My wife and I went to the Farm and the Fisherman (1120 Pine Street, Philadelphia) for dinner a couple weeks ago for a special dinner. Josh Lawler, the chef/owner is a disciple of Dan Barber and the fame of Blue Hill Farm. This is widely known as one of the best and first farm to table restaurants in the US.
We started our meal with two wonderful starters: the chilled carrot soup and a salad of strawberries, beets and a mysterious nutty paste. The soup was indicated to have chocolate mint in it, which I didn’t get, but it was wonderful nonetheless. The salad was a perfect balance of sweet and savory with a painted ‘nutty’ paste that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Suffice to say that it was yummy either way.
The second course offered stuffed quail and a tempura soft shell crab. The quail was stuffed with stinging nettles, purple komatsuna, pine nuts – prepared perfectly and tender. The crab reminded me about how much I love soft shells: no work, all meat. This was fried, just barely and sitting up on a plate, ready to eat. I had to pace myself to make sure I didn’t rifle through it.
Now, the main course…was a bit of an adventure. When we ordered, I selected a special that night: braised baby lamb shoulder. The server came back a few minutes after we ordered and told me that the chef was also offering the lamb brain with the shoulder if I was interested. I asked the server for a better description and was told (after a chef consultation) that it’s like “sweetbreads on steroids.” How could I say no?
We made it to Talula’s Garden (210 W Washington Square) to sample Chef Aimee Olexy’s collaboration with famed restaurateur Stephen Starr and it was wonderful. The SRG influence is clear from the service perspective as the experience begins once you walk in the door. The staff to guest ratio is low as I found more staff readily available than in many other spots I’ve enjoyed. This added to the homey feeling we had from the beginning of our visit. It didn’t hurt that we were at a large, high ‘farmers table’ in the back of the restaurant adjacent to where the cheese was prepared.
For starters, it’s important to realize that they offer cheese to start because it’s darned good and it’s expected that you get some. This is a place where, if you don’t order food beyond your main course, you’ll leave unfulfilled. We did no such thing. We started with 4 cows milk cheeses ranging from mild and creamy to hard and sharp: a great start to our meal. We also started with some fantastic creations from the bar; I strongly recommend their take on the mint julep – it’s a winner.
Our first items from the kitchen were the flourless ricotta gnudi and the Rabbit Lasagnetta. The gnudi was more of a formed cheese ball (not complaining), but the accompaniment of fava beans and the pecorino made the dish. The gnudi seemed like a Richard Blais or Wylie Dufresne take on cheese with the assumption that some molecular gastronomy was at play in order to form the ricotta into perfect circles. The Rabbit lasagnetta was an unfurled bowtie in a rabbit ragout which resembled a pork-like richness. This is a rich dish and therefore, the lack of quantity was acceptable.
For our mains, we had surf and turf. I ordered the glazed lobster tail and pork belly and my wife had the beef (two ways) – short rib and strip steak. On my end of dinner, the lobster was perfectly prepared, but I found the citrus a bit overpowering. The pork belly was wonderful and was clearly slowly prepared to perfection. My wife’s meal was great; the short rib fell apart, yet featured a carmelization which reflected some serious technique. The strip was also a perfect mid-rare and exhibited the flavor only available to meat sourced locally.
I’m not sure how we had room, but we shared their mini-donuts for dessert and who doesn’t like fried dough? I think the doughnuts were a bit over-done, but still had the lightness that they should and easily held on to the berry conserves which were served as a compliment.
The final verdict is that Talula’s Garden is a great space featuring some wonderful, local foods in a comfortable setting. It’s a fairly pricey night out, but justifiable due to the quality and service combined with a welcoming atmosphere as well. We will most certainly return.
If you’re in the Rittenhouse vicinity on a Saturday in the Spring, Summer, or Fall, make sure to stop by the square as there are some great vendors (meats, cheese, fruit, mushrooms, etc.). They are all wonderful, but if you can only pick one or have a hankering for great Tomatoes, visit the guy selling tomatoes there and pick your own from the many available. I also bought a tiny basil plant from him 2 weeks ago and it’s already doubled in size.
I usually serve the tomatoes sliced with a balsamic drizzle, a bit of fresh ground pink salt, and a little fresh ground pepper.
It’s really amazing how buying local food is both good for the soul and the taste buds. I stopped at the Rittenhouse Market yesterday (http://www.farmtocity.org/FarmersMarkets.asp) and got the following:
-New York Strip & Baby Spinach from Rineer Family Farm (PA)
-Lamb Chops from Cherry Grove Farm (NJ)
-Mushrooms…from Kennett Square
As Ian from Cherry Grove farm recommended, I marinated the lamb chops in a soy sauce mixture. I added brown mustard, sesame oil, fresh parsley, salt, and pepper to the soy and let it soak (for you deadliest catch fans) for 4 hours. Brought it to room temp before cooking under a hot broiler for 4 minutes per side. Let it rest for about 5 minutes before service. Just plain awesome. I only wish the chops were larger or that I bought more.
For the mushrooms, I bought 2 small boxes: shitake and crimini. I like to chop them up and saute with a bit of olive oil, garlic, paprika, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for about 15-20 mins until most of the water is out of the ‘shroom and the flavor concentrates. These local fungi were picked/cut at 4:30am the same day, so they couldn’t have been any fresher.
Meals like this inspire me to join a CSA, so maybe I finally will.