Monday, August 26, 2013


Yeah, new restaurants! And we've been waiting a while for this one. Serpico is the love child of Steven Staar and Peter Serpico, of Momofuku fame (as in Manhattan). Getting a NY chef to turn his back on the Big Apple and make the trek down the turnpike is no small feat, and has apparently ruffled the feathers of  some NY food writers pissy about us pilfering their chef ranks. Meh. They have enough to go around.  

The outside is sleek and dark and mysterious looking. The space is the former home of Foot Locker, interestingly enough, but they've done a total gut of the interior.  It's got a huge central kitchen with counter space to watch the action.  Warm wooden tables  soften the stark ceiling and hard lines of the interior. You are surrounded by chalkboard paint walls marked up with the menu, specials & drinks.

There is a small  bar at the front, but it's really more of a table with some stools. We did see people eating there, but it just looked awkward.  This is not a place to come for after work cocktails.  This is about dinner, and dinner only. 

The drink of the summer - the Negroni. I promise I'll switch back to Old Fashioned's once the cold temperatures set in. 

Instead of bread, you get toasted rice crackers with sesame /air wafers. It's thoughtful, but just tastes like you're eating sesame seeds. It looks more like an ancient papyrus copy of the dead sea scrolls than an amuse bouche. 

Raw diver scallops floating in buttermilk, dusted with poppy seeds, painted with green chili paste, white soy, and chives. Somewhere between sashimi and crudo - it reminded me of an everything bagel with whitefish. Just an incredibly light and subtle version.  

A much better take on the raw fish was the fluke with tonburi seeds, charred jalapeƱo match sticks, and shaved celery ribbons. There is a just noticeable hint of heat from the jalapeno that brings out this amazing flavor of the fluke. I've never had it raw before, but it seems silly to cook it at all now. 

The tomato and bean salad sounded great on the menu, but didn't really deliver in the bowl.  I loved the charred bean sprouts, but the Chinese sausage and dried scallops were nonexistent.  The dried shrimp adds some punch, and the squid was good but a strange addition. It seemed like a elaborate take on rustic Chinese food that wasn't really necessary. 

Probably the strangest sounding item on the menu is the egg custard and caviar, and we had some reservations about even ordering this.  Low and behold, it was probably the best thing on the table that night. Siberian sturgeon caviar sits delicately atop a rich egg custard swimming in brown butter, crispy potato bits and cauliflower mushroom.  It is decadent beyond imagination, but not overwhelming to the palate. Salty caviar plays off the luscious custard with it's subtle sweetness, the crunchy potato dances with the silky mushrooms. One of the most original dishes I've eaten all year.

There are a couple pastas on the menu - and they are good, but this is not their specialty.  The corn ravioli is a curious Italian/Mexican hybrid of  pasta pockets with chorizo, white cheese, pickled and roasted onions, sour cream & lime. I'd like this dish more if they dropped the ravioli concept and baked them into empanadas, then cut down on the amount of sauce. The flavors are there for a hit, just not the right texture. 

A much more traditional take was the hand torn pasta. Simple shreds of pappardelle pasta, snail sausage (yes, you read that right) nuggets, garlicky, crispy chicken skins, some shaved pecorino, and a puree of Italian parsley drizzled over the top make this a very pretty dish. Strong flavors from the snails and chicken skin are anything but overpowering - more of a nice texture antithesis to the silky pasta strips.  

A beautiful piece of Wagyu chuck flap steak, drizzled with whole grain mustard, was super tender and gorgeously marbled. Wagyu is a cheaper version of Kobe that can be bred in the US. Chuck flap is a terrible name for a very tasty section of cow that is similar to flank & skirt steak. I'd never have thought to put a mustard sauce with beef, but it works well here.  Grilled broccoli - you should try this on your grill at home by the way - and chunks of fried potato make this easily the most substantial dish on the 20 item menu. 

A caper brined piece of trout was flaky and moist - no doubt a result of it's time in the brine.  It sits atop a bed of smoked potato salad, pepperoncini, crab, trout roe, & chive oil. I think this dish might be a victim of an overzealous imagination. The trout on it's own is great, but gets lost among the myriad of other ingredients. 

On to dessert, with the clear winner being the rocky road - chocolate pudding, toasted marshmallow & candied walnuts. Each bite is sweet, salty, crunchy, smoky.

The goat cheese sorbet was decent - I really enjoyed the crumbled shortbread cookie. But both of the desserts lacked visual appeal. No wow factor here. Two kind of boring looking plates with good ingredients and flavors, but no love in the dish. 

Serpico shows enormous potential in it's use of ingredients, particularly the raw seafood dishes where they really shine. The menu right now lacks a real cohesion or sense of purpose though. You can see all these whiffs of inspiration swirling around, waiting to be transformed into the Sistine chapel ceiling. Let's hope the chef doesn't put away his brushes any time soon. He's got a great pallet to work from. 

Food Baby Rating:  Twins

604 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

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