January 13, 2007

New Year’s Eve 2006, Part II - Tangerine

The year I turned 21 I had the worst New Year’s Eve of my life. Having come of age only a few days earlier, I was determined to spend New Year’s Eve in a bar somewhere—anywhere—engaging in what I knew would be a legendary degree of mayhem and debauchery. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I rang in the new year standing on a frozen pond in the bitter cold of someone’s back yard in central Pennsylvania, completely sober, watching a grown man and his eleven year-old son shoot pistols into the sky at the stroke of midnight. It was a sad moment. But as I stood there tasting the spent gunpowder carried by the crisp winter air, I realized something that I have taken great comfort in ever since—no matter what happens the rest of my days, I probably never would have a New Year’s Eve any worse than that.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, New Year’s Eve 2005 was one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. We went to Tangerine with close friends of ours from D.C. I don’t remember many details about the meal. But I have been reminded (and am embarrassed to admit) that I was so captivated by the food that night that I was oblivious of the exotic belly dancers parading through the restaurant and undulating beside our table. That, too, was a sad moment, I suppose, but for different reasons.

Belly Dancer

I wanted to try Tangerine again this year, hoping for a repeat. The deal was similar to last year: passed hors d’oeuvres, a five course meal served family style, a Champagne toast and dessert buffet at midnight—and, of course, belly dancers—for $120 per person.

Lobster Velouté with Fennel and Tarragon Oil

Tangerine’s meal this year had a few conceptual and execution issues. For the most part, though, these issues were easy for me to overlook because the dishes were so flavorful. For example, the second course was a Lobster Velouté with Fennel Purée and Tarragon Oil. The lobster, while rich and buttery, had a noticeably chewy texture and was a little overcooked. But, overall, the dish was so rich and flavorful (particularly the fennel purée and tarragon oil, which complemented the buttery lobster nicely) I was willing to overlook the texture of the lobster.

Mediterranean Turbot with Crab Risotto and Olive Tomato Ragout

The third course—the Mediterranean Turbot with Crab Risotto, Olive Tomato Ragout—is another example. The Turbot, although well-prepared, did not seem to fit well with the rest of the dish. The rich risotto and the olive tomato ragout, however, were addictive together. The ragout, itself, was surprisingly rich. And, paired with the rich risotto, they were flavorful enough to carry the dish without the Turbot.

Moroccan Spiced Filet Mignon with Potato Mushroom Gratin and Horseradish Creamed Swiss Chard

Similarly, the Potato Mushroom Gratin that accompanied the fifth course—the Moraccan Spiced Filet Mignon and Horseradish Creamed Swiss Chard—was overwhelmingly salty. But the cinnamon and all spice that were used to season the filet made the dish taste like Christmas.

American Sturgeon Caviar, Blue Fin Tuna Tabouli, Golden Rasin Crisps

Some dishes, however, struggled more than others. The first course—the American Sturgeon Caviar atop molded tabouli that included blue fin tuna alongside golden raisin crisps—was ill-conceived. The sweet and toasty caviar was delicious solo. But the onion-heavy tabouli was way too overpowering to be paired with something as delicate as caviar.

Harissa Grilled Lamb with Rosemary Socca, Egplant Salad and Harissa Yogurt

Also, the fourth course—the Harissa Grilled Lamb with Rosemary Socca, Eggplant Salad and Harissa Yogurt—was a great idea, but did not quite hit the mark. The smokiness in the creamy eggplant salad was satisfying, and I enjoyed the use of the socca. But the lamb was very dry and stole a lot of the momentum from this dish.

Dessert Buffet

The dessert table, new this year, was a huge hit. The table held almost a dozen different ways to break the New Year’s resolution you made only a few moments ago. The one misstep that was inexcusable, though, was that the Champagne did not make it to our table until almost 12:20 a.m. I rang in the new year with a glass of 2003 Chateau Josephine de Boyd (Margaux), the second wine from the Second Growth Bordeaux Chateau Brane-Cantenac, which we enjoyed during dinner. Not a bad way to ring in the New Year. But for $120 a person, getting the Champagne out on time is the one part of the service you simply shouldn’t botch.


There is nothing like ringing in the new year with a great meal. And, despite the few nits discussed above, Tangerine delivered.

232 Market Street
(215) 627-5116


Frank said...

That looks some kind of tasty...nice story...and great visuals, too...great work here...now I have ot get to Tangerine this week.

Anonymous said...

So, let's see if I have this straight . . . all of the food except dessert was either over-cooked or ill-conceived or overwhelmingly salty, AND they didn't manage to pull off the champagne at midnight thing, but it was still really good? PhilaFoodie, please, embrace your inner critic! It's okay not to like this stuff, but still to have a nice evening: the company, the setting, the wine, all of these things are important parts of the experience, perhaps equal to the food in a lot of places. Just say that. While I hold out hope for improvement, that's how I'm feeling about Philly's Oceanaire, for example. But please, when the food is not so good, just be proudly critical, for heaven's sake. People expect it sometimes.
-- Philly Food Rant

PhilaFoodie said...

Philly Food Rant:

I appreciate the internal trigger that led you to share your reactions to my review. Many people, myself included, value their opinions about food and, by extension, the ways in which others arrive at their opinions about food.

I embrace my inner critic every time I eat in a restaurant or taste a glass of wine. Being critical is more nuanced than identifying a flaw in a dish and concluding that it’s not so good. In my review, I pointed out where Tangerine’s performance fell short that evening. But I also put these shortcomings into context by identifying the other elements present in the meal that outweighed them. Hence, the favorable conclusion.

food-ie mike said...

I'm new to this blog and couldn't wait to read about one of my favorite Philly Restaurants.

Having had dinner at Tangerine, as most places, close to Christmas, I found the seasonal rush and special menus usually fail to demonstrate the true potential of a kitchen. Tangerine has been one of the most consistent sure hits I've ever found. A friend turned me onto it years ago after incessantly nudging me to go and try their gnocchi ...and she was so right I became hooked. Honestly, this is a bargain restaurant and also lounge for the quality offered and easy to count on.