- PhillyBestBYOB Jun 20, 2013 07:48 PM
Opens Friday on South St. Anyone else going?
Loved my dinner at Serpico! Had an early dinner, and was seated at the Chef's counter where I enjoyed watching the preparation of the dishes. My favorites were: the foie gras with the frozen grapes; the scallops with the poppyseed dressing; the duck breast; the apple dessert which is now my new favorite dessert, and the rocky road dessert (I love anything with marshmallow). Next time I want to get the egg custrd with caviar since the guys sitting next to me raved about it. Service was very friendly and attentive. Noise level was fine. Decor had a cool industrial vibe. Definitely plan to return to try more of the menu!
had dinner this evening - it was booked up on OT but had no problem walking in. they have a long bar around the open kitchen with a lot of availability
menu has a surprising amount of items i recognized from the momofuku cookbook (Fluke with Buttermilk, Soy & Poppy Seeds just done with scallops instead, Shaved Foie Gras, Lychee & Pine Nut Brittle has elderflower gelee instead of lychee etc). not complaining, i think its a great way to experience momofuku without the drive or line but i do think this is a little sketchy since david chang is not affiliated (from what i can tell) but a momofuku alum is. i know you cant really patent a dish but this menu goes beyond heavily borrowing...
anyway, we had
scallop crudo with buttermilk, poppy seeds, shoyu. i've made the cookbook version, loved it then, loved it now. very summary, great flavor for a light dish
market ceviche razor clams, oysters, pineapple, seaweed and fennel (this tasted very 'green.' refreshing but not sure i'd order again)
hand torn pasta with chicken sausage, snails, crispy chicken skin, pecorino (this was weird and tasty, pasta was perfect)
caper brined trout pan seared nice and crispy with smoked potato salad (no mayo), peperoncini, blue crab (didnt see this in the dish), trout roe, chive oil. no capers, basically fish on a bed of tiny cubes of very flavorful potatoes. i wouldnt say 'smoked' was the flavor but it was pretty delicious.
Opening night at the most eagerly anticipated new restaurant of 2013 in Philly, and we were lucky enough to have 3 front-row seats at the Chef's counter!
Chef Peter Serpico, who was wonderkind David Chang's right-hand man in the Momofoku empire and James Beard-award winning opening chef de cuisine/partner at Michelin 2-star Momofuku Ko in NYC, has gone AWOL with Philly's master of "concept" restaurants, Steven Starr. But the eponymously named "Serpico" is very different from love-it-or-hate-it Buddakan and the rest of that ilk (none of which really excite me). Its concept, if it has one, is merely to highlight the talents of one apparently very talented chef, and luckily Philly (and not NYC, haha, sorry I can't resist!) is the beneficiary.
To start with, the space is striking. Is it "Philly's most beautiful restaurant", as EaterPhilly claims? Well it's not newly-departed Le Bec Fin (which really was Philly's most beautiful), but it does manage to feel both intimate and sexy without being pretentious. Upon entering, your find a different world from the hustle and sometimes weirdness of South St outside (definitely an unusual location for a moderninst fine dining establishment). The highlight, of course, is the huge open kitchen to the rear, which is surrounded by 18 comfortable high-top counter seats with perfect views of the action. Serpico has a lot of space, so you never feel encroached upon by other diners. Towards the front are ~40 seats split between tables and booths, featuring lovely dark wood furniture, and a micro bar with a backlit window from the street highlighting their liquor selection. Uniquely, all the walls are chalkboards, with handwritten menus (and a some graffiti left over from the preceding week of Friends & Family dinners), and thankfully someone has very good handwriting.
We'd been looking forward to this opening, but the suddeness of it caught me by suprise, so I almost missed the chance to grab one of the last remaining reservations on OpenTable (which unexpectedly turned out to be for counter seats). If I'm not mistaken, Serpico was originally planning a no-reservations policy, so this was a pleasant surprise as I absolutely hate no-reservation, "go @#$% yourself!" restaurants. Interestingly, when we arrived at 5:30, there were few seats occupied, and it was only a third or so full when we left at 7:45. So I think they are being smart by limiting reservations until they find their groove (not that we experienced any problems), or perhaps the Starr folks were doing a bit of PR smoke-and-mirrors, since it was widely reported that the opening night reservations had sold out. Maybe it was packed later, I don't know, but you could've just walked in when we were there.
So on to the food... In a nutshell, Serpico is low-key modernist with an overriding Asian theme, but it still takes influences from many different styles of cooking. It never shocks you the way the extreme edge of modernist cooking often does, but impresses by the thoughtfulness of the compositions, attention to detail, and quality of ingredients. Reminiscent of Momofuko Ko's menu, sure, but much more down to earth and less pretentious and fussy. Which is fine by me. I like Ko, but sometimes its preciousness never really seemed worth the 2 hour drive and tedious online reservation system.
What we enjoyed... (see photos)... Based on advice from our server to order 2 dishes per person (not counting dessert), we went with a total of 6 dishes to be split among 3 people, which was just barely enough. One of us was not very hungry, and these are fairly small plates to be split 3-ways, so I could definitely have ordered 3 more. Or, as you will see below, a few duck leg sandwiches to go...
COMPLEMENTARY at the start of the meal:
~Sesame rice crisps -- Instead of bread, momentarily amusing, but this is going to get old fast. Personally I'd prefer some great bread, or maybe a real amuse-bouche.
APPETIZERS & ENTREES (not distinguished on the menu, but proceeding from smaller to larger, and served in the order chosen by the chef--they reminded us of this several times!):
~Sliced Diver Scallops, with buttermilk, poppy seeds, green chili paste, white soy, chive: A lovely starter, with a almost shocking contrast between the delicate scallops and the poppy sead/chili paste flavors. This made my tastebuds bounce back and forth in an interesting way. The scallops were on the small side and sliced even smaller, so this was the first example of the relatively small (although not tiny) size of the dishes, and best enjoyed by 1 person or shared by 2.
~Steamed Egg Custard, with Siberian sturgeon caviar (making this the most expensive item on the menu at $30), brown butter, crispy potato, cauliflower mushrooms -- 2 of the 3 of us thought this was the Dish of the Night (I prefered the duck leg). Very silky, as good a Chawanmushi as any of us have ever had.
~Deep-fried Duck Leg, with hoisin, scallion, on a potato roll, and pickled veggies on the side -- My favorite dish, according to Ryan the leg was cooked for 16 hours, then rolled in a roulade, deep fried, and served on a local potato roll (Martin's?). A casual looking dish, but the flavor was rich, intense and complex. A new contender for the best sandwich in the Sandwich City! Can I get takeout??? Again, best for 1 or 2 (it was cut in half when served).
~Hand-torn Pasta, with chicken sausage, braised snails, garlic crispy chicken skin, pecorino, and Italian parsley -- I liked this more than my companions, as I thought the range of flavors was quite complex and interesting.
~Cope's Corn Ravioli, with chorizo, white cheese, pickled and roasted onions, sour cream, and lime -- Apparently John Cope's toasted dried sweet corn is a Pennsylvania Dutch tradtition for the past 100 years (being from Boston, who knew?). Great corn flavor and perfectly al dente pasta, this was a contender for Dish of the Night
~Seasonal Vegetables, with lemon puree, herbs, and stewed onions -- We ordered this just to get some veggies, but I was very impressed with how this dish came together. This is how you wish the vegetables were served in other Asian restaurants, but they never are. Vegetarians will enjoy this.
"SEMI-SWEET" & DESSERT menus:
~Foie Gras, green grapes, elderflower jelly, candied peanuts--Obviously a tribute to Momofuko Ko's famous dish of shaved frozen foie (Peter was chef de cuisine at Ko), although prepared differently. A modest "pile" of powdered frozen foie on top of the other ingredients, this was utterly silky and melt in your mouth, it left you wishing you could just lick it off the plate (maybe I will next time!). However, I didn't really like the simple presentation on a flat plate; it was missing something in this regard.
Warm Apple Cake, with...I didn't catch all the ingredients here, but served with ice cream and caramel sauce. This was very tasty and homey, not knock your socks off like the foie, but a well-composed dessert.
The drinks list is quite short with perhaps 6 beers (we enjoyed the New Hope Poet Stout, which was full of espresso & chocolate), 6 cocktails (the white whiskey and Manischewitz was tasty), 10 or so wines by the glass (we tasted a couple just to try them) and ~20 by the bottle (nothing immediately recognizable, so I will need to go back and explore more, but the prices were in the affordable range). However, the wine service is one area Serpico could improve in... We tried tastes of a vermentino and a rose, before settling on the rose, but both wines were almost room temperature, and we had to specifically request that the rose be put on ice for 20 minutes. Also, the water/beer/wine/cocktail glasses were relatively thick stemless goblets, which I absolutely hate for wine. I suppose they gives the restaurant a more casual feel, and look pretty, but good wine should be drunk from good glasses to be appreciated (sorry if I'm a snob, but it does make a big difference).
We had excellent service from Ryan (although of course the restaurant was almost empty). Actually, I counted perhaps 18 staff between kitchen and FOH, which seemed pretty high for a restaurant of this size, but perhaps that was due to it being opening night. Peter himself served us a couple of times, and the other chefs were approachable too. Everyone seemed to want to know how we were enjoying our meal.
No valet, but at least with an early reservation the metered parking on South St is very easy even on a Friday, and there are several open-air lots within a few blocks. It was interesting, however, to see half a dozen picketing union workers out front trying to press fliers into our hands and making comments when we tried to enter the restaurant. I guess Steven Starr must have annoyed someone during the construction of Serpico.
All in all, a very good meal and an almost flawless opening night. Counting 2 cocktails and a bottle of wine, $71/person + tip doesn't sound so bad, but you also have to factor in the small size of the dishes. Next time I will definitely order more.
Apparently Peter wanted the "South St vibe", but at these prices this is falling into the category of a destination restaurant, and I don't imagine they'll be getting a huge amount of local walk-in traffic. But we'll definitely be back to peruse more of the interesting menu.
Interesting and informative would be understatements; a Magnum opus. They seem to have opened to rave reviews,yours and boog, with plate size and respective pricing being the only questionable food related issues. The parking issues raises a bit of a challenge in that area, as noted. Union pickets in Philadelphia really? Thanks for the tome, nicely done.
Generally speaking, I'm against commenting on any restaurant in its first few weeks of business. Too often it conveys exactly the wrong or at least incorrect information about a place still trying to get into a rhythm. Even if the experience was pleasurable, there's no guarantee they can maintain that initial level of food or service. But I have to make an exception to my "rule" after dinner at Serpico last night: it was fantastic, and I have no doubt they can maintain this high level of performance.
The service was absolutely top-notch with several of the dishes served by Chef Serpico himself. The staff was congenial and polite, without too much fussing...pretty much the perfect level of unobtrusiveness. And the food? Well, the food just knocked our socks off. Everything just seemed to be on a higher level. The flavors, the execution, all were perfect.
I'm not sure if Starr restaurants get a bad rap in general, but personally speaking, they're generally not my cup of tea. Something about style over substance, I guess, but the focus here is firmly on the food. There was no moment when I thought "too glitzy". Everything just worked perfectly.
So hats off to you Serpico cooks and staff. You exceeded our expectations. And considering that we brought our 7 week old daughter with us, you couldn't have been kinder.
Well, your review lit the fire under us to go yesterday. We wanted to go out somewhere (while the baby is still well-behaved), but reading your descriptions pushed us to Serpico.
We've tried to make it to Ko multiple times, and it just never worked out. There's something about Serpico that just feels right for Philadelphia.
We had the scallops, the ceviche, the sliced "pig's face" (off-menu thinly sliced ballotine of pork head meat), the wagyu flap, and the cope's corn ravioli. For dessert, she had the rocky road, and I had the foie gras.
The coffee is outstanding too, btw. I wasn't really paying attention, but I'm pretty sure it's an Ethiopian blend.
I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I did try it and thought it was very smooth, and not too hot (which I prefer). I don't remember the source of their beans, but I do remember that they pan roast them in-house and then use a pour-over to brew it.
BTW, here's the complete opening menu in all its glory:
And now that I've had a chance to look at the wine list more closely, the average markup from retail is high:
'09 Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett, $28-->$110 (3.9X)
'09 Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2009, $15-->$74 (4.9X)
'10 Banshee & Rickshaw Pinot Noir, $15-->$50 (3.3X)
NV Kanbara Bride of Fox Junmai Ginjo, $15-->$58 (3.9X)
'11 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Chateauneuf-du-Pape, $39-->$170 (4.4X)