You would think that I haven’t actually eaten in the past few weeks for my lack of posting delicious looking pictures. In fact, we went to one meal that was so pricey that we’ve been sticking to boring basics like omelets for the rest of the week. While I am sure you’d love to hear all about my superb omelets* I am just going to fill you in on the one damn good meal we had this past week.
Last Thursday night, we checked out Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi’s Passyunk Square spot, Laurel. After waiting three months to get a table at this 24- seater restaurant we showed up, multiple bottles of wine in hand, for our 9:15pm reservation. One of the first things I noticed was the ambience of the tiny restaurant. The modern, yet comfortable design with its muted neutrals, dimmed down lighting, and little in the way of artwork was the first indication that this restaurant was all about the food.
With the prix-fixe contemporary French menu on its way, we had no decisions to make except for which bottle of wine to open first. (We started with a Cab. Sauv from B Wise Vineyards that we brought back from our trip to Sonoma last Spring.)
First up, was the East Coast Sea Urchin with Green Tomato, Cucumber and Ponzu Sauce. Sea urchin is typically not my favorite. I don’t generally taste the “candy” that other people do, but soapy sponge tends to come to mind. In this case, I really enjoyed the dish. It’s texture was more light and liquid than squishy and the asian preparation masked any taste (if there was any, of soap).
Next, we tasted the Cocoa Cured Fois Gras with Rhubarb, Black Walnut and Strawberry. The tart with a hint of sweet taste of the Rhubarb was such an interesting yin/yang to the buttery texture, and salty flavor of the Fois Gras. It doesn’t look like much in the bowl, but it certainly made up for its looks in taste.
Between courses we decided to really “go for it” and ordered the addition to the menu, the Risotto with Shaved Black Truffles. The presentation, was certainly special. The chef came out of the kitchen himself to introduce himself and shave the truffle directly on to the risotto, but the dish itself left something to be desired. I assume the risotto was intentionally bland in order to leave room to really taste the flavor of the truffle, but the truffle seemed to be lacking some of its natural flavor (Maybe it was a few days old? Turns out you should really eat a truffle within 5 days of foraging it.) I wouldn’t recommend this addition if you’ve tasted really good truffle dishes in Italy or France, it just didn’t stand up.
Course number three, was Wild Burgundy Snails, with Mushroom, Roasted and Pickled Spring Onion, Potato Espuma and Chip. This one wasn’t really the favorite of anyone at our table. We felt the snails were a bit too tough.
Course number four, was the simplest one and the most delightful. Pillowy-like clouds of Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi, with Pancetta, Stinging Nettle, and Sourdough equals heaven! I really contemplated asking for a full-sized portion of this and calling it a day.
Next up was the North Carolina Walu, Unripe Apricot, Chanterelle, Swiss Chard, Seaweed Butter. I really enjoyed the fish, but Dream complained that he felt his tasted way too fishy for Walu. There was nothing over the top unique about the dish, but it was a really nice preparation.
For the one course we were asked to choose I ordered the Lamb Shoulder with Charred English Peas, Fermented Turnip, and Riesling. Dream ordered the Roasted Peking Duck with Garlic Scape, Sea Beans, Coffee, Ver Jus. Both the meat and the bird were cooked to perfection, but at that point even though the dishes were small, we were so full. I felt that these two dishes were sort of the “safest” on the menu. The flavors paired well together, but I wasn’t blown away.
By course number seven, two hours and three bottles of wine (between three people) later, anything might have tasted excellent. Surprisingly, the Caramelized White Chocolate Pudding with Almond Streusel, Rice Pearls, and Cherry was one of the most creative items on the menu all night. Not a huge fan of white chocolate, I was skeptical when I saw this was my only option, but it did not disappoint one bit. The crunchy rice and the creamy pudding were the perfect ending to a great meal.
All in all, I feel that Laurel and it’s Chef created a beautiful meal with ambiance to boot, but I think the press may be giving the restaurant a bit too much credit on the creative side. Certainly, there were some unique pairings, but I would have liked to see something like this: