Jan 25, 2011

An Evening at Slate Restaurant in Philadelphia

Back in early December I snagged one of those excellent online coupons for a restaurant. This particular one was dinner for two (drinks, entrees, desserts) for $40.00 at Slate, a chic little neighborhood restaurant on 21st Street, between Chestnut and Sansom. We used the coupon on Friday night, to celebrate Mr. Dream Kitchen's birthday. I met him in the lobby of his building and we walked through the extreme cold for a neverending 8 1/2 minutes. What with the wind and the hood on my jacket, I was having a thoroughly bad hair day. Which I forgot about right away when we were led to our draft-free table in a side alcove.

(By the way, we know it was Restaurant Week, but ever since being served a dull Caesar salad at Brasserie Perrier (R.I.P), in a brightly lit banquet room, not even the fun part of the restaurant, we have religiously avoided Restaurant Scam Week.)

When it comes to deciding which chair to sit in, I have a strong preference. I want to face the action, not a wall. I assume that's how most people feel. Mr. Dream Kitchen had the "good" seat this evening, as birthday boy. I did get to evaluate a painting with super gloppy brushwork--I can't think of the formal word for that right now, but I'm sure it's French--the paint was so thick that the lighting created a nightlike shadow under the biggest glop. Browns and greens were stripily smeared, vertically and horizontally, in a large checkerboard pattern. It was the way a forest would appear, if you had observed it while spinning on a whirligig and jumping on a pogo stick.

I'd always wanted to try a Manhattan, so I ordered the "Slate Manhattan," which had sour cherries and some of their juice. It was very strong and very good. The cherries were a nice match for the bourbon and the whole concoction went smoothly with my cassoulet. Not an especially complex drink, but regal and warming. John ordered a ginger pomegranate mojito, which was wonderfully herbal, astringent, and sweet in the same sip, just the way a mohito should be.

Now don't you think it's a little strange that our server came up to me and said, "Our chef accidentally started to make the Glazed Duck Breast instead of the cassoulet. We wanted to give you the opportunity to order that if you want." I stopped myself from saying "I already had the opportunity to order it, and I didn't, so why would I order it now?" Instead, I politely said, after a brief pregnant pause, "I'd like the cassoulet," without making a fuss. Making a fuss or being sarcastic isn't my style in a restaurant. The server should not have made me rethink my order, thus feeling a little guilty for whatever food waste may have been incurred. That was the kitchen's problem, not mine.

Speaking of making a fuss, the next day I took my Dad to lunch, not where I planned to go, but to a restaurant conveniently located next door to where my car had broken down. I should really have made a fuss about some desultory blobs of Cheez Whiz that were lying obscenely in my taco salad, instead of actual cheese. However, I was too busy keeping an eye out for the tow truck's arrival in the parking lot next door. I was also pretending my Dad and were having a nice lunch when we weren't (the company was great, not the "food"), and so creating unpleasantness was not on the agenda.

I need to wipe the image of the Cheez Whiz blobs out of my mind, so let's return to Slate. My cassoulet was perfect, with crisp duck and smoky, creamy beans. John's filet was rare and tender, with a truffly sauce. And he had very civilized mashed potatoes with decorative ridges from a pastry bag.

Now for the dessert. Be forewarned that I often find dessert choices problematic. John ordered chocolate cake with a hazelnut praline filling, and I ordered a chocolate cake with a citrus filling and a blueberry compote. I thought the hazelnuts in John's were not fresh, but my cake was very fine. I'm not totally convinced about blueberry and chocolate, but it was a nice try. Our other choices were Rollo bread pudding and--yawn--crème brûlée. I detest this fad in which pastry chefs get cute with processed candy, and am dying for it to be over already. In between the faddish Rollo bread pudding and the tired crème brûlée the only other options were two chocolate cakes? Slate must try a little harder. I always look for cobblers, crisps, tarts, and pies in a dessert menu. Or what about rice pudding? Stop trying to be clever. Have one chocolate option. Just use the freshest ingredients and execute the dishes well.

And, dear reader, why does crème brûlée persevere so?

1 comment:

Helen said...

I'm with you on the crisps, cobblers, etc., and I also inwardly groan when I see Yet Another Crème Brûlée. BUT.

1) Think back to the first time you had crème brûlée. It was a long time back, but I know I went on a spree that lasted at least a year, ordering it wherever I saw it. It really is a fantastic dessert, and one that a reasonably competent pastry chef can always nail.

2) I try to remember that many people eat out far less frequently than I do, so it doesn't feel overexposed to them the way it does to me.

3) Who am I kidding? If someone orders it, I totally steal bites.

4) Better crème brûlée than the pointless "selection of ice creams and sorbets". The only place I have been in the last 3 years with a more interesting selection than the Whole Foods freezer case was James.

Not that I've given this topic way too much thought or anything.