Restaurant Rewind: Bday Dinner @ Rittenhouse Tavern

Jeez, 28 crept up on me quickly! I’m usually one of those gals that celebrates my birthMONTH rather than just my birthday, but this year intimate and minimal turned out to be a meaningful approach. I spent most of the day of my birth doing what I love most – cooking – from prepping & freezing portions of my BBQ beef & cauliflower rice stuffed collard greens as soon as I got out of bed to concocting late night Mexican hot dogs with some close friends. But my real foodie birthday celebration came Saturday night as Dre & I joined my family at one of the city’s newest fine dining spots – Rittenhouse Tavern.

I love reading the new restaurant hype in the Philly food scene but usually don’t play into it. I’d rather give a place some time to settle, and for Rittenhouse Tavern it didn’t seem to take long. Despite the pedigreed management & culinary staff at this Restaurant Associates-owned establishment and its prime location on the SE corner of Rittenhouse Square, most of what I’ve heard in its first couple months of service was word of mouth versus plugs on the typical food outlets – Foobooz, Grubstreet, Eater, etc. I take this as a good thing – PR shouldn’t make a restaurant, guest experience should (Yelp feedback of course being an exception) – and “on the street” talk amongst my hospitality & foodie friends was all recommendations & accolades.

Rarely would I notice or comment on my experience with a host/hostesses (unless it’s a bad one), but who knew a greeting and a walk to our table could be such a pleasure. The smiley hostess confirmed if we would still like to sit on the patio (of course we do!) and led us right to our seats. All night, on each trip to the ladies room, I encountered that smile. I think I have a new girl crush.

Now let’s get to the food – that’s what we’re here for, right? I had reviewed the menu a week before we went as I like to ponder what collection of items would give me the most diverse experience of the food. All of that went right out the door when the Farmer’s Market Tasting Menu hit my place-setting… SOLD!

NOTE: If there’s a tasting menu, get the tasting menu. Let the chef show off!

That being said, there was one thing from the standard menu that I couldn’t skip – the deviled eggs with pork scrapple. This wasn’t your typical deviled egg presentation, but the flavor was beyond expectations. I’m not usually a scrapple fan, but crispy, fried, & salty, it served as a perfect base for a swirl of deviled yolk mousse. I could eat 100 of these!

Keeping reading for more food love as I make my way through 5 courses with wine pairings from the Farmer’s Market Tasting Menu.

Now bear with me. I love taking high quality photos with my real camera but I didn’t tote it along with me this night. My iPhone photos via my Instagram do enough justice to the beautiful presentations, especially the first course while the outdoor lighting was perfect. This watermelon salad is everything I wouldn’t imagine a watermelon salad to be, but boy did it work! The block of seedless watermelon resembled a beautiful piece of raw ahi tuna. It was topped with pearls of summer squash and tender young almonds, adding more raw crunch to the firm fruit. I’m not sure what the dressing was, though I feel the dish overall could use more acid, nor could I identify the salty film slice on top of the dish, but the chicharrones added crispy & savory to finish the dish well.

The next course was the raviolo, one large pasta with three filled pockets. The moment the plate was put in front of me, it’s all I could do not to ask for a straw to slurp up the foamy, buttery sauce, who’s aroma was dancing in my nose. The chicken filling was good, yet not very inspired, and I love snails, but the fresh pea & aged goat cheese filling was downright amazing. After falling in love many times over with Buddakan’s and Sampan’s versions of edamame ravioli, I’m officially sold on peas as the perfect pasta filling.

Also, I made a last minute request to enjoy the wine pairing with my tasting. I’m not usually a big chardonnay fan, but I loved this one! Wish I remembered what it was…

The first of the entree courses was a beautiful piece of striped bass, cooked to flaky moist perfection. The description says it included quinoa, which I can only assume was ground into a flour and used to crust the fish. I’ll take some extra protein any way I can get it! The celtuce, baby leaves of Chinese lettuce, added freshness & crisp texture to the soft fish. There’s no denying, though, that the rhubarb butter was the winner here. The color was so beautiful I want to paint a room in my house with it and its subtle tartness made me a rhubarb believer. The rosé paired perfectly with this dish in taste & color as well.

The final savory course was a tender pork loin stuffed with house made sausage – though I think it may have been too tender in a way if that may be possible. I can assume that it was cooked sous vide, but I may be wrong, as the texture was chewy yet very soft. It wasn’t bad, just different, and the flavor was definitely on point! It was crusted in some sort of nut that gave a good balance of crunch, as did the bed of mixed summer beans that the loin sat atop. The menagerie of lightly cooked legumes was a perfect demonstration of the fresh, light flavors that encompassed the whole meal.

At this point, nightfall was upon us and I had to push back our reservation at the best cocktail bar on earth, The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. – a reasonable delay in order to enjoy a delicious meal and my favorite dish of the tasting menu. I’m not typically a dessert person, but the savory-sweet approach of the vanilla & long pepper panna cotta was a perfect finish to the meal. The panna cotta was smooth & clean with vanilla flavor that cooled the spicy sweetness of a strawberry & long pepper compote. The pickled peppers, fresh strawberries, & sugar toile were just icing on the… uh… cotta. The wine pairing was also one of my favorites and not what you’d typically expect, so I’m glad GM Dan Elliott was there to elaborate. What arrived was a cordial glass of Dolin de Chambéry Blanc Vermouth topped with a splash of club & a strawberry. I LOVED it and am so excited to see they serve it for $5 as the “simply dolin” during happy hour.

Five courses later and I have mostly amazing things to say about Rittenhouse Tavern! The food was clean and simple, a nice diversion from the heaviness you’d expect from a typical “tavern”, and the service was attentive, yet not overbearing. My current budget may not bring me back for dinner too soon, however I will absolutely be indulging in one of their soft shell crab sandwiches for lunch that I keep hearing about. Or maybe one of their la frieda or lamb burgers… or their $7 happy hour deal on the deviled eggs with pork scrapple. One way or another, I’ll see you soon Rittenhouse Tavern!

Rittenhouse Tavern
251 S. 18th St. | Philadelphia Art Alliance | Philadelphia, PA 19103
215.732.2412 | www.rittenhousetavern.com

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2 responses

  1. I found you on Twitter and just came to your blog for the first time– I’m really enjoying it. I’ve heard great things about Rittenhouse Tavern and I totally agree with you that if the option to eat the chef’s tasting presents itself, you must take it! Your meal looks like it was absolutely delicious– I especially love that watermelon starter. Gorgeous!

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