May 21, 2007
Cuisine: American (New), Eclectic & International, Tapas
253 S 20th St, Philadelphia 19103
At Rittenhouse Square
BBQ Dusted Popcorn (complimentary)
Smaller Plate I: Caramel Apples with Miso and Wasabi Peas ($6)
Smaller Plate II: Octopus, Grilled, with Paprika and Lemon ($12)
Larger Plate I: Pork Belly with Pickled Melon, Rhubarb, and Kumquat ($18)
Larger Plate II: Salmon, Poached, with Fennel Strawberry Salad and Basil Tea ($24)
South 20th Street is becoming quite a dining destination these days, which bodes extremely well for yours truly because I live and work mere minutes away from some of the city’s best eats. Mama’s Vegetarian, Capogiro, and Audrey Claire are a few of my favorites on the block.
Snackbar opened its doors for business late last year and has received plenty of positive press for Chef Jonathan McDonald’s eccentric flavor combinations, like curry and bananas, and captivatingly minimalist menu.
When I dined at Snackbar last week, I was disappointed to find that the menu contained complete sentences rather than a playful jumble of words and some of the more adventurous items on the original menu were no longer offered such as the “Pork (Beer) Belly. Slow Egg. Dashi,” “Foie Gras. Quince. Buckwheat Bun,” and “Banana. Curry. Salt Caramel.” Luckily, the “Apples. Miso Caramel. Wasabi Peas” were still available.
James and I enjoyed the pleasant weather and some BBQ dusted popcorn while we waited for our food to arrive. The popcorn tasted better than regular old BBQ chips because popcorn is much mellower than potatoes and thus the mesquite flavor takes front and center. It was so addictive and I had to ask for seconds.
We started off with two “smaller plates”—apples and octopus. The Caramel Apples with Miso and Wasabi Peas were unfortunately mealy. I was informed by our waiter that Red Delicious apples were employed for this dish, which wholly explains the unpleasant texture. I think using Granny Smith apples would vastly improve upon the dish’s consistency and add an interesting sour element. On a positive note, the apples’ outer coating of Miso caramel and Wasabi peas was really fantastic. Sweet and spicy go together almost as well as sweet and salty.
The octopus was fairly good, but not nearly as adventurous in terms of flavor combinations as the apples. Encrusted with paprika, the octopus was lightly grilled and thus retained its signature chewiness nicely. The plate on which the octopus sat was brushed ever so lightly with a lemony sauce that paired well with the meat, but was too scant to enjoy with the entire dish.
To round out our meal, we ordered two “larger dishes.” I chose the pork belly, while James went for the salmon. The pork belly’s ratio of meat to fat was perfect, but didn’t melt in my mouth as I had hoped because it was seared to a firm crisp. The pork’s accompaniments, pickled melon, rhubarb, and kumquat were visually interesting, but didn’t enhance the pork belly’s flavor at all.
The salmon was delicately poached and very pleasant with the fennel strawberry salad. The basil tea foam was mild and fit in well with dish’s light and summery flavors. My favorite part was the salmon’s deliciously raw interior. James and I both loved the crispy salmon skin.