Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Teresa's Next Door Revisited

As I promised a revisit not long ago, I ventured back to Teresa’s Next Door for a look at the evening shift this past weekend. As with my initial visit, which was by chance on Teresa’s very first day offering brunch, our timing was less than ideal. This time around, the timing issues were twofold. First, it was Saturday night – the busiest, most popular night of the week to dine out. But hey, we were hungry and thirsty. Second and more importantly, the home delivery edition of the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer, at least the part of it that includes the weekly restaurant review, had hit porches and driveways throughout the Philly burbs that morning. Craig LaBan threw two bells Teresa’s way, a pretty good review by his standards. Knowing that it might get frenetic – and did I mention that we were hungry and thirsty? – we showed up early to beat the crowds. As we entered and were led to a booth, I could smell fear in the air, the hostess, manager and servers all anticipating an onslaught of new, curious customers.

My point in constructing the above dissertation on awkward timing is to explain why I still feel compelled to extend the benefit of the doubt to Teresa’s Next Door after finding mostly hit or miss food on both visits. Hit or miss. That’s one bell on the LaBan scale. But I hate to be overly critical of a place when I know I’ve stopped in during moments of weakness. So, on to the details of the evening….

There’s certainly one huge saving grace at TND: they have a stupendous beer list. With two dozen brews on tap, two more on hand pumps and a bottle list that runs into the hundreds, there’s both depth and diversity. The focus is clearly on Belgian and Belgian-style beers, though there’s also a pretty good representation of the American microbrew scene. Three dollar pints of Brooklyn Blanche were on offer as the day’s draft special. A round, refreshing Belgian-style white ale, it clocked in at 7.5%, offered attractive flavors of lemon oil and white pepper, and gave me something easy to sip while perusing the menu. I finally settled on choices from the “Starters” portion of the menu and, a true test of any aspiring Belgian brasserie, one of the six preparations of mussels.

Carnitas, smoked pork, chopped onion, salsa verde and queso fresco atop grilled corn tortillas
In my initial review of TND, I’d mentioned that the menu “loses its focus…, perhaps in answer to anticipated requests from the local crowd, with the inclusion of a smattering of Mexican-American dishes.” In the Inquirer review, we’re told that the Mexican dishes are inspired by or intended as homage to the restaurant’s kitchen staff. I suspect it’s most likely a bit of both. In either case, the evening’s rendition of Carnitas was not terribly inspired. The pork, relatively tender if a bit dry, was infused with an overwhelming smokiness which masked any remnant of flavor from the meat itself. The salsa verde was a bit bland, the onions nowhere to be found. Three medium sized tortillas, piled generously with toppings, made for an ample serving but I would have preferred a smaller portion with more attention given to freshness of the condiments and slow, gentle smoking of the pork.

Beer pairing: Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing Company (8%).
This is considered a benchmark for the new American genre of hop-head ales. It’s brewed with 40% more malt and over twice the amount of hops compared to Russian River’s regular IPA. And it delivers a big, bitter, intensely floral mouthful of hoppy goodness. Pliny’s aromas might be a bit much for some, as the first thing that came to mind was a well-worked armpit, followed by a little peach nectar. It’s not casual quaffing ale but rather a choice that will stand up to rich, boldly flavored food. Be sure to allow some time for palate recovery.

Drunken Mussels – dark beer, chorizo sausage, red pepper, shallot, garlic, chervil; served with pomme frites and bread
The kitchen staff quickly redeemed themselves with their mussels, delivered to the table in a cloud of steam, accompanied by a basket of crispy fries and mild remoulade. Subtle at first, the flavor of the sauce, boosted by the spiciness lent by the chorizo, built as enjoyment of the dish progressed. Crumbling the chorizo was a good call by the chef, as it allowed little morsels of sausage to nestle in the scoops of the mussel shells, the better to infuse the entire dish with its flavor. That said, some at the table suggested that the addition of solid slices of chorizo would have added zest and a more substantial feel to the dish. Aside from a few mollusks that never opened to give up their flesh, the Drunken Mussels, perfectly fresh and tender, were clearly the best choice of the night.

Beer pairing: Saison Dupont, Brasserie Dupont (6.5%).
Here, I put myself in the hands of our server, who recommended with little hesitation pairing Saison Dupont farmhouse ale with the Drunken Mussels. While many aspects of service at TND could use a touch of polish, the wait staff has obviously been well schooled in their beer offerings. The pairing was spot on. Soulful, easy drinking yet moderately rich, and just a little musky, the Saison kept in stride with the developing flavors of the mussels, neither clashing with their spice nor overwhelming their inherently delicate protein.

Dessert will have to wait for the next visit, as will a potential installment of A Burger and a Beer. Perhaps a modestly busy mid-week night will do, after the hubbub resulting from the Inquirer review has had a chance to die down.

Teresa’s Next Door
126 N. Wayne Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087
Teresa's Next Door in Wayne

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