a night in lieu of less-than-20, they’ll be able to pick up right where they left off with Django. We liked what we saw, and we hope that Aimee finds her way back to Philly, although I personally hope it won’t be in the form of a venue that’s this large and “classy”, I’d even consider going even if it wasn’t BYO (just so long as Brian’s still there picking out interesting wines for reasonable prices).

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 July 2010 at 5:14pm

Talula’s Table Pop-Up Restaurant

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t says: Via her connections with Stephen Starr, Aimee from Talula’s Table (one of our fave places to go, ever!) will be returning to the city for a three-day dinner event at Washington Square.  Read here.

Yes, the reservations were all gone in less than 2 days.

Yes, we got one: table for four between 8-9pm on July 1 (I don’t want to give away too many details – we might compromise our anonymity).  Boo-yah.  On one hand, we are super-super excited for the event – we kind of hope that everything goes splendidly and Aimee decides to open up a Center City outpost.  On the other hand, we’re a little bummed it’s not BYO and no definite pricing can be found ($20-29 is quite a range).  Well, we’ll let you know how it goes …

PS  While I haven’t seen/heard about this yet – I suspect that there has to be some reservation-scalping going on somewhere.  I wonder how much the reservations are going for?  I don’t quite know how much someone would have to pay me to give up such a precious reservation …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

23 June 2010 at 7:55pm

Talula’s Split Goes More Public

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t says: This had been reported a while ago, but now that it’s in the Inquirer, I feel a little more confident in its truth.  I do want to say that it is kind of weird that this is front page news, but I guess if you consider the impact that Django had on the Philadelphia restaurant scene as well as the foodie-prestige that Talula’s brought to the area, it is somewhat big news.

What do I think?  Well, regarding the article’s focus on the Aimee-Bryan relationship (and comments below the article), I feel that most readers will feel that LaBan is most certainly painting a stunning portrait of Aimee, and a less-than-stunning one of Bryan … but … if Bryan did truly pull a Tiger Woods here, then I’m totally fine with that.  Obviously, there weren’t many details.

As far as the Bryan-cooking relationship is concerned, it’s quite a shame, because when we talked to Bryan in the kitchen in June 2009, we loved his attitude about food and cookery and restaurants.  He even admitted that his days at Django killed him with stress, and that he liked Talula’s food-centric, slower-paced gig.  But now the Inquirer claims he doesn’t want the cooking-for-one-table job, either, because he has to do some schmoozing?  So he doesn’t want to cook a lot because it’s stressful, and he doesn’t want to schmooze because he doesn’t like it, but he does want to be “in the loop” as far as thinking up that prospective new place with Stephen Starr?

Finally, what do I think about the future of Talula’s?  Well – g and I have been to the market and agree that they still have excellent food.  As far as the dinners are concerned, we also have 2010 Labor Day Saturday reservations, and if we can get together the minimum number of people, we are in!  If you want to come with us, let us know!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

26 April 2010 at 12:23pm

Talula’s Table: Totally Worth Waking Up at 4am

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t says: There’s a pseudo-restaurant called Talula’s Table.  It’s located in Kennett Square, PA, just outside of Philadelphia (so I still consider it “in Philadelphia”).  It is our most favorite place to eat dinner … ever.  Over the past few years, it’s been recognized as the “Toughest Reservation in America”, ahead of The French Laundry, Per Se, Daniel, etc (although I think Momofuku Ko is nearly as difficult – but I have at least come across open reservations for Ko, so it’s not quite as elusive).  Why is it so difficult?

Back in the early 2000’s, there was a BYOB named Django.  It had the highest food rating of all Philadelphia restaurants according to the Zagat guide.  Laban gave it four (out of four) bells, a mark that no BYOB had earned.  Better yet, diners did not need to don tuxes or suit jackets or even button-down shirts to go!  It was the envy of the Philadelphia restaurant scene.  And then … owners Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy sold it, signing a non-compete clause in which they could not open up a restaurant within a certain number of miles (?40?) from Philadelphia.  They moved to Kennett Square and opened Talula’s Table, a cafe and market during the day, but a venue for a “catered dinner” in the evening.  The catch?  Only a single reservation per night is available for the single table of 8-12 people (it’s not even a fancy-looking table).  You can guess what happens when supply is so limited, but demand is so high: they are booked solid to a year in advance.  And every morning when they open up shop, the phone rings off the hook for people looking to get that single reservation 365 days into the future.  Meanwhile, Django in the city closed – clearly, something about Sikora and Olexy is magical.

Well, I got one of these reservations.  How’d I do it?  Those who know me realize that I’m not one leave a thing like this up to the meager “chance” that I’d be the first person to call Talula’s in the morning.  No, that’s not my style.  You see, there is a more guaranteed way to get a reservation at Talula’s.  One must simply be waiting outside their door when they open – if so, then the phones are disregarded in favor of a visiting patron.  Of course, showing up at 7 wasn’t guaranteed enough for me – I was shooting for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend 2009.  Clearly I should get there extra early so that I’m actually the first one there.  6:30?  No.  6?  No.  5:30?  No.  5.  Yep.  I woke up at 4am, drove out to Kennett Square, parked right in front of the tiny little shop, and passed the time with some reading and my iPod shuffle.  g had contemplated making a shirt for me that said, “Yes, I’m in line for Talula’s – so back off!”.  As you might have guessed, that reservation was mine.  (In a twist of fate, some months later, when k got engaged to cm, they decided to get married on Labor Day weekend … 2009 … we “returned” our reservation to Talula’s – they post cancellations on their website or in their shop – so that we could attend their wedding – but of course, that was also totally worth it – what a great time!).

So then how do I know it’s worth waking up at 4am for?  Well, you see, Talula’s also has what I like to call “a back door”.  They have a “Chef’s Table” for 2-4 right in the kitchen.  You call up, put your name on the “list”, and whenever they have an opening, they call you – and you have to decide right then and there (or in a reasonable amount of time – I imagine they give you ’til the end of the day) if you can make it.  I put my name on the list, and a few months later … We got the call.  The reservation was 1.5 weeks in advance for the middle of the week.  I hesitated – did I want to trek out to Kennett Square on a weeknight in December and have to drive back to Philly afterwards?  I called up one of our favorite food-friends for a consultation – were we crazy?  He replied that for Talula’s, he’d take off from work – it didn’t matter what day, what time, or how he got there.  Apparently, we were crazy.  And it ended up being so good that g and I returned again in June 2009 (for our anniversary) as well.  And it was so good the second time that the weekend we drove up to k and cm’s wedding on Labor Day weekend, I showed up at Talula’s early in the morning again (although only 6am this time), and got the big-table reservation for … Labor Day weekend 2010 (I wonder if anyone’s going to get married this time?)

So, our two visits to Talula’s were over 6 and 12 months ago (12/2008 and 6/2009).  It’s far too difficult to remember the nuances of the dishes (each meal is 8 courses – 6 savory, 1 cheese, 1 dessert).  But I can say that each meal was phenomenal.  My personaol top 5 savory courses from our visits include the following:

Sausage fried scallops, creamy polenta, toasted almonds, and chile emulsion

Confit of Meadowset lamb, rosemary dumplings, and parmesan crusted Vollmecke hubbard

Crayfish bisque “a la Sazerac”, Anson Mills polenta pudding, and fava beans

“All things asparagus” (asparagus prepared 3 ways: roasted, tempura, and FLAN accompanied by bacon dust and mustard foam)

Crispy fried hudson valley moulard, baked beans, and molasses

Also, both of the cheese plates offered such an incredible variety of textures and tastes (Aimee knows her cheese).  And the desserts were also not mere afterthoughts – they were Zahav-good.  Actually, technically Talula’s was first, so perhaps Zahav’s desserts are Talula’s-good.  One was a napoleon of strawberry gelee, strawberry-rhubarb mousse, and wine roasted berries, and the other was a ricotta charlotte with a hazelnut-sea salt crust and blood orange sorbet.

But what makes Talula’s great is NOT just the food – it’s the whole experience.  Having dined twice in the kitchen, we were able to see Brian (and Aimee) in action –  they are the greatest people ever.  Brian’s control of the kitchen is calm and cool.  He’ll be the first to admit that he has absolute faith that the kitchen could cook the entire meal without him; he’s super-humble.  And then, when we got him philosophizing about the importance of focusing on “food” in restaurants (and not things like atmosphere or props – perhaps a subtle jab at Stephen Starr?), we could see that he’s not in the biz for ego or money – he actually likes food (either that, or he’s a great actor)!  Meanwhile, every single member of the staff was pleasant and very courteous and professional (despite not donning bow ties and jackets) – friendly top notch service!  Add in the fact that we were able to bring our own wine (and visit great local wineries beforehand – Va La is awesome) and walk to a nearby bed-and-breakfast afterwards (shout out to Gilja of Kennett House!) and what you have is not just a dinner, rather, an unbelievable gastronomic experience.  I’m actually a little worried about eating at the big-table – we’d lose out on the connection with the staff and being able to see how everything was made.

By the way, if you do get a chance to go – get some scones to go.  They were day-old’s … and they were still awesome.  My fave was banana-chocolate, while g’s went ga-ga for the lemon-ginger!  I’ve also tasted them at 7am  when they are fresh from the oven – I actually considered moving to Kennett Square and commuting to Philadelphia …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 February 2010 at 10:02pm