This post covers the one meal I didn't describe in detail in my 24 Hours in Philly post. It's also
post #19 on on the 31 Posts in 31 Days Challenge!
It was the perfect night in Philly.
I had just finished giving a workshop at U. Penn with the Penn Taiwanese Students association. The students were delightful and the organizers were awesome. We all had so much fun. I walked away from the event feeling energized, motivated, and all around pleased with the way the day had gone so far.
The weather was perfect out. Unlike Boston, which received rain and chilly weather all weekend, Philly was blessed with warm sunny skies. Furthermore, trees were blooming full force and the cute neighborhood streets around U. Penn were bursting with color.
Finally, to top it all off, a breathtaking sunset began forming in the sky just as I stepped out to walk to my dinner at Marigold Kitchen.
Marigold Kitchen is a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) establishment. I love this commonly seen feature in Philly (Boston doesn't allow it) because I hate the insane markup prices on alcohol in restaurants and I like having the flexibility to bring wines that a restaurant may otherwise not carry.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I did not bring a bottle of wine for dinner this night because my friend wasn't able to drink, and I knew there was no way I could finish a bottle on my own (where's Bryan when you need him?).
Marigold Kitchen recently changed its format so there's no more menu. Everyone enjoys the same tasting ($85), with just one choice. On our particular day, that choice was salmon or beef. Everything else is a surprise, though I knew that in general the chef dabbles quite a bit in modernist (common called "molecular gastronomy" though chefs hate that term) techniques.
Our first course was the Shrimp Puff Ceviche served with an "Avocado Cloud". It reminded me of a really fancy chips and guacamole, but replacing the chips with the shrimp puff, which had the texture of a pork rind. It was light, crispy, and flavorful. I personally enjoyed it quite bit, though for some reason my friend wasn't a big fan.
The next mini course (more like a bite) was a single spoonful of their Foie Gras Muesli. A small pile of savory meusli sat on top of a small dollop of foie gras creme. The spoon was a bit colder than I would have liked (perhaps these were stored in the refrigerator?) but the bite was overall pleasant.
The next course, Fruits de Mar, included a wild king salmon rillette, smoked oysters (in the bowl), and marinated boquerones (anchovies) on skewers.
Here's a closer look at the salmon rillette.
The dish came with little toasts on the side, which we piled up with various combinations of the seafood. This version I made includes a bit of the salmon rillette, smoked oyster, boquerones, and pickled baby turnip.
One of my favorite courses of the entire tasting was the Butternut Squash Cappuccino, a smooth and creamy blended butternut squash soup came topped with a cinnamon foam. The velvety soup itself was sweet, fragrant, and utterly decadent. The foam added a lovely dimension delivered in a creative vehicle.
The next course, the Tuna Tartare, was definitely unusual in that it came with fava beans, strawberries, and a tamari-lemon vinaigrette. This dish was unique but in the end, I was not the biggest fan. I wasn't convinced that strawberries and fava beans made the best combination with the tuna.
The Duck Egg was topped with salt and pepper and served with English peas, guanciale, grilled spring leeks, and sour dough croutons in a Parmesan broth. The egg was delicious and the Parmesan broth added a lovely, salty richness and umami to the entire dish.
The next course, General Tso's Sweetbreads came with with broccoli florets, broccoli blooms, and broccoli puree. The flavors were less sweet and had more umami (reminded me of miso) than your typical Chinese-American restaurant glazed version. Overall the dish was OK, though the flavors and overall preparation did not strike me as particularly exciting or complex.
The next course was a classic Pork Belly Bao with cute little Sriracha mayo dots on the side. The bun was satisfying and pretty tasty, though it wasn't too different from other pork belly buns I've had.
For our final course, we both chose the Wild King Salmon, which was seared with "Everything spices". On the side were pickled potato "noodles" tossed with salmon roe, new potatoes, and thinly sliced radish served over a pesto-like "sauce Verte".
The grilled salmon was fine, though I didn't find its flavors to be particularly exciting. I did really like the crunchy pickled potato noodles, which reminded me of the semi-raw potato salad that I love from northwestern Chinese restaurants.
We enjoyed three local cheeses, all from Valley Shepherd Creamery in New Jersey, which were served with grapes (excellent!), walnuts, and a fruit jam.
Along with the cheese came this delicious puff cheese bread, which we devoured.
Finally came a dessert simply called Strawberry, which incorporates a lot of modernist techniques. Pictured above is the frozen mint foam, which sort of has the texture of chocolate but melts upon contact because it's so airy.
There's also pieces of a lemon sponge cake and plumped pistachios. It was a fun dessert, and I especially enjoyed the texture of the frozen mint foam.
The next course, just titled Follies, ended up being these cute little chocolate presents that in reality were chocolate liquid filled bombs!
They were fun to eat and delicious, as long as you didn't try eating them in two bites (oops!).
I really loved the final mignardise, a simple Green Tea Macaron that was delicious and a nice way to cap off the meal.
I had a wonderful time at Marigold Kitchen catching up with my friend. We had not talked in years, so we spent much of the meal just talking about all sorts of stuff. A long meal is a great way to spend more time together, and the folks at Marigold Kitchen were great in accommodating our timeframe. The servers took great care of us, gently asking for permission each time they had to interrupt our lively conversation to explain each of the thirteen (!) courses.
Overall, my impression is that the food ranges from excellent to ordinary to sometimes a bit weird. My favorites were the Butternut Squash Cappucino (which seems to be a general favorite) and the Duck Egg.
The menu changes frequently, and with their current menu model you don't have much of a choice anyway about which dishes to order. This means that it's a fun place to take your chance at really innovative and unusual flavor combinations that make use of the latest modernist food techniques. Just don't expect all of those cutting edge experiments to always work.
Some have said that if this meal were in New York, you could charge $150 for it, and thus it's a great value. That may be true, except I would argue that most restaurants in New York that charge those types are prices are a bit more refined and sophisticated in the flavors of their dishes.
Nevertheless, Marigold Kitchen is most certainly a creative, fun, and unusual restaurant. The ambiance is cozy and the overall experience is fun. I do like the BYOB aspect of it, and there are enough winners on the tasting menu that it's still worth visiting, especially for $85, which is quite reasonable for so many courses.
University City 501 S 45th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
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