after dinner sneeze

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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Starr

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 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

Parc: Donnez Mois Raspberry Jam!

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t says: We’ve been trying to go to Parc since it opened. Every time we walked by, especially during warmer weather, the happy-faced diners sitting on the sidewalk and the gentle hustle-bustle sounds emanating from the open windows were always so inviting. Food Network’s Robert Irvine (from Dinner Impossible) even claimed that Parc makes the best mashed potatoes he’s ever eaten! But for some reason, whenever we picked out restaurants to visit, Parc kept getting bumped in favor of other well-respected, French-esque [BYO] eateries. Well, all that changed when we found ourselves craving a Sunday brunch at a place that took reservations (we’re tired of waiting at Sabrina’s and Carman’s) and was within walking distance of Rittenhouse Square.

Sunday, 11:15am, Party of 2. We showed up to our reservation nearly 15 minutes early (apparently we walk MUCH faster when it’s cold outside), but the restaurant was happy to seat us immediately. Our server was very friendly and made her suggestions – I was particularly swayed by her descriptions of the pastry basket and the pain perdu (which we ended up ordering). g had some decision-making to do about her order, which she’ll go through below.  We also ordered a “French breakfast tea” (black tea with a bit of mint and vanilla) and a French75 (common theme throughout the blog: g likes sparkly drinks), both of which were very good and we’d highly recommend – more about the French75 with g below.

The pastry basket featured a blueberry muffin, a plain croissant, a chocolate croissant, a croissant star with a dollop of jelly, and a lemon custard filled pastry. First off, the croissants were great – they were crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside, and tasted of delicious butter without being oily. When coupled with the included raspberry jelly … they were even awesomer (that’s right, awesomer, because “more awesome” just doesn’t adequately capture the degree of increase in awesomeness). The other pastries were also good, but those croissants stole the show. However, I had a major gripe with the chocolate croissant. I see this all the time, especially in coffee shops: a “chocolate croissant” on the menu. But in actuality, it’s a plain croissant with a single rod of solid chocolate in the middle. Sorry guys – that is not a “chocolate croissant” to me (maybe this is how they do it in France – I have no idea). My chocolate croissants (i.e. the ones I buy – no, I don’t make them – although maybe I should) have layers of chocolate interspersed throughout the croissant – not an identifiable rod. How one attains that result – I have no idea – but I’ve definitely seen it done. But don’t worry – I handled the fake chocolate croissant situation at Parc with grace … I ate the part of the croissant with the chocolate first, and then finished the rest that was completely void of chocolate with the raspberry jam. Problem solved.

The french toast was very good. The brioche bread, itself, was superb. It was thickly sliced (four slices) and dense but super-soft. The cooked, caramelized apples on top were a nice touch, but the hazlenut butter was what completed the dish. As good as the hazlenut-apple combo was, I found it to be a bit monotonous midway through the second slice. By the end of the third, I felt a little bored (and it wasn’t just because I was getting full), so I reached for the raspberry jam from our pastry basket – that livened the dish up nicely.

g says: My brunch selection process went something like this:

g – “Ooh, I want something with eggs; maybe eggs benedict or the omelette espagnole.”

t – “Omelette espagnole? That doesn’t sound French! Sounds like ‘Spanish omelet!’ Are you sure you want that here?”

g – “But what about the ratatouille? Ratatouille is definitely French; the movie says so. Also, although I love a good eggs benedict, I don’t know if I could get something like eggs and ratatouille just anywhere. I think I’m gonna get it.”

t – “Really? All right, whatever. It’s your birthday week.”

g – “Yep.”

End scene.

I was really happy with my choice when it came out of the kitchen. It was a rather large (filled a decent size plate) disc of ultra-fluffy eggs, seasoned with some green herbs, topped with a generous helping of ratatouille (squash, onions, eggplant, tomatoes all cooked down into a warm compote). And it was delicious! Paired with the bread basket t and I shared, it was even a little too large to finish. The ratatouille may have been a tad overseasoned (I tend to be pretty salt-sensitive) but the rich veggie flavors were a nice, homey foil to the more dainty taste/texture of the eggs. I definitely want to try and make my own version of this at home sometime.

Lastly, can we please talk about how great French75’s are? Every place I have had one makes it a little bit differently, but the basic recipe that I like is champagne, good gin, fresh lemon, and a little bit of sugar or simple syrup for sweetness. I have seen them made with cognac and cherries rather than gin and lemon, or raspberry instead of lemon. Parc makes a good one (basic recipe), so I was happy. I’m not sure if it beats the ones I had at double crown (Brad Farmerie’s place in NYC), but that’s a post for another day.

t says: g loves Brad Farmerie … I’m glad I found her first … finders keepers, losers Brad Farmerie …

g says: what?  he seemed like a nice guy on Next Iron Chef!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 March 2010 at 7:58am

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