March 16, 2006

Washington Square

We made it into Washington Square near the tail end of Restaurant Week. Before we arrived, my wife and I decided we would look at both the regular menu and the Restaurant Week menu before ordering. As it turned out, we ordered from both. The Restaurant Week menu contained entrées from the regular menu. The only difference was that the portions were smaller on the Restaurant Week menu. Normally, this might be a drawback, but in this case choosing the smaller portion size gave us the opportunity also to explore a couple of the compelling side dishes on Washington Square’s regular menu.

We both started with the Caesar salad. Although the Restaurant Week version of this Washington Square staple was small, it was surprisingly filling. The cream cheese croutons are the highlight of this dish. They are tiny blocks of pure cream cheese that have been fried on the outside to form a sinfully crispy shell. These croutons would taste amazing on any salad, but they work especially well here paired with the rich Caesar dressing.

For the main course, I had the grilled salmon with artichokes, spinach, olive butter and saffron sauce. I expected more from this dish; I found it to be a bit too plain. Also, the artichokes distracted from the salmon and the sauce. My wife ordered the roasted organic chicken with cheesy polenta, wild mushrooms, asparagus and truffle jus. To be honest, this dish didn’t exactly leap off the menu to me, but it certainly leapt off the plate. The magic to this dish is the truffle jus. The effect is subtle, but its earthy goodness soaks through every bite of the polenta and highlights the organic, natural theme of this dish. The wild mushrooms add a fresh touch and even give you the illusion that the intense earthiness is coming from them. Roasted chicken is an excellent choice for this dish because it’s light and doesn’t compete with the other flavors.

For the extra sides, we ordered the garlic fries with aoli and the truffled mac and cheese. The garlic fries were deeply disappointing. They were too salty to appreciate any garlic flavor and otherwise were unimpressive. The aioli, sadly, appeared to be nothing more than mustard. The truffled mac and cheese, on the other hand, was amazing, intense and addictive. It is the ultimate gourmet comfort food. I never would have thought to combine truffle oil and cheese, and I don’t know what kind of alchemy they did to figure it out. But these flavors go so well together you’ll wonder how you ever ate mac and cheese without it. I’m not going to be able to eat mac and cheese ever again without missing the truffle oil. After tasting them, we took both sides home to save room for dessert.

For dessert, we had the cheesecake with green apple sorbet. This dish was made just for the Restaurant Week menu. The cheesecake, which was firm and rich, came in two miniature-sized slices. The green apple sorbet was refreshing and tasted surprisingly natural.

Washington Square
210 W. Washington Square
(215) 592-7787

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March 11, 2006

Is Restaurant Week really for foodies?

I know, I know. Restaurant Week was over two weeks ago. Time to get caught up. Philadelphia’s Center City holds a Restaurant Week a couple of times a year. Most cities with a restaurant scene do a Restaurant Week at some point during the year. The formula is roughly the same everywhere—one week (6 days, actually), 99 restaurants, 3 courses, $30. Sounds great. But is it really for foodies?

  • No soup for you. There’s a good chance it’s already too late to make reservations at that special restaurant you’ve been waiting to try by the time the list of participating restaurants comes out. Time is of the essence. It’s difficult enough to get dinner reservations at your favorite restaurants in Philadelphia in general. But throw 3 courses for $30 into the mix and, well, it turns into a post-apocalyptic scramble for a table. Before you know it, everyone else is dining on Horseradish Crusted Salmon with Basmati Rice Cake, Bok Choy and a Dijon Mustard Sauce, and you’re left choking back a pepperoni and mozzarella bagel from Wawa. It’s frustrating.

  • “Oh, I’ve been to Prague.” Can you really say you’ve been to Tangerine if you’ve eaten only from their $30 Restaurant Week menu? When you dine from a restaurant’s Restaurant Week menu, you’re getting the product of a limitation. And that limitation is price. To conform to this limitation, the chef may offer you a smaller version of something on the normal menu, the chef may only offer you the restaurant’s less-expensive entrées, or the chef may create a new item to fit within the price limitation. Think of it as Iron Chef meets $40 a Day. But going to a restaurant like Tangerine isn’t about going out to dinner—it’s about experiencing fine art. In that environment, the only limitation that you should allow yourself to experience is the chef’s imagination. All I’m saying is, if you’ve been to Tangerine, for example, during Restaurant Week, you haven’t necessarily “been to Tangerine” been to Tangerine.

Don’t get me wrong—I support Restaurant Week. Anything that highlights the Center City restaurant scene, keeps the local restaurants in business and allows more people to experience fine dining in Center City is a good thing. Moreover, the folks who organize and sponsor Restaurant Week should be applauded for pulling off such a successful event twice a year every year. Just keep this in mind: When Restaurant Week comes around again in September (1) make your reservations early; and (2) if you ignore the restaurants’ regular menus, you may be cheating yourself.

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