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Ela

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cwdonald Nov 16, 2011 05:59 AM

Its always a bit of a gamble to dine at a restaurant so close to its opening,.Nevertheless Ela did not disappoint.

To begin with the space is wonderfully warm and inviting, with a beautiful bar, and dark wood everywhere. The cocktail list is small but ambitious. I had the "Tommy Gun," an updated Dark and stormy with smoked blackstrap molasses and vanilla. It was a very nice drink. My DC had a drink that contained Calvados and apple cider, and is served warm. The bartender talked about their ambition to infuse their own liquors, as well as make their own bitters in addition to the syrups they are already making. That in and of itself will make Ela a destination worth returning to over and over.

The menu is offered in four parts, smallest bites to the largest. I started with the shrimp with garclic panna cotta, which was a dish full of flavor. I also tried the hamachi with green apple and horseradish. I expected more of a punch from the horseradish, but it was a very nice bite.

I followed that with an interesting salad made with beets and poached quince, served with yogurt like sauce. The quince was surprisingly mild, but it was very nice dish.

The next dish I had was the scallop noodles... served with shaved carrott and sesame and blood orange, this was a very interesting dish. Lots of flavor, but not the normal caramelized scallop that you come to expect. My DC had a duck breast served with pretzel spaetzel and smoked butternut squash purree. I would have liked a bit more smoke in the squash, and the pretzel spaetzel was very salty. Duck could have been warmer but was well cooked.

Dessert, split a pumpkin pie, which was more like a pumpkin mousse sitting atop gingersnaps with roasted figs on the side. It was a very nice update on traditional pumpkin pie.

There are several dishes that I didn't try that I expect folks will be talking about, including a foie dish with huckleberry, as well as a dessert that includes chocolate chip cookie dough (bit of a gimmick to me...).

I expect them to add a tasting menu similar to Blackfish, and to continue to add to their drink program.

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    urbanfabric RE: cwdonald Nov 16, 2011 07:05 AM

    Thanks for the review, sounds like a good addition to the neighborhood. Did they rearrange the space? Is there still a bar? Can you stop in for a cocktail and a small snack?

    7 Replies
    1. re: urbanfabric
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      cwdonald RE: urbanfabric Nov 16, 2011 07:10 AM

      The bar still dominates the room. They are only open from 5pm on, but getting there around 6pm yesterday I did see folks eating at the bar. The menu is small plates so you certainly should be order some of the smaller items at the bar, (no bar menu per se that I was aware of... ). Place did not start to fill up until around 7pm, but it was a Tuesday. I think it definitely could be a neighborhood drink/snack kind of place. I was speaking with the bartender and she said on their opening night it was filled almost completely with people who lived in the neighborhood, who had been regulars at Ansil and all knew each other. It will be interesting to see if it keeps that neighborhood feel or whether it becomes more of a destination dining place.

      1. re: cwdonald
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        urbanfabric RE: cwdonald Nov 16, 2011 07:13 AM

        Good to know, thanks. I could see it being a weeknight neighborhood place and a destination on the weekends. I think there was a big void to fill between James, Ansill, and Adsum all leaving. There are only so many seats at the bar at Southwark!

        1. re: cwdonald
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          barryg RE: cwdonald Nov 16, 2011 07:15 AM

          I doubt they will make it if they don't get a destination crowd, not sure if there is room for both Southwark and Ela as upscale "drink and snack" neighborhood places. What are the prices like?

          1. re: barryg
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            cwdonald RE: barryg Nov 16, 2011 07:25 AM

            Prices range from 8-23 dollars per course. They have this progressive small to larger plate concept which I am not a big fan of. In speaking with the manager he said they expected to put in a tasting menu prixe fixe sometime before the end of the year. Drinks are in the 10-12 dollar range for cocktails. Beer slightly less, though they appear to be serving in 10 oz glasses the way the Oyster House does rather than pint glasses. I did not look at the wine list.

            1. re: cwdonald
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              barryg RE: cwdonald Nov 16, 2011 07:33 AM

              Hate to say it but unless it becomes a hot destination draw, it doesn't sound like a recipe for success in this neighborhood which doesn't have a history of supporting anything more than a pub. Nothing to do with quality of the food, everything about the neighborhood. Even Southwark does not fill the restaurant portion.

              I'll go try it for snacks and drinks for sure though.

              1. re: ftarazu
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                barryg RE: ftarazu Nov 17, 2011 08:02 AM

                David Ansill and Matt Levin didn't make it in that 'hood... a lot of people don't like to go near South Street on weekend nights and the neighborhood itself cannot support restaurants in this price range.

                Don't mean to be a downer, Bistrot la Minette is an exception to this rule. I am excited to check Ela out and I with them a lot of luck.

                1. re: barryg
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                  Beulah RE: barryg Nov 17, 2011 08:56 AM

                  We ate there the other night and liked it very much. We ate in the back room ( at our request) where it was away from the bar crowd. My husband had the gnocchi, which he liked a lot, and I had the sweet potato soup with coffee carmel -- very good. I had the scallop dish and he had fish. We shared the pumpkin "pie", which was excellent. I had a classic gin martini, which was good and strong. We hope it makes it because we live in the neighborhood and like places within walking distances to succeed if they're good.

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        barryg RE: cwdonald Dec 4, 2011 12:30 PM

        Stopped in for cocktails and a couple plates at the bar Sat night around 7:00. Surprisingly there were a lot of empty tables and the bar was less than half full, but with so many new places opening these past few weeks the foodies have a lot of rounds to make.

        Cocktails were good. Not a fan of the small list of modern cocktails but they made a good Manhattan though the bourbon selection was paltry.

        Tried the pork belly and shrimp dishes. I have to admit that while I liked the shrimp dish, I didn't really "get it." I enjoyed it but the popcorn (not listed on the menu but a prominent part of the dish) didn't really add anything, the roe taste got lost, and the whole thing seemed over-conceptualized. But it tasted good and it was a very good portion at $8. The pork belly was a good dish, a nice cut with more meat than fat, perfectly prepared, probably the best pork belly I've had besides Dandelion last season (haven't tried it since it's back on the menu there). The sourdough risotto was delicious too, but the broccoli rate was very bitter, not sure if that was intentional to balance with the other flavors, but to me it was an overly bitter preparation. Fair value at $20, it was a good portion and if sharing an app and/or dessert, would be a fine entree for one person.

        One thing I didn't like was that the bar seats were close to the tables. Servers and patrons had to squeeze behind us at the bar which made it less cozy than it could have been. The split bar situation is also weird, the second half has no beverage service or bartender. No one was sitting there so not sure how that will work in practice. Not sure who you would order from, or what the vibe would be like with no drink making action to look at.

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          kasiav RE: cwdonald Dec 7, 2011 06:43 PM

          grabbed a quick last minute dinner a few saturdays ago. place was full (i had checked opentable about an hour before to see about reservations. at 6pm they were booked till 8:15 for a 2 top) but you can get the full menu at the bar. for some reason there were 3 formally dressed managers/front of house(s)? weird.

          bf and i split a medium plate which was definitely a lunch or appetizer sized portion (gnocchi with cauliflower and hen of the woods mushrooms) and a large plate (braised shortrib with sweetbreads, pumpkin, and something sweet, i forget what). absolutely loved the dipping oil that came with the bread that i think was just basil and garlic but the taste was so fresh and full of flavor all i have been able to think about is infusing my own olive oil. the food was good, but this oil was my favorite part of the meal.

          the cocktails were all super interesting, and all $11. bf had one with ginger beer, smoked blackstrap molasses, rum, and vanilla (over ice in a normal sized glass) and i had a gin/burnt sugar/absinthe/citrus concoction that was made with a foamer (not mentioned on the menu) served in a vintage martini glass. mine was absolutely delicious and complex in a way that was unexpected, but i felt a little gypped because the drink was probably only about 2 shots worth of liquid and the rest was this foam. it was really good but come on. bf was super into his house-made giant piece of candied ginger garnish, and the bartender mentioned they want to start brewing their own ginger beer, making their own bitters, and even down the line doing their own spiced rum.

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            Buckethead RE: cwdonald May 7, 2012 09:06 AM

            I tried Ela over the weekend. While I liked it more than Mica (which I don't like at all) or Blackfish (which I'd like a lot more if their menu ever changed), I don't see myself going back. We skipped the "Third Bites" entirely and had almost every First and Second bite, the only one I'd recommend out of all of them was the foie gras dish, with gooseberries and celery raisin bread. The scallop noodle dish was interesting for one bite, but if you are going to take the time to dismantle a scallop and reassemble it into a noodle, the noodle needs to be an improvement on the scallop you started with, and this wasn't, not by a long shot. I would have greatly preferred the same dish either with an actual scallop or with some actual noodles. The scallop noodle was inferior to both, just a ridiculous exercise in culinary wanking. Almost everything else fell into the same category that most of my meals/dishes at Mica and Blackfish have fallen into: technically fine, executed properly, but boring. With the exception of the foie dish, I didn't have anything I'd make a trip back there to eat, and one dish out of eight meeting that standard isn't enough.

            Desserts were nothing special either, particularly the "hot chocolate chip cookie dough" Laban raved about. I might have enjoyed it more if it had been accurately labeled on the menu. There is nothing hot about it, it's cold. The only chocolate in the dish comes from some not-so-chocolatey mini-chips. There is no cookie dough, no hot chocolate, or anything reminiscent of either of them in the dish. The dominant flavor is banana, which is listed last in the subtitle of the menu description. When the menu says "hot chocolate chip cookie dough" in bold letters and "vanilla-bay custard, banana" underneath, call me crazy but I was expecting a dessert that in some way involved hot chocolate and cookie dough (or at least some flavors and textures kinda sorta like either one!) as the main event. We liked the other dessert, manjari chocolate, a lot more.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Buckethead
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              ftarazu RE: Buckethead May 7, 2012 06:22 PM

              That scallop noodle dish is the best single dish in all of Philly.

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              borntolovefood RE: cwdonald Aug 1, 2012 08:47 AM

              Who would have guessed that eating would lead to an ever-expanding social circle, and a very treasured one at that?

              Went to Ela for the first time last night. I was there because a Yelp friend told me about the collaboration dinner featuring Shola. Once there, I bumped into folks whom I have met at Shola's and was introduced to some whom I will run into in the future. By the end of the dinner, next table and ours, total strangers just 2 hours ago, were setting up plans to meet and cook together.

              Just read some reviews on Ela. So, this kind of food is called "Progressive American"? In that case, I am all for Progressive and, as always, all for American.

              Food at Ela: GOOD.

              2 Replies
              1. re: borntolovefood
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                Buckethead RE: borntolovefood Aug 1, 2012 09:27 AM

                Just to be clear, you had dinner there on a night when dinner was a planned event being put on by 4 chefs, Shola Olunloyo, Chris Kearse, Monica Glass, and of course Jason, who is the chef at Ela. So what you ate there is not what is served there on a daily basis.

                1. re: Buckethead
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                  Gaetano X RE: Buckethead Aug 24, 2012 03:05 PM

                  I was hoping to catch this collaboration but couldn't make it. Anyone review the dishes or have pics of the plates?

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                tfalbo RE: cwdonald Aug 1, 2012 03:48 PM

                I actually just ate at Ela over the weekend (Saturday night so it was just the regular crew in the kitchen). Wasn't sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised.

                I got to try about half of the menu. Overall I liked the food quite a bit. They recommend all three courses, and we found it to be a fair amount of food to be filled but not stuffed. (as for cost, more to come...)

                On the firsts: The tomato salad was extraordinary. One of the best bites of tomato that I've ever had. I had the fluke and liked it enough. There was a vanilla/white asparagus puree on the plate, which was alternately pleasant and kind of precious. The gazpacho, ordinarily not my favorite, was quite pleasantl. Very clean flavors and thought the crab was a nice touch. The member of our party with the oysters wouldn't share (!!!), but he said that they were the best he'd had in the city (and our last meal together was at Fish, where I enjoyed the oysters quite a bit).

                Seconds: I tried the gnocchi, scallop noodles, and banh cam. The scallops were my course. I found them interesting and was glad I tried it, but would probably order an alternative second plate in the future. I liked the gnocchi, i thought it was a new and creative combination of ingredients that played well together, and the gnocchi stood up well to the broth (I wasn't sure if the broth would start to erode them). The banh cam was far and away the star of this course. I thought it was delicious, and not something I come across in my typical dining circuit.

                For thirds, I had the pork belly which was excellent and cooked perfectly. Barbeque lentils were a nice touch. The halibut was also very good, and there was a salmon special that I tasted but am not remembering.

                They actually brought the warm cookie do back for desert, based on the Best of Philly nod. I enjoyed it quite a bit, except I don't love bananas and the part of the desert that looked like cookie dough was actually bananas. The only presence of cookie dough in the desert is a warm sauce that was poured over the bananas and ice cream, and was extremely delicious. In my dreams it would have been poured over ice cream and what you would picture in your head when you hear the phrase "warm cookie dough". I also tried a chocolate-several-ways desert and thought it was quite good.

                Overall, like I said, I would give the food high marks. Same with cocktails. I had the Tommy Gun and absolutely loved it. Would have had 10 with someone else's liver!

                Service was good, knowledgable, and attentive without overwhelming us. It was perhaps a little bit hyperbolic at times (I recall someone describing the service at Sbraga using a more graceful term to describe what I am trying to say, though I can't think of it now).

                We also had some serious sticker shock when the bill came. We certainly induldged quite a bit (3 courses each + a couple of deserts, and we didn't hold back on wine or cocktails, but we are not big eaters and even with the abundant orders we didn't bring home leftovers (this is very rare for us), so it wasn't as if we ordered an exceptional amount of food. We ended up clocking out over $100 per person with tip. While not outrageous it was more than we were expecting. I think with careful ordering you could probably control costs a little bit, but who goes out to order carefully? So we will probably not work it into the regular rotation, but I'll plan to be back at some point.

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                  borntolovefood RE: cwdonald Oct 10, 2012 08:40 AM

                  Received a flyer in my email. This one is piquing my interest, in a very pleasing way. The question I have is not "Go or not go?" but "Shall I do 1, 2, or all 3?"

                  Was born in the year of the Pig. The best thing my parents could have done to me since I have lived a very piggy life of eat, drink and be merry. If you go and see a gray-haired old Asian woman looking very happy, that's yours truly. Please wave and say "Hi".

                   
                  1 Reply
                  1. re: borntolovefood
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                    cwdonald RE: borntolovefood Oct 10, 2012 09:34 AM

                    The opportunity to eat Shola's food is something that should not be missed. All others are good.. but the Shola opportunity really stands out.

                  2. PhillyBestBYOB RE: cwdonald Jan 30, 2014 07:07 PM

                    Ela is doing a 25% off promotion via Savored.com, for Sundays and Tuesday-Thursday:

                    https://savored.com/philadelphia/ela/

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                      barryg RE: cwdonald Jun 22, 2014 08:38 AM

                      I finally got back to Ela last night, have not been since they first opened.

                      We had a really great meal. We did the 4 course "tasting menu" (really just a prix fixe as you select from the a la carte menu).

                      Got to try:
                      * kale salad with bottarga
                      * scallop "noodle" stir fry
                      * gnocchi
                      * spanish octopus
                      * salmon with hearts of palm, beets, guava, thai chili
                      * duck thigh "steak" with smoked goat cheese grits, charred romaine, blueberries
                      * cookie dough dessert
                      * dunbarton cheese

                      Mostly everything was fantastic, with great flavors, textures and preparation.

                      The only exceptions, interestingly, were the dishes we had heard about before: the scallop noodles and the cookie dough. The scallop noodles were ok, but I didn't love the texture of the noodles and the flavor of the dish ended up as generic "stir fry," like you might get in a cafeteria. Kind of a flop IMO. The cookie dough was also fine but a bit too milk-chocolately if that makes any sense. Probably just not our cup of tea.

                      Service was excellent. The pacing of the meal was perfect and the portions very generous. I don't think we could have eaten an additional course, but maybe they make the portions a little smaller on the 5 and 6 course options. At $45 for the four course menu, it was a very good value. We enjoyed the wine list, it is small but had interesting choices with many available by the glass. Most bottles were in the $50 range too.

                      Place was full at 8pm but was not loud in the back room. Not sure about volume in the front where the bar is. Atmosphere is nice, though a little dark. The presentations looked very nice too, but it was so dark it was hard to get a good look.

                      We were kind of lukewarm on the place after our first try a couple years ago, but I'm really glad we went back.

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