Serpico - Philadelphia, PA

Dinner - Sunday, December 7, 2014

I have a confession to make - I've never eaten at any of David Chang's restaurants. I've read the cookbook, browsed the magazines, watched the interviews - but no dice on the food. Why then, would I venture to eat in the restaurant of Peter Serpico, his former right hand? Perhaps it was the rare event of dining alone in a new city, or curiosity finally getting the better of me, or just a trick of the (cold) weather. In any case, I found myself at the end of the long L-shaped kitchen counter, within his eponymous restaurant. It was a Sunday, and the place was abuzz. The locals, it seem, love it.

Vegetable amuses
The meal started strongly. On the left, a thick, smoked potato chip dressed in chive aioli - delicious. This was accompanied by a warm potato consomme, light but also very flavourful. To its right, a nod towards dim sum - fried turnip cake topped with cobia. Finally, a wedge of eggplant, wrapped in nori, topped with grilled miso.

Warm mushroom salad
Tender mushrooms in a rich sauce, interspersed with some crunchy deep-fried lily bulbs. In the middle, a lump of cold, grated daikon. The salt and umami in this dish were terrific. The textures of the mushrooms and lily bulbs, the temperature contrast provided by the daikon - excellent.

Brussel sprouts tartine
Shaved foie gras
Thai basil, chia seeds, peanuts
Caviar and egg
Crispy potatoes, chicken broth, cauliflower mushrooms
The egg came in the form of silky chawanmushi, topped with a dollop of briny caviar. The potato crumble added a nice, earthy crunch, but the star of the show was the cauliflower mushroom - slick surface giving way to toothsome bite (very much like wood ear mushrooms). The balance of sweet and salty was just right throughout - my favourite dish of the night.

Clams, celery dashi, chive purée
Shaved pig's head over rice
Clams and rice were served together. The rice, essentialy a piece of nigirizushi, was boldly seasoned - a common theme throughout the meal (subtlety was not the order of the day). It's saltiness was balanced by the refreshing celery dashi, bright and clean, with a vegetal hint from the chives.

Nori, pork belly, pork-kimchi soup
The pasta were a little too thick, but they were merely conduits to channel the killer broth - it was hot and spicy, sour and rich all at the same time. I wanted a bowlful of it.

Scallops, vadouvan, brown butter
Pork neck roulade
Charred Napa cabbage and its purée
Tender pork neck, wrapped in thick-cut bacon, was perfectly cooked. By itself, the richness would have been overkill, but again there was a strong counterpoint in the slightly bitter charred Napa (which tasted like it may have been fermented). Just a few components in the dish, but execution was on-point, and this was a great way to elevate a humble cut.

Ribeye cap, seaweed, garlic oil
Coconut sorbet
Grapefruit vinaigrette, crispy rice pearls
Chocolate-coffee ganache, sunflower milk
The food at Serpico is a no-holds-barred assault on the senses - stoner food with a sense of dignity. At the $85 price point, it is a steal (and indeed, notably stronger than a meal I had a few nights before for twice the price). Does this make me one to visit one of David Chang's restaurants? Actually, yes - this dinner was fun. I'm quite interested in tracing this back to its roots - perhaps I will find some perspective on how the master and student have diverged (or have they...?)

604 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (215) 925-3001