Monday, October 17, 2011

Talula's Garden

A little past due with this review, but I'm rarely on time for anything - so why start being prompt now? For the wifey's (still kind of weird saying that) birthday in August we did dinner at the latest and greatest creation from the Steven Starr empire, Talula's Garden. Talula's is actually a collaboration between Starr and Amy Olexy of Django fame (does anyone else remember how great Django was 10 years ago?!?) and the one-year reservation required Talula's Table in Chadds Ford. Yes, you read that right - you need to call one year out to get a seat at the Table for a menu you don't get to choose and pay $100 a head for. It's apparently that good. Hopefully I'll get the chance to let you know someday. Luckily for us, you don't need to make a reservation one year out at the Garden - three or four weeks is advisable though. 

Located in the former space* occupied by Washington Square, on the park of the same name, it is a beautiful restaurant. Half of it is outdoor garden covered by a wisteria covered trellis and living walls growing herbs for the restaurant. The inside half is warm and inviting with just the right amount of shabby chic, "like you're eating at Anthropologie" as a friend put it. 

*Side note here - it occurs to me that I find myself using that phrase "located in the former space" a lot on this blog. Everything is housed in another restaurants former home. I think it makes places that have staying power such as Dmitri's or FriSatSun that much more impressive to have stayed in the same spot for 20 years, they're obviously doing something right. 

the Cook 
Rich Bourbon, Angostura, and Brown Sugar

The specialty drinks menu is impressive. Decently priced cocktails with names like the Gardner, the Artist or the Beekeeper feature simple ingredients of really high quality that shine thru from the first sip. The Cook, their take on the old fashioned with good bourbon, angostura and brown sugar was excellent. One of the best Old Fashioned's I've had in the city to date. I'd come back just for another one of these and a cheese plate. 

Let's talk about those cheese plates. Olexy has a reputation for knowing her cheese better than just about anyone in Philly. There are guys at DiBruno's that can't pair as well as she can. Talula's is very cheese centric, with an incredible selection of pre-determined plates from different regions or featuring a particular style, all of which are meant to be eaten in a specific sequence so that you appreciate the subtle nuances of each. We did the Locavore, with six cheeses all from the local region. WOW. Each cheese was incredible on it's own, but the sum of the whole was even more amazing. I think my favorite was the Birchrun Hills "Fat Cat". A rich and creamy, aged cow's milk, it melted on your palette and lingered for what seemed like hours. If you come here and don't get a cheese plate, you should be escorted directly to Applebees. 

The Locavore - Six cheeses from the region
From bottom to top: 
Bailey’s Dairy Ricotta (Cow, PA)
Pipedreams Fromage Ash Log (Goat, PA)
Birchrun Hills Creamery “Fat Cat” (Cow, PA)
Calkins Creamery “Cowtipper” (Cow, PA)
Firefly Farm “Cabra la Mancha” (Goat, MD)
Sprout Creek Farm “Eden” (Cow, NY)

Tempura fried squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese.  Holy schneikes. 

As a complimentary starter from the kitchen, they brought us a plate of squash blossoms, stuffed with goat cheese and then lightly tempura battered and fried, with a side of lavender honey for drizzling. This is one of the best things I've eaten all year, at any restaurant. Encompassing everything that is great about summer, the delicate squash blossom encasing amazing goat cheese and the lightest of deep fries. Absolutely incredible. They could have stopped there and I would have been happy (but not very full). 

Crudo of Rhode Island Fluke, Chilled Melons, Hot Pepper, and Smoked Sea Salt  

The rest of the meal consisted of one amazing dish after another. A crudo (basically the European version of sashimi) of fluke (it's a fish) with chilled balls of melon, some hot peppers and smoked sea salt hit just about every one your taste buds. The rich and tasty fish enhanced by the smoked salt, the peppers and melon giving a really unique hot/cold contrast in the same bite. Kind of like jalapeno ice cream. Nice.

Pan Sauté of Veal Sweetbreads
I rarely pass up the chance for sweetbreads (that's a thymus glad if you're curious - and yes it is delicious), and these were some of the best I've had, rivaling Modo Mio. A great crisp saute revealing unimaginable tender insides. Would absolutely get this again. 

Marinated Pacific Halibut, Oxtail Stuffed Artichokes, Sea Beans, Dill, and Saffron
For mains we both went for seafood, while our dining companions stuck to the land. I had a great piece of halibut served alongside artichokes stuffed with braised oxtail meat. The fish was cooked perfectly - flaky and tender - and topped with some saffron foam (didn't really taste the saffron though). Generally, I discount anything with "foam" in it. Foam is for parties on spring break, not for topping on food. The artichoke with oxtail was great though. The tender meat and soft, salty artichoke make such a good pair. I think it was better than the fish, and actually overpowers it a bit. I'd be happy ordering these on their own, sans halibut.

Fricassee of Chicken, Bulgar Wheat Risotto, Hazelnuts, Heirloom Carrots, and King Trumpets

When's the last time you saw chicken fricassee on a menu? When's the last time you even had fricassee? Do you even know what fricassee is? My mom actually used to make this all the time, and it's one of my favorite things she cooks. Basically browning pieces of chicken in a dutch oven with some butter or olive oil, then adding in liquid to make kind of a stew and cook until the meat is nearly falling off the bone. The Talula's version has super juicy pieces of free range chicken, local heirloom carrots and big meaty trumpet mushrooms. I only got to try a small piece, but it's clear why this is a staple of the menu. Chicken has to be done in a very special way to be worthy of ordering at a restaurant. This fits the bill.

Caramelized Maine Sea Scallops, Kohlrabi Puree & Watercress

Seared Maine scallops, each the size of a yo-yo, had a great char on the outside and perfectly tender inside. Scallops are easy to overcook, but when done right they can be incredible. These were of the latter style. Served over a puree of kohlrabi (in the cabbage family) and some watercress, this was one of the top dishes in an overall stellar meal. Probably the best new restaurant in Philly this year. Go there, now. And don't forget the cheese plate.


Food Baby Rating: Twins!

210 W. Washington Square
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215 592 7787
Sunday - Thursday: 5pm - 10pm
Friday - Saturday: 5pm - 11pm

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