In one way or another it’s been said here before but it bears repetition: Sunday has long been a personal favorite evening for dining out. It can be a great way to put a cap on a long week, kick start the week to come, avoid the free-for-all of Friday/Saturday night dining and, in the best cases, find a chef performing at his or her relaxed best.
When not one but two friends – one local and one from out of town – asked me for Sunday dining ideas recently, both with the caveat that the restaurant(s) be BYOB, I realized that Sunday is not necessarily the ideal day to catch the Philly BYO scene in full swing. Many of the places that first came to mind are closed on Sunday. In fact, one spot that I’ve written up before as a Sunday destination has since closed its doors on Sunday nights. Then it hit me. Marigold Kitchen. At $30 for three courses, Marigold offers one of the best Sunday dining deals in town. Besides, I realized that the last time I’d been was for Executive Chef Michael Solomonov’s swan song, just before he moved on to open and head the kitchen at Zahav.
Marigold Kitchen’s “new” chef, Erin O’Shea (she’s actually been on board since 2006), has gained quite a solid reputation over the last year for the new direction she’s established, almost completely transforming the restaurant’s focus from the Euro-Israeli blend of Solomonov’s tenure to what can arguably best be described as New Southern cooking. Chef O’Shea’s grits alone have garnered attention in the major local press. I was jazzed to check out the big picture, but those grits just had to be the starting point.
Byrd Mill Stone-Ground Grits with Mussels Sautéed in Herb Butter
There’s no point in arguing with Rick Nichols’ assessment of Erin’s grits (see the link above). They’re toothsome, firm and flavorful, a complete and welcome departure from the gluey or soupy, starched white grits most of us are accustomed to; here there’s no need for additional pats of butter, syrup or other condiments to bring the flavor. Add to those grits a fistful of plump, juicy, herb-laced mussels and you have a dish of pure simplicity that made for a great starting point.
Cured Pork Tenderloin with Asparagus, Warm Bacon Vinaigrette and Stewed Eggplant
Though not as focused in its presentation and conception as my first course, there was no disputing the quality of the raw ingredients in my main. Local asparagus, seasonally fresh, sat atop a dollop of stewed eggplant spiked with what tasted to me like harissa, showing that O’Shea still gives an occasional tip of the hat to the North African and Middle Eastern culinary influences of her Executive Chef/predecessor. The loin of pork was a touch over-salted but was otherwise cooked to perfection and intensely flavorful.
Slow Baked Halibut with Country Ham Broth, Fava Beans and Sunny Egg
My wife’s main course; I tasted only a forkful, so it’s here more for eye candy than commentary. I will say that, like my pork dish, it was heavy on the seasoning but otherwise very well executed, showing a fine balance between delicate preparation and the hearty flavors of its country traditions.
With four in our party and four desserts on offer, there was only one real choice: order everything. Clockwise from top left: Tapioca Pudding with Lime, Vanilla and Pineapple; Lemon Trio; Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce and Buttermilk Ice Cream; and Dark Chocolate Terrine with Candied Orange and Sweet Sour Cream.
Our servers justly touted the tapioca pudding, which was sublime. The apple spice cake, too, was addictively good, so much so that we had a terrible time wresting it from one particular member of our company. Only the lemon trio left me at all cold, not for any shortcoming really, more because I’m just not a big fan of the tart/sugary blast of citrus dominated sweets.
What about the wine for the evening? I’ve already written up our selections, utilizing far fewer words than is my wont. Stemware at Marigold is good quality and the food is quite wine-friendly, so it’s definitely a worthy spot to take a good bottle or three. Our bottle of Nicolas Joly's Coulée de Serrant may have been pushing that concept a bit too far but that’s only because its unique characteristics make it a wine that really needs to be served at home (and with extreme patience) to be fully appreciated.
The central stairway in Marigold’s main dining room hearkens back to the building’s history as a boarding house, which tenants once accessed by passing through the restaurant. The stairs now provide access to two smaller dining rooms, the larger of which is used for regular service on Friday and Saturday, and both of which are available for private parties. Methinks I sense a wine dinner somewhere in my future.
Between the room’s warm ambience, great company and Marigold Kitchen’s heart-warming food, I think we all agreed that it was a Sunday evening well spent. Wine dinner or not, I’ll definitely be headed back soon.
501 S. 45th Street
(at Larchwood) [map]
Philadelphia, PA 19104