Sunday, February 3, 2013


So much hype about this place the last few months. People haven't been this excited about an opening in Philadelphia since Donovan McNabb was traded. A chef with a golden pedigree. A Rittenhouse Square (almost) location. Swanky drinks. And...toasts? Seriously, toasts? Be prepared when you walk in to spend $14 on a piece of bruschetta. Truth. 

Granted, the toasts are pretty good. The kitchen staff apparently spent months searching for just the right bread and grilling method to get them perfectly crispy. And their hard work shines through on many of the samplings we tried. The mushy peas and bacon was delicious - a near on perfect rendition of the English staple. The beef tartar with freshly grated horseradish was also stellar. Superbly tender beef and the bite of that horseradish was memorable.  

Less interesting was the fromage & kumquats (doesn't that word just sound dirty?).  Maybe I'm just not a kumquat kind of guy. The cheese was nothing spectacular and not nearly strong enough to counter the sour/bitter taste of the fruit. We also like the pumpkin with brown butter and sunflower seeds. The roasted pumpkin has a great earthiness to it, but it's a stretch charging $7 for this. 

The drinks are hand crafted (read "slowly prepared") and also on the pricey side. I had a pretty solid old fashioned, but charging $11 for Old Grandad takes cajones.

A charred brussels sprout salad with green apple & smoked chili was decent, but not earth shattering. The sprouts weren't charred enough, leaving them a little chewy and without the proper crunch to balance out the greens or sweetness to counteract the radish. 

Probably the best thing we ate all night, and certainly some of the best cauliflower I've ever had. The black pepper roasted cauliflower was surprisingly good. I think I have been converted to start liking this most hated of veggies. Roasting seems to coax out an entirely different and utterly complex cast of flavors from this weirdly albino broccoli cousin. Vernick's simple preparation is deceptive. There are so many layers of flavor going on here you won't believe you're eating something that is vegan approved. This would put some of the dishes at Vedge to shame. 

Tuna poke (salad) was bright and refreshing. Good size chunks of ahi mixed with sliced onion, radish and macadamia nuts and dressed with sweet soy and sesame seed. A beautiful plate, if nothing else. This is the level of sophistication that I was expecting here. 

The second best thing we ate was certainly the house made mozzarella with mango. Kind of an odd pairing, but the sweet mango goes so well with the salty mozzarella. Drizzle some basil oil and sea salt and you've got a winner on your hands. Think about all those proscuitto & melon appetizers you've had, and you're in the same ballpark. The salty/sweet contrast is just so good. The mozzarella was crazy tender and tasted like it was pulled just minutes before. 

The grilled black sea bass was cooked crispy and yet still nicely tender. The broccoli and "fire roasted" tomato sauce was less exciting. Describing something as fire roasted is seems unnecessary. How else would you roast something? It seemed more like an accompaniment you'd see at Bertucci's.  

The blueberry pie was great. I always lean towards the savory side for dessert, and this was the perfect finish to a meal. The pie was something close to a crumble, with blueberries so luscious they tasted like they were just picked on a hot summer day. 

Overall, I think Vernick is a good restaurant. They are serving some interesting plates in a trendy, hip space. The prices they are charging though are beyond what the market should be bearing. The fact that it is so trendy let's them get away with the price tags for now, but I wonder how long they'll have a full book. For $70 per person, I want a dinner that really impresses, leaves me wondering "how did they do that?", and has me raving to everyone that "you have to try this place". Maybe the kitchen is still finding its way, but I think they have a ways to go to live up to their potential, and all the hype. 

Food Baby Rating: Only Child

Vernick Food & Drink
2031 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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