Rittenhouse Tavern: Philadelphia, Penn.
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Whether you’re a starving college kid or a 30-something professional, having your parents come to town is something special. We’re in a big, amazing city so you want to show them the best we have to offer.
When my mom came to visit in early August, I knew exactly where I wanted to take her for dinner: the new Rittenhouse Tavern, just off the southeast corner of Rittenhouse Square.
I also totally lucked out in securing a reservation about 2 weeks before Craig Laban’s glowing three-bell review was published. Between that write up and shore weekenders returning soon, it will be tougher to get in for a while but well worth the commitment to planning ahead.
Why Rittenhouse Tavern for mom (and/or dad)? Former Le Bec Fin chef… old mansion-turned-art-gallery setting… lots of buzz around the outdoor courtyard… and something for everyone on the menu. Keep in mind that it’s not cheap, with a burger at $15 and most entrees running above $25 each.
As an appetizer, we both adored the poached gulf shrimp pavé ($12) with multi-colored melon balls, dried watermelon strips and little crackling pieces like pork rinds. The shrimp comes in a long, thin cake but it is not like the consistency of a crab cake or shrimp salad – it is thick hunks of shrimp fused together into the brick. So if you are a fan of traditional cocktail-style shrimp don’t let the “pavé” scare you. Consistency is the same, plus the fruit complements it really well.
Not by design, we both ordered fish entrees, too. In general this summer has been too hot for red meat. My crisp arctic char ($24) was just as the friendly waitress described it: the flaky consistency and pinkness of salmon, but less pungent flavor. It was, in fact, a more delicate flavor with a perfect, thin layer of char on top. Cherries, zucchini, summer squash and a light green mint sauce provided a soft, tasteful backdrop.
The seared turbot ($28) got kudos from Laban in the Inquirer and two thumbs up from mom. I had to swoop in at the end to steal a bite before it disappeared. The light white fish was topped with peaches and served on a uniquely-flavored sunchoke sauce that you’ll want to soak up with your turbot or the homemade rolls provided to the table.
We both selected good sauvignon blancs off the white list but I could see Laban’s comment about the red wine selection, as it did look small compared to the rest of the drink menu. A handful of wines are offered in "q" size, which stands for "quartino" and equals about a glass and a half of wine. It was just the right amount for each of us. The only hiccup of the night was that Rittenhouse Tavern’s specialty bottle list for the night was “still being printed” when we sat down for a 7pm dinner. The waitress brought it anyway, after we had ordered.
Rittenhouse Tavern’s outdoor dining area lived up to the recent hype, especially after the sun went down. As Mom recounted in an email, "Great food and unique presentation, but also a lovely atmosphere in the courtyard with white lights tucked under umbrellas and lanterns lit." It does make you forget that busy 18th Street is just around the corner. Inside, the small bar area seemed inviting and tables spread out among multiple small dining rooms was a nice change from most other new [loud] restaurants that keep tables close together.
As a diner, you get free access to the Philadelphia Art Alliance gallery upstairs, where we got to see a really funky display of chandeliers called “Shiny Monsters” made of hot pink and blue octopus tentacles, dragon heads and the like. That exhibit ends August 19th, but you can find the upcoming schedule here.
All around, Rittenhouse Tavern was a great meal, especially for a visit from Mom. I definitely want to bring Bradd there for our next special dinner and would love to hit up the bar area another night for a sophisticated drink.
Where do you like to bring your family for a nice dinner when they're in town?