Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Audrey Claire - A neighborhood gem

Living above Twenty Manning, I've found it way too easy to simply stroll downstairs, grab a quick meal, and run back up to my apartment. Since moving into the area last summer, I've been meaning to try all of the local restaurants. Unfortunately, it took me 10 months to even make it to Audrey Claire, which is only one block away. SIGH.

Considering that my friends Allison and Rich are moving back to California in a few weeks, we thought we'd get in at least one meal together (which we also weren't able to fit in over the last 10 months until now). We decided on Audrey Claire because they hadn't been back since the changeover between seasonal menus (for which both Twenty Manning and Audrey Claire are known for), and well, I'd never been.

Given the sudden heat wave, we decided to sit inside rather than outside. With its white walls and green trim, the interior of the restaurant looked both clean and spacious. That said, the acoustics of the room (as well as the bustling dinner crowd) made it very difficult to hear both our server and each other. At first, we all commented on our server's intense enunciation. After a while, we realized that maybe she was doing it on purpose. Regardless, we were thankful. For that, as well as great service throughout the meal. (She even rinsed off their baby Carter's rubber place mat, which somehow got covered in tomato juice. Well, at least it was the juice of fresh tomatoes....)

One of the main reasons that it's taken me this long to make it over to Audrey Claire is the fact that I'm simply not that into Mediterranean flavors (the same way I'm not that into Italian or Mexican flavors). I won't necessarily not go to a place, but I also won't deliberately go either. If someone picks it, I'd probably go along for the ride. And for this reason, I'm glad I'm not always the one choosing where to eat.

For his meal, Rich went for the pork chop entree and the grilled baby artichokes. While I avoided the artichokes, I got to try a bite of the pork chop, which was brined in maple syrup and sprinkled with wild boar bacon. Although a bit salty, the pork chop was perfectly moist. And needless to say, the wild boar bacon bits were definitely better than your average bacon bits.

For our meal, Allison and I decided to share several small plates. Per my friend Jared's suggestion, I picked out the seared haloumi with candied dates and sesame-fig compote. The cheese (which I've had in delicious form at Zahav) had a crispy exterior and a semi-firm interior, which created a great chewing experience. Moreover, the pairing with the fruit flavors offered a great balance of saltiness and sweetness. Definitely my most favorite dish of the night. Definitely.

The crab, avocado, and apple terrine was made up of light ingredients with clean flavors, which came together like a refreshingly cool drink. The baby arugula salad with candied figs, fresh berries, french lentils, and warm goat cheese, came tossed in a light dressing. As I pretty much love every ingredient in this salad, it was quite simply catered to all of my taste buds.

Allison picked out the braised short rib flat bread with melted fontina cheese and truffle oil. As I tend to avoid both pizza and red meat, I was once again thrilled that I wasn't the only one choosing, because this flat bread was absolutely delicious. I inhaled my two slices fairly quickly, savoring the the creamy fontina, the tender short rib, and the fragrant truffle oil. Thankfully for my anti-carb orientation, the flat bread was perfectly thin, serving merely as a vehicle for the aforementioned ingredients.

To top off an already full meal, we decided to try the white chocolate cranberry bread pudding. Even though I've always found bread (and rice) puddings to be a bit odd, I've always had a soft place in my heart for them. The reason is that my younger brother, who generally avoids desserts and sweet things, thoroughly enjoys almost any version of bread pudding he sees. That said, Allison and I found the one at Audrey Claire quite good, though we couldn't actually locate the white chocolate. Given that white chocolate is essentially milk and sugar, it could easily have been baked right in (as opposed to being drizzled on at the end). Regardless, we were pleased.

Because neither Rich nor Allison are big fans of seafood, we generally avoided seafood in our dishes (except for the crab terrine, which I'd called dibs on). Next time, I'm aiming for the grilled octopus and the grilled rosemary tiger shrimp. I'm also hoping the grilled branzino (which was a special the night we were there) will be up for grabs again. Mmmm....

Audrey Claire
20th St & Spruce
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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