Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Solomonov's Last Stand at Marigold Kitchen

Is it taking advantage, in the negative sense, to repeatedly take advantage of a good thing when it’s generously and openly offered? I’m sure an argument can be made for either side. Either way, it’s hard for me to pass up the Sunday prix fixe special – three courses for $30 – at Marigold Kitchen. I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again.

On this occasion, it was the combination of old friends and a parting chef that drew me there. It was the eve of New Year’s Eve as well as of our friends S&S’s return to Monterey and I was pretty sure they’d dig the place. Additionally, it was the eve of Chef Michael Solomonov’s last night at the head of Marigold’s Kitchen and I was craving an ultimate sampling from his uniquely Israeli inflected menu.

Art adorns the wall in the main dining room.

Our decision-making was made pleasurable by the arrival of a simple, spoonful-sized amuse bouche of beets, almonds and dill. The interplay between the earthy, slightly sweet beets, toasty ground almonds and subtly herbaceous dill got our taste buds into gear. A basket of warm, crusty rolls accompanied by a dish of green olives and fruity oil took the edge off our hunger while we waited for first courses to arrive.

Sweetbreads with Crispy Chicken Skin and Tehina
I’ve enjoyed sweetbreads – Solomonov’s signature dish – at Marigold in the past and couldn’t pass them up, as they’d soon be ending their long tenure at the head of the menu. I wasn’t disappointed, as they were à point this evening. Wrappers of crispy, golden chicken skin, fried to a perfect snap and crackle, enveloped their moist, succulent sweetbread stuffing, delivered with a lively burst of hot fat when bitten. Creamy tehina, not at all plodding as overly thick or carelessly made tehina can be, lent a soothing, texture, balancing the decadence of the sweetbreads not with acidic contrast but rather with a cooling, complementary richness.

Pork Loin with Glazed Carrots and Crispy Lentils
In spite of somewhat ill conceived presentation – carrot matchsticks criss-crossed and perched atop the dish like a little orange tic-tac-toe board – the quality of ingredients here was undeniable. Three generous, tender, perfectly medium filets of pork loin astride a bed of wilted greens showed the clear comfort side of Solomonov’s style. A spark of creativity was provided in the form of crispy, caviar-sized lentils, sprinkled atop the dish in place, perhaps, of a more typical accent such as crumbled bacon.

Selection of Five Artisanal Cheeses
A treat courtesy of the kitchen, this was an example of the cheese plate as it should be presented in a finer restaurant – carefully selected by the staff rather than chosen by the diner from a list of options. A culinary touch was added by the pairing of a specific condiment chosen to harmonize with each cheese.

Tasting of Granny Smith Apples
After opting for what was arguably the most straightforward of main plates on the evening’s menu, I flipped to the dessert option that was most minimally described and most likely to push the envelope. Duets, trios, and occasionally even larger ensembles have become a nearly ubiquitous way for chefs to show off their talents by creating different riffs on the same key ingredient. The edgiest of the evening’s trio in apples was certainly the granny smith shooter, a shot glass full of apple nectar topped with apple foam, the pithy signature of au courant gastronomy. It was a refreshing juxtaposition to the more classic presentations: a deconstructed apple pie (sans crust) and a finessed take on bureka, a traditional Middle-Eastern stuffed pastry. None of the three stood out with wow-factor but together they made for a whole superior to its individual parts.

When next I visit Marigold Kitchen, its stoves will be firing along under the auspices of new chef Erin O’Shea, who took over the helm following New Year’s after spending two years as sous chef to Solomonov. Given that Michael was obviously enjoying his penultimate night, spending time visiting the regulars who were populating most of the tables, I’m certain that Ms. O’Shea was responsible for the production of much of our meal. This bodes well, without question, for the future quality of the restaurant under her direction. Her menu will depart from Solomonov’s Israeli influences in favor of a contemporary spin on southern American cookery.

Chef Solomonov, meanwhile, is now officially off to get things started at his latest restaurant-to-be, Zahav, where he plans, completely and more traditionally, to unfurl the Israeli culinary flag. You can follow the tribulations of Zahav’s construction and design on Michael Klein’s micro-blog, The Making of Zahav. Here’s wishing all the best of luck to both Michael and Erin in their new ventures.

Marigold Kitchen
501 S. 45th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Marigold Kitchen in Philadelphia

Related posts:
BYOB: Wines at Marigold Kitchen


Bill L said...

but what did you drink? water?


David McDuff said...

An astute question, sir. Please stay tuned.

Tom Hudson said...

"this was an example of the cheese plate as it should be presented in a finer restaurant – carefully selected by the staff rather than chosen by the diner from a list of options."

David, your statement above, for those of us who earn our living selling/serving cheese and wine is insulting at best. Pompous is the word that comes to mind.

It is the Restaurant/server's responsibility to RECOMMEND and INFORM, both cheese and appropriate wines to pair them with. It is the customer's responsibility to CHOOSE.

Sorry, but it needs to be said.

Bill said...

i've often been served the cheese course in the manner mcduff's cites. at good restaurants too. d'jango, talula's (same owners) a couple places in the loire valley, and once in piemonte, immeadiatley come to mind.
certainly not against choosing my from the menu or trolley, but i am at a loss as to why you would find the prefernce of the restaurant selecting the cheese course offensive or pompous.
maybe they only buy three or four cheeses at a time to serve as the cheese course and they all complement each other and belong on the plate togethor.
really, whats' the big deal here?

Bill said...


isn't it a form of respect to the owner/or chef or whoever puts togethor the cheese plate to just go with whatever is reccommended?

David McDuff said...

Wow, Tom, how do you really feel? Seriously, I'm actually glad you called me out on this as my statement does bear some explanation and dissection.

In a restaurant where I've gone to sit down to a meal conceived and prepared by a chef, I'd prefer that the cheese course come under the same creative influence and direction. I'd be happy to be given a choice between three, five or seven cheeses, priced accordingly. But I've always been a bit stymied, as at Gramercy Tavern for instance, when presented with a list of cheeses with a per/piece charge. I haven't told the chef what sauce to put on his striped bass or what kind of rice to choose for her risotto, after all. Did the chef make the cheeses? No, in most cases, but I'd still like to see what he or she chooses to select and present.

On the other hand, I do think that a cheese list makes perfect sense in a wine/beer/cheese bar setting such as at Domaine Hudson, Tria or any number of similar places in other markets. There the ability to pick and choose single elements makes perfect sense within the context of the setting. A place such as yours that cares enough to select and source top quality cheese makes for a lot of pleasurable possibilities.

Of course, at a place such as yours -- unlike Tria for example -- that also has not one but two head chefs and that doubles as both a wine bar and a full-fledged restaurant, the picture becomes a bit hazier. Thus, I can certainly understand your indignation.

Lastly, this leaves in question an old institution -- the cheese cart -- which is still prevalent in plenty of high-end, classic French restaurants. There, I think the choice is purely a facet of the mode of presentation, which is more attached to tradition, pomp and meeting expectations than to the delivery of creativity.

Tom Hudson said...

"I haven't told the chef what sauce to put on his striped bass or what kind of rice to choose for her risotto, after all. Did the chef make the cheeses? No, in most cases, but I'd still like to see what he or she chooses to select and present."

And the Sommelier (most likely) didn't make the wine he/she serves to you. So what?

They are only recommendations. The decisions, with food, cheese as well as wine are with the customer. IMHO, the best service is when you obtain knowledgeable, informed advice, and use that advice to select choices that satisfy your palate (and budget).

David, I respect your views and realize that you are entitled to them. However, I vehemently object to the tone of your original comments and find them demeaning and insulting to those of us who spend as much time as possible to inform ourselves, our staff and our customers on.

David McDuff said...

I respect your opinions and feelings as well, Tom. Thank you for sharing them.

Joe M. said...

Wow, the ever controversial cheese plate debate.

David, I'm with you on this one. My most memorable cheese plates have been carefully selected by staff as you describe. My a la carte experience - less successful.

Oh, btw, I'm very much looking forward to participating in the upcoming wine book blogging series. Would like to host one at some point as well.

David McDuff said...

Hey Joe,
Thanks for the comment. I'll look forward to your review on "Vino Italiano." I'm sure hosting opportunities will be available later this year or, at the latest, early into next year.

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