Noord eetcafe, East Passyunk Ave
This is a review of the recent Noord popup, but we are planning to go to opening night next week, so I'll be updating this soon...
Chef Joncarl Lachman's Noord is probably one of the 3 most eagerly anticipated restaurant openings in Philadelphia this year (I would say Cheu Noodle Bar and Serpico are the other two). Joncarl, whom I had a chance to hang out with a few weeks ago at Fond, is best known for HB Home Bistro, his New American BYOB in Chicago (Michelin Guide 2012: Recommendation), which he will be retaining ownership of, but is turning the kitchen over to his CdC. With Dutch parents and having grown up in Philly, he's now returned home to open what will undoubtedly be one of the most unique restaurants in Philly's thriving BYOB scene, and right in the center of it all, East Passyunk Ave.
With that as a backstory, a group of 4 of us (including @PhillyFoodDude, who arranged the outing) were excited to take in a popup preview of Noord, held at The Farm & Fisherman on April 22nd. Noord itself will be opening on May 8th.
There was an early and a late (8PM) seating, and we were fortunate to pick the latter, since it gave us the opportunity to linger over our meal and chat with the chef afterwards.
Here is the menu (verbatim; don't ask me to translate!). Between Google and chatting with Joncarl, it is apparent that the meal featured cuisine from a number of northern European countries, as will Noord. At least a couple of these dishes will appear on the opening menu.
DE BOERDERIJ EN VISSER - menukaart (see photos)
Maatjesharing (pickled fish, cucumber, pickled onion, toasted whitebread rusk)--We actually had this as our second dish (may have been a mistake). As Google indicates, this is "soused" or lightly pickled fish (presumably herring, but I didn't ask), a Dutch classic. Interesting, but not exactly wine-friendly or my appetizer of choice. Which brings up the point that this is not the easiest of cuisines to pair wine with, whether that is due to my inexperience with it or its inherent nature, I don't know. Beer might be a better bet, perhaps. But we did what we thought was best, and enjoyed the experience.
~2007 Peter Jakob Kühn Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Kabinett
Lohikeitto (Finnish salmon chowder, with leeks, cream, dill, parsley, savory-ish cookie)--I only had a couple of spoonfuls of this, but it was the consensus Dish of the Night, smooth, rich with seafood flavor and herbs, and likely to be on the opening menu.
Snert (Dutch pea soup, with smoked sausage, braised pork, mustard, rye)--My choice, this was closer to refried beans than soup in consistency, or as Joncarl said: "The spoon should stand upright in it!" Not my necessarily my favorite dish of the evening, but flavorful and satisfying--a great wintery dish that I enjoyed. And no, it is not named after Hagar the Horrible's cartoon dog (but I assume the dog was named after this dish, amusing given that was one of my favorite cartoons growing up and it's taken me until now to make the connection!).
Suriname Curry Lamb Shoulder (Madame Jeanette pepper, buttered pigeon peas, and mint)--My choice, a slightly sweet, dark curry, more of a ragu in my mind, with the shock of the chili on the side. Overshadowed by the Zuurkool (wasn't that one of the demons in Ghostbusters?), but I would definitely order this again.
Pan Roasted Quail (or thrush) Zuurkool (with Dutch sauerkraut, roasted fingerling potatoes, and apple gastrique)--Another dish that was among our favorites, utterly tender, with a sweetness from the apple that balanced the acid of the sauerkraut.
Konijn in het Zuur (Rabbit marinated in vinegar, wild boar belly lardons, turnips, brussels sprouts, caraway butter, and brasing jus)--Another dish everyone enjoyed sharing, again quite wintery, and the tender, moist meat avoided the overcooking so common in rabbit dishes.
~2010 Veramonte Pinot Noir Ritual
Shellfish and smoked salmon waterzooi--I only had a bite, but this was a much lighter fish stew than the other choice.
Shellfish zuurkool (shellfish steamed with braised cabbage, and pork bits)--My choice, this was a huge plate of mussles, clams and other goodies, in a rich dark sauce thick with porky cabbage. The opposite extreme from moules frites, but I wish I had some frites and a dark beer to go with it.
~2009 Ernst Bretz Gewürztraminer Spätlese
Boterkoek met Advocaat (buttercake with brandy almond cream)--This didn't sound like much, and as usual you don't really expect much from the average BYOB's dessert menu, most of which lack a dedicated pastry chef. But this was the exception that proved the rule, a delicious, moderately dense cake with a crisp layer of slivered almonds on top, and a quenelle-shaped dollop of brandy cream that was dessert by itself. Simple sounding, and it really was quite simple, but sometimes the simple things are best, and this really was one of the best desserts I've had so far this year.
Dutch chocolate custard--I had a spoonful, but I don't really remember it, I was so focused on the buttercake and sauternes.
~1998 Château Climens
An excellent meal, and everyone seemed to enjoy every single dish, although there were certainly standouts like the Lohikeitto and the buttercake that I hope make it on to Noord's menu.
Service, although a bit slow (not a big surprise, given the chef was dealing with an unfamiliar kitchen and staff), was what we expected from F&F. Actually, Josh Lawler had the night off, so it was all Joncarl in the kitchen. As usual, we were ably entertained by the adorable Judy (wife of F&F's sous chef), and also got to chat with Noord's Bob Moysan (another Philly native who coincidently went to the same high school as one of us!). Joncarl, who sat down to talk with several of the late tables, is charming and friendly.
Frankly, not really a misstep to be seen at this popup, which bodes well for Noord. The strong press coverage leading up to their opening is also a good sign that they will be able to get over the initial 'hump'.
However, I do worry that such hearty cuisine will put Noord on the outer edge of Philly fine dining BYOBs, a scene that is largely dominated by New American restaurants. In this regard, Noord will be more like Kanella or Koo Zee Doo, two of my favorites that don't seem to get nearly enough press, perhaps because the average diner feels less comfortable with their cooking styles than with those of Blackfish, Fond, or Matyson. Not a prediction, just a worry.
However, as good as Philly's BYOB scene is, I do sometimes find myself becoming a bit jaded with all these New American menus. Noord will definitely provide some well-needed variety to the mix.
Noord eetcafe had a very successful and packed opening night, last night. We tried a bunch of appetizers and several entrees.
Broodjes Haring...mini herring sandwiches, cucumber, pickled onion, on a dinner roll, $9 (Danish street food, looked like a Martin's bun)
Grilled Head-on Prawns...North Sea style citrus butter, chives, dill, $12 (loved the sauce, need to sop it up with the complementary soft baguette, which incidentally was served with soft garlic butter)
Cod cakes, one of two specials (very delicate inside the crispy exterior; incidentally, the other special was a whole black sea bass, deboned)
Seared Diver Scallop...mustard soup, caviar, tarragon oil, rye croutons, $12 (an unusual dish, I'm not sure it really came together for me)
Chopped Chicken and Duck Liver...atjar tjampoer, warm baguette, $11 (loved this, particularly with the pickled cauliflower for contrast)
Pork Belly Uitsmijter...duck egg, melted edam, brioche toast, greens, pickle, sesame-truffle vinaigrette, $12 (my kind of breakfast-for-dinner!)
Seared Norwegian Salmon "Lohikeitto"...chowder, leeks, baby potatoes, coriander, herbs, $24 (as at the popup, a killer dish, this time with a large portion of seared salmon on top)
Rotisserie Lancaster Co. 1/2 Chicken...herb stuffed, schmaltz-ey root vegetables, green salad, $18 (a monster chicken, must have be 4 lbs whole, so I could only finish half, great herby flavor, but curiously the roots were quite crunchy, which I assume was an error and the only one of the evening)
Konijn in het Zuur...rabbit leg confit, smoked sausage, lardons, baby turnips, zuurkool, $26 (a variation of the popup dish, fantastic)
Dessert (only 2):
Almond butter cake with bourbon cream (huge, but I preferred somewhat different version served at the popup)
They were pouring complentary bubbly, and we brought a range of Belgian ales and Normandy cider, which I think may generally be a better complement to the hearty food than wine.
Service was friendly and quick, with the apps flying out of the kitchen. But later Joncarl got "in the weeds" and the entrees took a while (there are only 2 cooks in the tiny open kitchen, for ~40 seats).
The space is attractive and comfortable (padded benches along the walls and large, well-spaced tables), with great lighting through huge windows that were open onto the street (letting in a nice breeze). The primo seats look to be the ~6 along the open kitchen. However, Noord is definitely a loud restaurant, even with the windows and door open.
A great addition to the East Passyunk Ave scene, I'm looking forward to returning.
And according to the Zagat blog, Fond across the street will be selling bottles of N European beers that you can take to Noord.
Another good idea is to head over to Fond after dinner at Noord, for some after-dinner drinks at their cozy bar.
I wish I lived near East Passyunk. I'd never leave!