Philadelphia hosts a wildly popular restaurant week each winter. My choice this year was a.kitchen in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. I can readily say this was the best restaurant meal I have had in recent months.The chef blends flavors and textures that work together creatively well. The service is friendly, attentive, and most importantly knowledgeable. And to top it off, we sat at the chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen.
a.kitchen – Our Meal
The menu is designed with a combination of small and large plates. My friend and I split 4 small plates, then each had an entree, and split two desserts.
Small Plate 1: Crab and Pumpkin Croquettes with Sea Urchin Aioli
The only time I recall seeing crab and pumpkin served together was in a soup. Believe me, it works beautifully in a croquette. This small plate came with 5 golden brown croquettes on a bed of crispy slaw. The aioli had just a hint of sea urchin and complemented rather than overpowered this delicious small plate.
Small Plate 2: Little Gem Salad
Sure little gem lettuce has become the lettuce of choice for the last few years. But that’s OK because it is a healthy lettuce which “dresses” nicely based on its compact characteristics. This salad was served with a mustard vinaigrette, thin sliced radish, and a bunch of herbs.
Bonus tip for gardeners – Little gem lettuce is pretty easy to grow and tolerates heat well without turning bitter. Plant it early and pick it young. You should be able to plant 2 or 3 crops a year of this lettuce.
Small Plate 3: Hamachi and Fennel Crudo
Hamachi brightened with fennel and drizzled with olive oil is always a good choice. But then add some grapefruit wedges, cucumber, and pomegranate seeds and you have refreshing brilliance.
Small Plate 4: Swiss Chard Gnocchi
I was hesitant on this dish as I am not usually the biggest fan of gnocchi, but my dining companion wanted it so I went along with it. Well I must say, if all gnocchi tasted like this, I would want gnocchi multiple times a week. Wow. The gnocchi had a lightness and the chard taste was defined yet not overwhelming. The duck and pork sausage along with the Jerusalem artichoke accompanied this dish perfectly.
We both had the grilled Atlantic Wreck fish (which I have always known as stone bass). This fish is often caught in the deep waters off the Carolina coasts. I think it tastes similar to grouper (and yes I love grouper too).
The fish was moist and tasty, served on a bed of freekeh (which is a toasted green wheat grain) with arugula pesto on top. The dish was garnished with roasted grapes and sauteed spigarello.
For what it is worth, I’ll take freekeh any day over quinoa.
The chocolate tart was nice, but how often do you have a honey custard? The custard was amazing and refreshing.
I always enjoy watching the magic happen in an open kitchen. There is both an honesty and an amazement to it.
Philadelphia Restaurant Week
Philadelphia Restaurant Week has become so popular that you need to plan and make reservations days or weeks early. I will say that the participating restaurants consistently rise to the occasion, creating amazing menus and showing their quality for a standard 3-course set price of $35, which means many can try restaurants that normally might be at the limits of their price range.
Another one of many things Philadelphia can be proud of.