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Feb 13, 2008 09:45 AM

Marigold Kitchen with Erin O'Shea

The sleet and rain gave me a hankering to get out of the house and let someone else take care of me last night, so I decided to give Marigold Kitchen a call. Luckily, they had an opening so we trekked through the muck to the warm confines of Marigold's Victorian home. I was glad to see Brett Meier-Tomkins was still at the helm when I arrived (Brett will be joining the Zahav team with former Marigold chef Michael Solomonov, which will allow his impressive oenological skills to shine in its full-service environment). We checked our coats and were quickly seated.

For the point of full disclosure, several years ago the Marigold crew allowed me to work for a few weeks as a runner as I was researching Philadelphian restaurants for journalistic reasons--and despite the fact that I was quite possibly the worst runner in culinary history, they were nothing but magnanimous when it came time to subtly tell me not to return in such a capacity. That said, I have not had a chance to return to Marigold for the last few years and have had no communication with them in that time.

We decided to put ourselves in the hands of former sous and now executive chef Erin O'Shea for the evening and chose the tasting menu. Accompanying the meal was a 1998 Aigle Blanc Vouvray from Prince Poniatowski, which was a bit thin considering what lay ahead of us. I'd like to note that every item we had is available ala carte on the regular menu.

First course: Chicken liver toast with apricot and pickled celery. What a start! The chicken liver was of the consistency of a good foie terrine. Rich, creamy, delicious. The apricot added the proper acidity and sweetness necessary to cut through the richness inherent in poultry liver. The celery added a tiny bit of tartness. My companion who generally turns her nose up at liver of any kind loved every bite, which may be the ultimate compliment to this dish. As an aside, I've been more than skeptical of the idea of faux gras ala Gourmet magazine's Ruth Reichl. This dish was enough to make me start saving the livers from my roasters.

Second course: Turnip Soup with Virginia Ham and Apple Biscuit. Creamy turnip soup poured tableside over a tiny biscuit covered with a dollop of apple puree and a scattering of Virginia country ham. Turnips? Who likes turnips? Well, it turns out that we do. The soup was dense and creamy with more of an undercurrent of turnip and potato (?) that worked wonderfully with the apple puree. Best of all were the tiny bits of ham that exploded in our mouths like salty, porky pop rocks. The biscuit was a nice focal point and helped to tie all the other elements together.

Third course: Buttermilk-Chive Cornbread with Creamy Collards, Wigwam Ham and Sunny-Side Egg. A southern riff on eggs benedict? My companion thought so. A delicious cornbread round topped with somewhat mild Wigwam ham, slow-cooked collards, and a perfectly cooked sunnyside egg. I wasn't as thrilled with this dish as she was. She felt it was perfectly balanced, while I thought it was a bit heavy. The cornbread is dense and for me, the wigwam ham didn't cut through as much as I had hoped. In retrospect, I think I was looking for the saltiness of the Virginian ham from the turnip soup, and instead got the funky, smokier elements of the wigwam (wigwam is an artisanal Virginian ham). For me, this was as close to a miss as we had, but as I mentioned earlier my companion loved it.

Fourth course: Jumbo Scallops with Tapioca Pearls, Mussels and Butternut Squash. "I thought I cooked scallops well until I ate this," she said, eyes mooning. In her defense, the quality of the scallops was something I've rarely encountering at my locals. The butternut squash brunoise added a wonderful earthiness and textural contrast to the soft tapioca, scallops, and mussels. Speaking of mussels, well, I thought I cooked mussels well until I ate this. They were soft and yeilding, unlike the gritty pencil erasers you get all too often in this city. A bit of lemon zest in the tapica/squash sauce was just enough to offset the richness of the rest of the dish.

Fifth course: Chicken Breast with Cornbread and Pear Stuffing and Braised Cippolinis. Ok, now I'm getting full. More meat? Yes, more delicious meat. Slices of skin-on chicken breast rolled around a deliciously light yet bright stuffing (a roulade if you will). Accompanied by a meltingly soft cippolini onion on one side and a few halved pan-fried brussels sprouts with a smoky sausage (Surrey?) Wonderful. The chicken was meltingly tender and juicy. The stuffing was a mix of moist cornbread and tart pear. But the sausage was the knock-out savory punch that really tied things together. I don't usually care chicken breast, which I find bland and dry even when brined and cooked properly, but this dish could change my mind.

Sixth course: Cheese plate with accompaniment. Three cheeses. Now please bear with me as I was rapidly approaching food coma by this point. The first cheese was a Washington state hard cow's milk with ummm...a tangerine or apricot preserve of sorts. I need to find more of this cheese: mild, and yet amazingly complex. I could eat this all day. The second was a quenelle of soft Pennsylvania goat cheese served with a brunoise of roasted red beets. A classic combination, and what it lacked in originality, it made up for in flavor. Finally, my favorite combinations: a slice of Bleu D'Auvergne with carob. Bleu D'Auvergne is a fairly standard french blue...straightforward and uncomplicated. But the addition of the treacly-sweet carob syrup rounded out the flavors perfectly by muting the classic blue "heat" in the front and yet allowing the cheese's finish to remain.

Finally, it's time for dessert. Two desserts--
Banana Bread Pudding with Coffee Ice Cream and Apple Tart with Almond Praline and Sour Cream Ice Cream. I have no comment on the bread pudding as I don't care for bananas, but my partner enjoyed what she could still manage to eat. I enjoyed the unexpected praline crunch of the apple tart, but it was the sour cream ice cream that really stood out. Possibly not to everyone's taste, but I enjoyed it very much mostly for it's unexpected sourness. La Colombe coffee rounded out this course.

The front of house staff were gracious, polite, and most importantly invisible unless necessary. Unlike I was a few years ago.

Needless to say, I'm happy that the very capable Ms. O'Shea has stepped into Michael Solomonov's impressive shoes so admirably. The idea of "new southern" cuisine is not one that immediately whet's my appetite, but the proof was in the tasting of that wonderful meal. I'm already looking forward to returning.

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  1. Boognish - what a fantastic review. I could almost taste the food as you described it. The end result - I made a dinner reservation for Sunday night.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nevets

      Boognish -- is their tasting menu typically offered, or only on certain nights? I didn't see it on their website.

      nevets -- I may see you there as I also have reservations for Sunday night :) On their website they list a Sunday Dinner special, three courses from their winter menu for $30. Based on Boognish's excellent descriptions above, I'm at a loss at to what I'll order; everything sounds delicious.

      The menu is posted here:

    2. You've captured my interest in visiting Marigold again. Has their brunch been cancelled? There's no mention of it on the website. I still remember the truffled eggs and grits.


      1 Reply
      1. re: Chinon00

        As far as I'm aware, they haven't offered brunch in a while. As I mentioned, I hadn't been there in quite some time, so I'm honestly not sure. Truffled eggs and grits sounds right up Erin's alley, and I wouldn't be surprised it that was thanks to her.

        If I recall correctly, last year they switched to set menus on Friday and Saturdays (by set I mean you had to order 3 courses for a certain price) with the $30 menu on Sundays. Other weeknights were ala carte. I don't know if the menu is as restricted now.

        We didn't realize there was a tasting offered on regular evening before we went, but it was on the menu on Tuesday, so I would imagine that's it's a standard option. Also, the tasting may only be 5 courses instead of the seven we received...once again, I'm not sure. We may have received somewhat special treatment in the breadth of the tasting, but I would imagine that the portions were pared down to make up for that breadth. And as I mentioned, every course was available ala carte. Also, I haven't seen the cheese course on their website before, so I'm not sure if that's an omission or relegated to the tasting. It was a smaller version of the 5-6 cheese course they used to offer.

        I really didn't know what to expect based on the idea of Modern Southern, but it was well worth the visit for us. Happy eating!

      2. is the thirty dollars for three courses something that they've done year-round in the past or is it just something to get business to pick up through the winter?

        also, lovin the fact that the v-day menu is inpsired by virginia, as that is where i am from.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tinymango

          I feel sorta silly answering this since I'm no Marigold expert, but as far as I'm aware, the $30 Sunday menu started a year ago? Maybe? I'm pretty sure it's not a seasonal thing.

          1. re: Boognish

            What a fine report!
            I gained 10 lbs. just reading it.
            It's nice to know that there is an authentic Southern dining experience -- very rare in our area.

            1. re: idia

              Any recent reports? Is the $30/3 courses deal still going on?

              1. re: Produce Addict

                was there mothers day and the $30/3 course is still on for Sundays. LaBan did a review in the Inky last week, and while I agree that it is a fine place to eat, I disagree with the surreal euphoria LaBan seems to have walked away with. Here is what we had:
                House Iced Tea; Nice Camomile with some herbage going on. 2:50 for a nice sized glass.
                Shrimp and Grits: They were very good grits. True are the reports that it is more like a risotto that the mushy stuff you may be used to, but in the end, they are still grits. I didn't like these particular grits with the shrimp, I thought that something mixed in, rather than on top, would have been better. The small chopped shrimp inside the grits were worked with the dish better than the shellfish on top, but for presentation's sake, I get it.
                Cornbread with Creamy Collards, Wigwam Ham and Fried Egg: A riff on Egg's Benidict. And a good one. The ham is funner to say than it is exciting to eat. Like prosciutto almost. The collards were nice and creamy, but maintained their integrity and bite. This dish may be a perfect microcosm of the new Marigold. You have these traditional Southern ingredients with new modern interpretations. Also, the dish is almost patronized by the plate it is served in. The plate was so big, I think it was the same size as my entree plate. That was a little weird.
                Porkchop: Great. Nice thick chop with great crispy tasty coating. Served with collards and white beans. Really good.
                Chicken Two Ways: The roasted chicken breast was perfectly cooked, and the dark meat filled saffron ravioli were good. The only beef I had with this dish was that the garlic in the spinach under the ravioli was a little too strong. The jus that tied the dish together was amazing and surprising to me, the pecan and parsley salad that came under the chicken breast was very satisfying flavor-wise.
                Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Malt: I am not too into Chocolate, but the cake was good. The vanilla malt was really really good with it.
                Apple Tart with Sour Cream Ice Cream: This was amazing. Best dish of the night, my best dessert I've had in awhile. Smartly done with peanut brittle inside the tart shell, and the ice cream was creamy, smooth, and out of this world. I wish it was bigger.

                Service was warm and waitress was very cute and sweet, but its hard, if not impossible, to strike up anything with anyone when your on a date.....with your mother!! I will be back and hope Erin does well. If they would just fine tune some things, they could really have something.

                1. re: Gorp512

                  I have eaten at Marigold under all three chef's: Cook; Solomonov and O'Shea, most recently about a month ago (see my post). I also had a very good meal and was very impressed with the pricepoint (entees lower than before I believe). That being said, I feel the food is no where near what it was under Cook or Solomonov (my personal favorite) in terms of execution and creativity. I find the food now to be well made and tasty comfort-type food but not cutting-edge cooking as it started out to be. Marigold has morfed into a very different restaurant food-wise, and that is fine, I just miss what it used to be (see my review in Philadelphia Style magazine from a few years back).

        2. We went for the 3-course $30 dinner at Marigold last night. Happily, the restaurant was pretty full (all tables in the front room filled at 7:30 pm) and they seem to be doing well. This was my first visit to the restaurant, so I can't comment on the relative merits of the current chef vs. the previous ones.

          I had the grits and shrimp starter, the halibut main course, and the apple tart dessert. I was very happy with the shrimp and grits although I was a little surprised that the shrimp were (mostly) not cooked along with the grits, but instead sauteed and then placed on top. It was delicious anyway, but the grits didn't pick up the shrimp flavor as per the usual preparation. The halibut was really the star of my meal--beautifully done with just a bit of seared crunch on the outside, and sitting on top of the most thrillingly tasty tiny black lentils that I have ever had (this may have had a lot to do with the amount of butter than must have gone into them). Mr. travelmad478 had the chicken breast/chicken ravioli combo and completely raved about it--I got one half of a ravioli and was very wowed.

          We both felt that the desserts were a letdown, comparatively. I was underwhelmed by the apple tart--the apples are cut in tiny dice, which does not make for an attractive presentation, and the sour cream ice cream (what drew me to the dish in the first place) had very little taste. Mr. travelmad478 had the warm chocolate cake/malted milk and described it as "fine chocolate cake, but nothing special." He said the shot of malted milk didn't do much for him.

          I would definitely head back, because there are many, many things on the menu that look great, and because the price of this deal is amazing for the quality of food you get. But next time I will get the cheese plate. It would be great if they hired a new pastry chef--the offerings do not do the rest of the menu justice.