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. Continue reading

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Quickie: American Sardine Bar

Walked by the American Sardine Bar today on my way to the park and behold, the sardine can is up! Signage usually means an opening date is nigh… and their website says “Opening Very Soon”. YAY!

@ COOK’s Studio Kitchen

I loved everything about COOK, including the opportunity to experience Pumpkin’s starring night, so I felt they each deserved their own post. Check out my Halloween night full of autumn culinary treats from Chef Ian Maroney, his wife Hillary Bor, + their team from Pumpkin! 

 

I’ve done nothing but gush since the rumors of Audrey Claire’s COOK – a studio kitchen hosting cooking classes and chef tastings. The corner space that once housed Snackbar transformed over months into an intimate gathering space to learn, dine, and make new friends. I’ve stalked the class listings since it’s opening in early September, kicking myself over not committing to classes that quickly sold out. Before I knew it, Halloween was rolling around and dressing up just didn’t thrill me this year. You know what did though? The promise of an intriguing meal with Pumpkin at COOK on Halloween night.

After dodging some costumed Rittenhouse youngsters, I was relieved to seek refuge in the comfortable space that is COOK. Lily and Jackie – the unassuming power-duo of cuteness who run the show at Audrey Claire’s COOK – greeted guests, hung coats, and encouraged mingling & exploration like hostesses you’ve known for years. After a quick intro, I explored my seat options among the crisp place settings. The counter seating is like an open bracket commencing a night of gastronomic commentary. Low light kept the seating area ambient while the illuminated kitchen and counter were ready to highlight every angle & hue of the night’s fare. The stage was perfectly set for a intimate dinner among 16 strangers.

I arrived early, not only to lock in some prime seat real estate, but also to indulge a growing hobby of mine – cookbooks. COOK’s library had some personal favorites – my technical bible Larousse Gastronomique; the beautiful imagery of NOMA; my current love affair with Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, & Butter – and plenty others that went right on my Christmas list. I’ll definitely be back to cruise their shelves again, just hope that I can figure out if/when they’re open to the non-class-attending public.

COOK’s retail Pantry is tucked in a nook past the library with more awesome kitchen whatnots. I’ll take one of these beautiful leather knife bags in case you’re feeling generous – either color, I’m not picky.

If you have a friend who calls her/himself a “foodie”, just stop in COOK for the perfect birthday/house-warming/holiday gift. Place a tin of COOK’s own mulling spices with a bottle of full-bodied Cabernet in the center of a tea towel, gather the excess fabric, and tie with kitchen twine. Attach a gift certificate for Twenty Manning, Audrey Claire, or a class at COOK and you’re set!

7 o’clock rolled around and we took our seats, the chefs in final prep mode. Our lovely hostesses kicked things off with a quick ice-breaker – introducing ourselves and sharing our favorite Halloween costume. I had plenty to choose from – Madonna in full blonde wig & cone bra in college, Elvira with a hair bump taller than Snooki herself, and a love affair with my Elmo last year as Cookie Monster-ette.

And then it was on to the food! Pumpkin seriously impressed me with a technical, yet whimsical autumn tasting – an amuse en bouche and 5 beautiful courses. I have to give it up to our hostesses, especially Jackie, for the wine selections, too. I like wine, I just don’t know wine, so these 3 immediately go on my list of bottles to pick up next time I head to a BYO like Pumpkin.

Throughout the meal, Lily & Jackie were fully engaged with the room. They cleared dishes, poured soup & wine, snapped photos for the COOKbook blog, and kept the conversation going as the chefs focused on serving the next course. I’d love to have such an awesome job spending night after night with the city’s best chefs and culinary contributors. They were such great hostesses that they sent us all home with these cute little plants.

So I think this is more than a crush. I LOVE COOK! It was such a fun, educational, indulgent night and I can’t wait to get back there soon. COOK just launched their list of classes for December and they’re already starting to sell out, so make your reservation today.

COOK
253 South Twentieth Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
215.735.COOK
www.audreyclairecook.com

Quickie: Chef Gordon Ramsay Siting!

Went to meet my sister at our favorite sushi spot, Izumi, and found myself steps away from Gordon Ramsay filming! He’s hosting an episode of  Kitchen Nightmares at Chiarella’s Ristorante at Tasker & Passyunk. I was just in time to see him exit the back kitchen for one of his signature rants. Swoon!

Weekday Update: Feastival 2011

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of volunteering with Corie Moscow of Gloss PR and her fabulous team at the 2nd Annual Feastival. Co-hosted by the gastronomical trifecta of Stephen Starr, Michael Solomonov, + Audrey Claire Taichman, Feastival is a celebration of culinary arts, highlighting the talent of Philadelphia’s top 75 restaurants and their chefs. It also stands as a benefit for Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, but based on the number of times I was asked who the “charity” was, I’m pretty sure no one was really there for that reason. But I digress…

For most of the afternoon set-up, I checked in restaurants with my longtime catering pal, Harry Spivak, making sure everyone unloaded quickly and was situated at their stations. And along with that job, came dealing with your stereotypical chef personality traits – asking where their dedicated freezer space was (in a pier warehouse…), getting cursed out in a mix of English & French (guess who!), and endless inquiries of when the bar would be open. I’m used to it, enjoy it to some sadistic degree, and took it all in stride as the event professional that I am.

Before I knew it, I was speed-changing in a Porto-o-potty and slapping on a crimson-lipped smile as everyone from Rittenhouse “socialites” to CEOs of XYZ Company to the ex-Governor (who remembered who I was!) poured into the open-air Pier 9. The space really transformed as cocktail party met perfomance art – acrobats trapezing over a glass-topped bar, ballerinas floating above the who’s who of our great city, and the three belles of Strange Fruit teetering next to my soon-to-be-new-addiction, Federal Donuts. I soaked up what I could while I checked in press for most of the night, taking an awkward pride in knowing who most of the local food writers were before they could even get their name out. Any of you guys/gals hiring?

As the night wound down, I worked the room with requests to return all Feastival coats along with gift bags for the chefs. The busy bee that I was, I actually enjoyed eating with my eyes as I scurried past the remaining samples at each station. The crowd dwindled, the chefs migrated towards the bar, and I was officially relieved of a great day of helping to make some serious magic happen. So, I migrated to the bar, too… and not only because I needed a drink after a long day, but because 2 of my favorite Philly bartenders were pouring the booze. Colin, the no-longer bearded (sad face!) GM from Franklin Mortgage (the only bar I’d ever drink at if I could afford to), was on hand with the promise of whiskey. He took the edge off with a strong pour of Jim Beam’s Devils Cut in a martini glass, the last of the clean options. And you know I can’t have whiskey up without a beer… or beers. Thanks to my old co-worker and favorite day bartender from the Belgian Cafe, Lisa, I cruised through 2 Yard’s Pale Ales to end a perfect night.

Status: Izumi

Headed for sushi at Izumi on Passyunk with my sister. Their sushi and non-sushi offerings are fan-fucking-tastic! Tuna tataki, please.

Instafood: Good morning!

Pain au chocolat + the best coffee in Philly @ Elixr. May steal this place from Dre as my go-to coffee shop/work space.

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