"22 seats?". "Wow, my wife can count!" said my husband facetiously. I was, in fact, stating the obvious, but I felt it needed to be said out loud. How could this 22 seat BYOB restaurant in South Philly have been named the third best "new style fish house" in the country (THE COUNTRY!) by Bon Appetit magazine in 2008 with only 22 seats?
We were seated promptly by Little Fish staff at 6pm on a Sunday. They only offer two seating times for their $28 price fix tasting menu on Sundays, 6pm and 8pm. Since my husband and I, shamefully, like to eat dinner at times that are more fashionable with people 3 times our age, dinner at 6pm on a Sunday was perfect. They opened the bottle of wine we brought (BYOB's are one of my top 5 favorite things about Philly), and gestured towards the wall at a hand written piece of craft paper. "Have you seen tonight's menu?" the waitress said while pointing to the paper. My husband and I already had some idea of what we were getting ourselves into. We normally jump at the opportunity to eat at places that offer tasting menus, lovingly arranged by the chef. Some people might have had a slight problem with the fact that the tasting menu was absolute in it’s offerings and denied you any say in picking or choosing your meal. I, on the other hand, being hopelessly in love with all food (honestly...pig’s feet...grasshoppers...you name it) and utterly unable to make even the simplest decisions without him and hawing over them for hours, welcomed the idea of a tasting menu with open arms (and mouth).
The menu consisted of 5 courses. It began with a salad of local lettuce, topped with bits of apple, orange, cranberry and goat cheese. The goat cheese was of excellent quality and the lettuce fresh and crisp. I'm sad to say, however, that my salad was lacking in pretty much everything else. Glancing at other tables I saw that their salads appeared to be complete and so, not to be a complainer right out of the gates, I chocked it up to a small oversight and prepared for the next course, Jerk Halibut. The halibut was my husband's favorite course by far. It was spiced to perfection, had a hint of smoke, slightly blackened and served with a crisp radish and cilantro garnish. Then came the skate. If you've never had skate (it's actually the skate "wing" that they serve) I recommend it. It's a delicate, flaky fish and it takes on all sorts flavors quite well. The skate was served with squash, clams and crab, all over a saffron broth. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that's true then I must have really loved this dish because I ran right out the next day and bought some crab and squash and attempted to re-create my favorite part of this dish. The sweet seafood paired with the squash and saffron broth was a winning combination. Two thumbs up...hands down. The fourth course was somewhat of a mystery to my husband and me. We have eaten what feels like hundreds of different types of seafood over the years and we have never encountered Brazilian Tiger Fish. When I expressed my curiosity about the fish to our waitress she said that the chef also had never encountered it and this was it’s début. What a début it was. It was simply pan seared and served over a mild and creamy coconut broth. Some very yummy collard greens and unfortunately, very unnecessary black eyed peas shared the bowl. I think the chef was looking for some textural contrast with this one but all I needed was that fish, crispy outside and firm but tender inside, floating on that yummy coconut broth. I hope that they consider making this a staple menu item. Delicious. Of course no tasting menu would be complete without dessert. I never hold out high hopes for dessert because I can't expect a restaurant to be good at EVERYTHING. This dessert was good...nothing more. A large hunk of chocolate truffle "tart" with a silky raspberry sauce. The truffle was rich and a bit much, but a welcome flavor to cap off the night.
When the check came my husband smiled. Rarely do you go out to dinner, have a wonderful time stuffing yourself with delightful cuisine in a cozy atmosphere while enjoying a nice bottle of wine, then look at the check and smile. $60. Yes, with tax the dinner came to $60 for a couple. If that isn't something worth smiling about, I don't know what is.
Reservations are necessary (and will probably have to be made weeks in advance) but it’s well worth the wait.
P.S. Keep an eye out for my review of Little Fish's brand new baby brother, Fish (I know....the owner really needs to come up with more imaginative names right?). I hear the entire menu will be under $20 and it will be lots of small plates and some larger ones. If it's half as good as my Little Fish Meal I'll be happy as a clam (no pun intended).