200 E. Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19125
One of the newest restaurants/bars/hangouts to the Philly scene is the latest offering by Mike Stollenwerk, of Fish and Little Fish. It's a welcome addition to the stretch of Girard that is quickly becoming a bizarro Passyunk up in Fishtown (quite appropriately). I normally try not to go places that just opened, or at least I am aware that they need to iron out the kinks, and so I either don't write about them or I cut them some slack, but in this case I had to mention how much I loved this place.
A sleek exterior gives rise to a homey, welcoming interior, that is one part bar, one part raw bar, and one part awesome. I am done trying to reduce this place to a description. Just trust me, you'll like it.
As my dining partner is not big on raw seafood, I couldn't go for broke on the oyster scene. I asked for one East Coast and one West Coast oyster, trusting my server's discretion. One from Massachusetts and one from British Columbia. Both were great, but I liked the Eastern offering (the smaller one) just a bit better. Fresh, expertly shucked, and deliciously briny, I could have eaten ten of each. They were served with a trio of sauces, which were perfect complements, but not exactly necessary, especially when I was only having one of each. Like a proper heavy child, I kept them to eat with anything else that was coming (I ended up tasting them so many times, I pretty much ate the oysters both plain), no shame in my game. The server even laughed sympathetically and admitted she knew where I was coming from.
Before I forget, I have to mention the service. I can't remember having service in any of my recent restaurant outings that has been more perfectly tailored to the situation. When we arrived, it turned out some of our friends were already there, having just finished dinner at the bar. With no reservations whatsoever, the server cheerfully acknowledged that they were going to sit with us with their beers while we ate. No attitude that they weren't on our tab or ordering more drinks from her. She was there when we needed, and gone when we didn't. No snobbery when I ordered a mere two oysters (they are offered several), nor was there any up-selling going on. We went for a quick, low-key meal/snack, and we got just that. That alone is worth going back. But the food, oh that food, was why I will be there again soon.
By the way, the sauces with the oysters were: #1, the best cocktail sauce I have ever had; #2, a creamy mustardy aioli (I believe); and #3, a traditional mignonette. So damn tasty. I can't wait to go back and hit the raw bar, hard. Also, they boast a well thought-out beer list, from delicious micro-brews to an extensive can and bottle menu, including some good old fashion domestics - the ones that other places believe they are too fancy to carry, but give a nod to the roots of the neighborhood. Well done.
I knew that the Fathom Fries had to be sampled before I got there, as I was drooling over them for months while I was awaiting their arrival. A large bowl of fresh fries, smothered in crab gravy and cheese curd. They were dangerously addictive. Everything was in balance, the gravy was not overly "seafoody" and the curd was meltingly delicious. A seafood house take on my beloved poutine, that I will be craving time and time again.
A bowl of mussels is so easy, yet so delicious. The Blue Bay mussels with coconut, panang curry, and lemongrass were an exercise in simple perfection. Nothing too fancy, but they let the plump morsels speak for themselves, while teasing out their briny goodness with a savory broth that I would drink through a straw. Seriously, I was going to ask for more bread, but found myself dipping my fingers in the bottom of the bowl. Who wants to share food with me???
The cauliflower tempura with chili mayo was another winner, and probably the best use of that dreaded vegetable I have eaten, outside of Indian cuisine. One of the biggest surprises was that the chili mayo packed a punch. My god, it's about time! I have eaten gallons (gross, I know) of mediocre "spicy mayo" in the past couple years, that were too timid to really carry any heat, thus rendering them useless. I guess I have a different opinion of "spicy" than ninety percent of restaurant establishments, but they went for it here, and it was fantastic.
Although they had only been open for two days, with Stollenwerk's track record, this place can only get better. In which case, I might have to delete this post, because I want to be able to get a seat here in six months. However for your sake, go eat there and enjoy it for what it is. A seafood house in a Pisces named neighborhood. As I told the couple coming in when I was leaving, upon being asked if it was worth going eating there "go inside and order anything, just make sure you get some fries and cauliflower to go with it."