May 25, 2007
Cuisine: American (New), Tapas
276 S 20th Street, Philadelphia 19103
Between Rittenhouse Square & Spruce Street
Course I: Spicy Hummus, House Cured Salmon and Mesclun with Herb Vinaigrette Flatbread ($9.50)
Course II: Buffalo Mozzarella, Plum Tomatoes, and Israeli Basil Flatbread ($9)
Course III: Grilled Octopus with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon and Fresh Herbs Over Greens ($8)
Course IV: Grilled Shrimp with Saffron Rice, Spring Peas, Chorizo and Paprika Vinaigrette ($11)
Course V: Spiced Lamb Meatball with Chickpea-Carrot Salad ($10)
Course VI: Sauteed Softshell Crabs with Black Bean and Roasted Corn Salsa ($23)
After four years of arduous seminars, tough problem sets, and way too much stress, the madness that is Swarthmore College finally ended for The Astronomer late last week. To properly commemorate this red letter day, champagne, good food, and great friends were in order. The Astronomer and I, along with his BFF Matt and teammate Connor, headed over to Audrey Claire for a celebratory feast with a bottle of bubbly in hand (and a lot of beers too).
Due to the extensive wait for a table outside, we opted to sit indoors. Luckily our group was large enough to merit our own table rather than a communal one because I hate hearing other diners’ conversations, which is oftentimes unavoidable in this compact space.
I always have a blast eating at Audrey Claire because the menu encourages mixing and matching flavors and sharing food family-style. My dining partners were refreshingly open-minded eaters so it was a breeze choosing which dishes to order.
We started off with two of Audrey Claire’s signature flatbreads. The spicy hummus with house cured salmon did not disappoint. I’ve tried this dish once prior and it was just as good as I remembered. Truly a perfect summertime delight. The Buffalo mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and Israeli basil flatbread was excellent as well, but perhaps too closely resembled a pizza. High quality ingredients and simple flavors are what makes these flatbreads sensational.
The Astronomer insisted that we order the grilled octopus because he is mildly obsessed with the tentacled creature. When the dish arrived, we were all let down by the ratio of octopus to greens; from the menu’s description we thought the octopus would be the star. Expectations aside, the dish was pleasantly light and the octopus was decent in spite of being chopped up into bits.
Our fourth course was chosen by Matt—Grilled Shrimp with Saffron Rice, Spring Peas, Chorizo and Paprika Vinaigrette. The one shrimp I had was suitable, but not as jumbo or juicy as I would have liked. The vinaigrette added a lovely tang to the shrimp. We all agreed that the saffron rice was more or less blah. I’m always surprised by how mild saffron tastes because its dying properties are indeed phenomenal.
Our fifth course—Spiced Lamb Meatball with Chickpea-Carrot Salad—was the highlight of the evening and perhaps the best dish I’ve ever eaten at Audrey Claire. The meatballs were intensely savory and impressively retained a deep lamb flavor. The chickpea-carrot salad was sweet, cinnamon-y, and amazingly delicious. The Astronomer usually shuns chickpeas, but loved the salad a great deal. A subtle mint sauce brought the dish to a whole new level.
Our final course was one of the evening’s specials—softshell crabs. Two good-sized crabs were fried up nicely, drizzled with spicy mayonnaise, and paired with a black bean and roasted corn salsa. The individual elements of the dish were tasty, but the entree overall lacked a certain something to tie it all together. I’m always a sucker for ordering specials and unfortunately they always seem to be a let down; I need to stick to the tried and true menu items.
FYI: this post marks the 100th restaurant review on gas•tron•o•my!