In October of '09 I wrote about the wonderful experience the hubby and I had at a little restaurant in South Philly called Little Fish (link to my post). Little fish was a tiny, 22 seat seafood restaurant that had won the hearts of seafood lovers everywhere. At the time of our Little Fish meal, the owner and head chef, Mike Stollenwerk, had decided to hand the reigns over to his sous chef, Chad Jenkins, and Mike headed out in search of bigger and hopefully better things. So he opened Fish (he's a great chef but no one said he was a wordsmith). Perhaps chef Jenkins was working extra hard to prove he had the chops to take over Little Fish, or, perhaps he's just THAT good, but whatever the reason, our meal that evening was sublime. It was a 5 course tasting menu at an unbelievable price of $28/person. Each course was absolutely packed with flavor, texture and pazazz. So when we heard that Stollenwerk's newly opened Fish was offering their very own 5 course, $28/person tasting menu we jumped at the opportunity for another amazing night and spectacular meal. As much as I hate to say this, I felt like Little Fish blew "big" fish right out of the water.
We moseyed out of the subway last night and down the quiet residential street where Fish lives. We walked into the restaurant and were pleased by it's appearance. It was cozy yet spacious (very unlike it's predecessor). It had a nice sized bar and adjacent to said bar was the ice chest that housed the raw bar fixins. We were seated immediately, ordered some cocktails and were given some bread and goat milk butter. I'm going to pause right here and say that thinking back on last night's meal, the one thing that stands out more than almost everything else was that butter. It was mild and creamy, and it actually was reminiscent of chevre. Amazing. I MUST find some. Ok, back to the story. Before we went, as always, we read the normal Fish menu, as they had not posted the tasting menu online. I skimmed the offerings and made of wish list of the things I hoped he would give us tastes of...perhaps he would start us off with the Peeky Toe Crab Ravioli, or the Octopus Carpaccio!...oh, and how I wished upon wishes that the salad course would feature his Baby Beet Salad topped with crispy chicken skin (chicken skin...on a salad...yes please!)...as for the mains I was happy to try anything on the sample menu as it all looked delicious. Back at the restaurant the time had come...we opened our menus to see what amazing tastes we would be experiencing that evening. The menu read as follows:
Smoked Salmon Tartare with fried pumpernickel and shaved egg yolk
Fried Bristol Bay Oyster with pickled fennel and an aioli
Baby Arugula with lemon, olive oil and Parmesan
Mahi Mahi with roasted fingerling, brussel leaves and lobster reduction
The salmon tartare came out in a lovely presentation and the quality was fantastic. However, it was just smoked salmon, chopped up and dressed up a bit. And there were a few (tiny) random pieces of fried pumpernickel bread strewn across the plate. I would have like some more crunch to contrast the lump of chopped fish. I eat smoked salmon a few times a month and as I was eating THIS tartare I thought to myself, "Gosh. I think I'm going to start chopping up pieces of smoked salmon and putting them on some dark pumpernickel with some egg yolk for parties. It will be super easy to do". When I eat a dish at a restaurant and think, "that would be easy to do at home" I get a little...or a lot bummed.
The oyster (pictured left) was fried well and when eaten alone it was tasty but the dollop of aioli and mound of pickled fennel were almost larger than the oyster itself. I love the taste of a good oyster, and unfortunately I couldn't properly taste this one.
Then came the rabbit food. The hubby thought that the menu might have had a typo, as neither he nor I could imagine that they would serve us a mound of arugula dressed with oil and a piece of cheese. I buy a small garbage bag full of baby arugula at the Reading Terminal Market for about $1.75 each week and here I was paying for a plate of it...poorly dressed at that! If he had added a few beets and even a sliver of that chicken skin I was dreaming about I would have loved it.
The mahi mahi was probably the star of the show. Finally we were served a decent sized piece of protein that was packed with flavor. It was perfectly cooked and sat atop a pool of the most delicious lobster reduction I've had in a long time. As I swirled my fork around the sauce I remembered where I had previously tasted a similarly delightful concoction...Little Fish. I believe it was a crab reduction at Little Fish, however, the lobster reduction at Fish brought me right back to that meal...until I realized that I wasn't there...and that my meal at Fish was almost over. This one wow-worthy dish, I felt, came too late.
As for the rest of it...the chocolate torte was fine and a nice, rich cap to the meal. Nothing to write home about. And the wait staff was nice enough. A little rough around the edges (I like to be brought more bread without having to be asked if I want it...and things like that...asking for more bread to dip in that AMAZING butter made me feel like Miss Piggie). The price was reasonable and the wine list was actually rather nice. We had a few glasses of the Fuzelo from Portugal at $7 a pop, which was a pleasant and welcome surprise. The cocktails they offered were also quite nice...an Old Fashioned, a Pimms Cup (a personal fav), etc. And the atmosphere itself was, honestly, better than that of Little Fish.
I guess when it's all said and done I just feel like a tasting menu should highlight the BEST you have to offer. If you're sending out tiny portions (that people of course expect to get when they sign up for a tasting), then at least send out tiny portions of mind blowing food. I hate to go back to the tasting I had at Little Fish again, but I must. The portions there were substantial AND the food was mind blowing. If the tasting Fish offered made me feel as though I was just seeing the tip of the culinary iceberg then I would certainly return for another meal, or maybe even two. But when you taste 5 items and only say "wow" to a tiny portion of sauce, it seems that you didn't showcase the best you had to offer...at least for Fish's sake, I hope that's the case.
1708 Lombard Street