This is Erin O’Shea and she is directly responsible for the best meal I had in Philadelphia.
As the new executive chef of Marigold Kitchen, O’Shea was given the task of reinventing the menu of this nearly 70 year-old restaurant location yet again. And for inspiration, all she had to do was look south.
Yes, we’re talking grits, bacon and plenty of old-fashioned butter. But this is no country style breakfast joint. Marigold serves some of the most sophisticated Southern fare this side of the Mason-Dixon, and O’Shea has won over the local Yank population with an endlessly inventive menu of new classics.
So let’s get to them, shall we?
First, let me set up the night. It was a weekday double date with one of our favorite local couples, and everybody was in the mood to celebrate. My wife had just graduated vet school, work was going well for me, and the other couple was on the cusp of engagement. Plus, we had two bottles of wine waiting to be cracked.
Such a jubilant mood, of course, leads to sharing. Which, of course, allows me to review even more dishes than a normal meal. Naturally, we’ll start with the apps.
Buttermilk-Chive Cornbread with Spinach, Ham and Sunny-Side Egg – This one was mine and it was more delicious than even its creatively minimalist presentation. Some flavors just go together, so why let the time of the meal (dinner instead of breakfast) dissuade you?
Byrd Mill Stone-Ground Grits and Shrimp – As a throwback to our college days in Atlanta, my friend went super-Southern with this grittastic dish. Though we’re both not big fans of the grainy stuff, the shrimp surprisingly balanced out the rich, buttery pile beneath them.
Chicken Liver Toast with Apricot and Pickled Celery – I would have never ordered this in a million years, but my friend’s fiance’s adventurousness was rewarded with two tasty little bars of pate. I will sheepishly admit that my fears of liver and pickled anything were unfounded.
Something else – I hate to admit that I don’t remember what my wife ordered. But I know it was good and was all gone when the waiter came to clear the table.
Halibut with Beluga Lentils, Poached Grape Tomatoes and Creamed Ramps – There’s nothing like perfectly cooked halibut. This fish was tender, flaky and awfully good. I even liked the lentils, which my mom has tried to force down my throat for more than twenty years without luck. Completely delicious.
Pork Chop with White Beans and Raisin Vinaigrette – Slices of pork cut from the bone with a slightly understated accompaniment of beans and dressing. My friend knows to never underestimate a Southerner’s way with pork. Good choice.
Chive Gnocchi with Spinach, Red Bell Peppers and Shiitake Mushrooms – My wife was a little jealous that she didn’t get any meat, but her disappointment was assuaged by these little pillows of delight. In a word: yum.
Poached Salmon (a special) – I can’t remember much about this dish except that it was amazing. On a table full of ridiculously tasty entrees, the simply poached salmon reigned supreme.
Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Malt – I won’t lie to you: this was a disappointment. Considering the vast number of “warm chocolate cake” desserts in the city, this one was a little too subtle. While the vanilla malt shooter was an interesting complement, the cake itself was just ho-hum.
Strawberry Rhubarb Shake with Snickerdoodle Cookies – My friend wins again. I knew it as soon as I took a sip of this fruity, creamy concoction.
Orange Blossom Cake with Coconut, Boiled White Icing and Honey Ice Cream – Another slight disappointment. It sounded good on paper but my wife found the combination of flavors to be a little odd. I thought it was interesting but agreed that it didn’t quite work.
Though the desserts were a bit of a let-down, the rest of the restaurant exceeded every expectation.
This goes down as #1 in my book until further notice.