I’ve recently started back on the consulting path and my latest client is based in Philadelphia. The last time I worked or travelled to Philly, was in 2006. I hated the city and thought it was just another Detroit or Baltimore waiting to happen. Fast forward 10 years later … I’ve been completely surprised at the revival of the city and with some of the dining choices. I’ll explore the city revival over the next couple months that I’ll be in town, but for now I thought I would start by sharing a gem of a restaurant I found last week … so here’s my Fine Palate Restaurant review
Fine Palate is easy to find …
Finding a great chef who is willing to cook for you is relatively easy. Finding that great chef to cook for you at a reasonable price to sample his initial wares … now that is much more of a difficult task.
I’ll start with a bold statement : Chef Vince Joseph will do well in Philadelphia.
I ended up at Fine Palate for a Tuesday “omakase” type experience. A couple thoughts about Omakase :
- “Omakase” isn’t for everyone … it requires that you trust the chef somewhat blindly and that the chef will make the right inferences based on your feedback.
- Omakase also requires that the client know what they actually like
Customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef. Chef Vince’s take on this concept is what he calls “coursing,” and what that means is guests can stop or continue the tasting whenever they want. He also separates his taste into a savoury or sweet bucket. I personally think this is quite dangerous from a business perspective … there are too many people who watch waaayyy too much “Food Network” and think they know something about food.
The idea is for them to surrender to whatever Joseph brings out, as long as the whole table orders the same dishes at the same time and they realize that the contents of each course are still up to the chef. It is, after all, called a “chef’s tasting menu” not a “patron’s tasting menu.”
This being said … for Chef Vince’s skills, you’re going to pay $10 a plate! This is a chef who’s worked under some superstar chefs with names like Puck, Ducasse and Robuchon. For anything to cost $10 with that type of pedigreed skill is a ridiculous bargain.
The restaurant itself is cozy, warm and intimate. The bartender is excellent and will shave your ice to your specifications for your Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
As for the food … I was ambitious and decided that I would go with 6 courses per Chef’s preferences. I was very careful to highlight my “no-dairy” preference and he obliged.
- Deep fried oysters topped with arugula and Indian tamarind chutney:
This was excellent. The oysters tasted like they were freshly shucked. The plating was excellent, using the rock salt to create a bed of “sand” for the oyster shells.
- Grilled Octopus … braised and charred with Yuzu, Fennel & Olives
This was expertly done … Octopus is one those fickle types of seafood … less than 3 minutes and you’re good, otherwise you’re going to have spend 3 hours “derubberising” it. The delicate taste of the Yuzu instead of the typical Lemon was also something different that I appreciated
- Shishito peppers done tempura style with Asian sausage, Oyster mushrooms and home made Thai chili
I loved this dish … it’s a favorite of the “salarymen” in Japan and goes well with some cold beer. The mushrooms were an excellent accompaniment.
- Thai Coconut Curry with fresh prawns, mussels on basmati rice.
This was a hit … although it was labelled Thai curry, it was actually reminiscent of a Khao Tom Pla dish I’ve had in Thailand before … without the fish of course.
- Wolffish with Chinese Greens, Dill and shave carrots with a miso glaze.
With a name like wolffish, you may think it has a strong and aggressive taste, but it is quite the opposite. Wolffish has a mild flavor with just a hint of sweetness. It’s very similar to cod or halibut – the meat is pearly white, firm and lean. I wasn’t a fan of this dish. I found the wolffish to be too bland for my taste.
- Suckling pig … duroc pork Japanese BBQ style with Chinese greens
This was the highlight of the evening for me especially as one of my dinner companions paired this with an excellent Riesling.
- Tomato Tagliatelle
No pictures … because I crushed it and shared it around. It was a simply sauce of San Marzano Tomatoes, garlic, salt and basil over hand drawn Tagliatelle. I
For my first time at Fine Palate, Chef Vince easily exceeded any expectations that I had. There was excellent service, fine food and well done libations. Chef Vince and his staff clearly know what they’re doing in terms of execution and balance. I’d highly recommend stopping by – I know I’ll be back again … hopefully once a month 🙂