This is not a picture of Philadelphia’s Django restaurant. Instead, the painting represents the BYOB’s artistic namesake: Django Reinhardt, France’s most influential Gypsy jazz guitarist.
The comparison is an auspicious one, for just like the real Django evoked mini-symphonies through the plucking of his guitar, the restaurant named after him creates impeccable meals from a medley of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
There was some hubbub a while back that Django had lost some of its considerable luster when Philly’s preeminent food critic, the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan, busted its rating down from four bells (out of four) to two.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the Django experience of pre-2006, when it was owned and operated by founders Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy (now of America’s most extreme form of reservation wait-list torture, Talula’s Table).
But, as for our meal, we were amazed. The dinner commenced with a complimentary bread loaf emerging almost souffle-like from what looked like a flower pot. This savory bread (and the homemade whipped butter) once again predicted an outstanding dinner.
We first ordered a seared scallops appetizer, which was served on a long plate with each scallop bookending a small dot of what I believe was aged balsamic vinegar in the middle. Both my wife and I marveled at the succulence of the perfectly tender scallops, served over what I can only describe as the best potato salad ever.
For an entree, I chose sliced New York strip steak, accompanied by a pea puree, some type of port reduction and a fantastic beef stew. The meat, ordered medium-rare at the server’s suggestion, was a treat and could have carried the meal even without its various accoutrements. The reduction and puree were tasty, although somewhat superfluous, but the stew was a revelation. Served in its own mini-crock, this was the sort of down-home, earthy stew that I could imagine eating on some cold winter night in Ireland. Although the beef was a bit tough, the spices nicely complemented the myriad of rustic vegetables.
My wife’s tuna dish was equally evocative, although thoroughly more modern. Strips of tuna were rolled around a wild mushroom and asparagus filling and presented four to the plate. In between, spoonsful of Israeli large-grain couscous filled the voids, along with more asparagus and just a hint of sauce. The fish was delectable and the couscous, though a bit overcooked, was a true palette pleaser.
While we restrained ourselves from ordering dessert, I would be surprised if there was a misstep in any of the offered sweets.
With its exposed brick walls, casual ambiance and bistro-defining cuisine, Django certainly makes an impression, and, in my opinion, more than lives up to its reputation as one of the best BYOBs in Philadelphia.
Just ask my amended Philly Top 10, in which Django has earned a well-deserved place.