Saturday, May 14, 2011

Adsum for Pescatarians

No, I didn’t try the poutine. Nor the Tastykake sliders, newly jettisoned from the menu. Inventive Queen Village bistro Adsum gets a lot of press for its meat--Craig LaBan called chef Matt Levin’s fried chicken “shatteringly crisp,” and the foie gras poutine has been hailed by stoner foodies all over Philly as the paradigm of decadence (you can ramp the cholesterol up a notch with the “Super Poutine,” topped with bacon and a fried duck egg).

My dirty little secret is out: I don’t eat land animals. What can I say; I grew up fishing, but the thought of eating a sweet little piglet or cuddly lamb is abhorrent to me. So I took on Adsum to see how well they performed in the seafood and vegetable categories.

We started with Kumamoto oysters, fresh and chilly. I appreciated the aesthetic addition of the Tabasco pearls on top, but I found the flavor brought more citrus than spice. It’s probably just as well; an over-spiced component could have overwhelmed the delicate savory quality of the bivalves.

The Hamachi appetizer came highly recommended by a server, and rightly so. Cubes of firm, glistening yellowtail peeked out from under a sweet, smoky chimichurri. Smoked soy added another rich component. Diced mango was beautiful, but not intense enough to cut through the smoke. Did I mention smoke? That flavor permeated the dish, lending a meaty quality that made me want to sink my teeth into every last scrap on the plate.

Next came the grilled rock octopus with black pepper caramel. The tentacles were beautifully cooked, chewy but not rubbery. The sauce was a little perplexing; it came off more as a sweet barbecue sauce than either caramel or pepper. I found it a little overpowering for the octopus, which would have been delicious without the heavy, sticky coating. At the very least, a heavier hand on the spice could have balanced the sweetness. But it was certainly tasty in its own right.

In an effort to eat a vegetable (not the easiest thing to do at Adsum), we chose the grilled romaine, Matt Levin’s version of a Caesar salad. It was shockingly tasty; the warm lettuce stood up surprisingly well to its rich, well-seasoned Parmesan dressing, refusing to become soggy. Polenta croutons added another dimension of crisp, flavorful texture. We found ourselves cutting the little cubes in half to ensure we received equal portions.

Deciding against the other large plates in favor of shareables, we took on the mac and cheese with cornbread crumble. I expected a weighty dish in line with Adsum’s more succulent menu items, but was delighted to dig into the unbelievably light pasta. The flavors were luscious and the cheese smooth without being too heavy. The cornbread crumble, which could easily have been chunky and soggy, was instead wonderfully crisp. It perfectly offset the silky cheese.

Torn between whether to order another course or dessert, we decided to do both. Eating more cheese seemed like an apt way to round out the meal, so on came the house-smoked mozzarella with roasted cherry tomatoes (paper-thin ham on the side for my carnivorous dining partner). I can say without much hesitation that it was the best smoked mozzarella I’ve ever had. The hickory chips lent a mouthwatering woodiness to the little orbs, complemented nicely by the acidity of juicy roasted tomato. I found something oddly spicy about the pesto-and-aged-balsamic drizzles; I never could put my finger on it, even with the server’s help.

We attacked the dessert menu from both sides, ordering the chocolate cake with red beet caramel and the apple fritters with cream cheese dipping sauce. The cake was quite good, though a bit too hefty for the meager caramel. The sauce was delicious, sweet and tart, but there wasn’t enough of it to balance out the dense cake. The fritters, however, were perfect. They quickly earned a place on my top five all-time favorite desserts list. They looked like giant doughnut holes, the crispy, sugary outsides breaking open to reveal moist, fluffy apple cake inside. The cream cheese dip was more savory than sweet, akin to sour cream. It lent a strudel-like quality to the fritters when paired together, which ended the meal on a very high note.

And the drinks…oh, the drinks. The Logical Consequence appealed to my Ph.D. candidate companion’s scientific side, and included gin, green tea, dill, fresh lime, honey, and absinthe. The Esteller combined basil with jalapeño-infused tequila to create a refreshing concoction with lingering heat. Wines are measured carefully in beakers (another hit with my partner) and then poured into large glasses; the Garnacha was chocolaty and spicy, a perfect pair with our desserts.

Service at Adsum is friendly and knowledgeable, professional yet relaxed. It sets the perfect tone for the neighborhood. Aside from a slanted table, we had no complaints about the atmosphere. For such a tiny bistro, the tables are fairly well-spaced (though it was rather slow when we dined early on a Wednesday evening). I plan to move back to the East side of Broad this summer, and when I do, I’ll be happy to give Adsum a regular slot in my dining-out rotation.

700 South 5th Street
Philadelphia PA

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