Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trip to Old City: Fork

“It’s like a theater,” says Ellen Yin of her buzzed-about restaurant, Fork, to a flock of spectators from Penn. Every day Yin, her new chef Eli Kulp, and the rest of their team put on a show, usually to a full house.

Like any seasoned producer, Yin thought carefully before she drew back Fork’s curtain in 1997. She selected a business partner, studied the competition, brought financial backers on board, and negotiated a promising location.

The acts at Fork are inspired by the set: a vast, high-ceilinged dining room that Yin speaks of warmly. A few months back, server and artist Tony Demeles outfitted its two center-stage walls in matching murals, tableaus of ghostly saplings, rusty shadows, and sunshiny streaks. Yin calls the space, “Vibrant, forward, and contemporary,” just like the fare dished up in house.

Man of the hour Eli Kulp is busy breaking duck legs behind the scenes. If Yin is Fork’s entrepreneurial producer, Kulp is its visionary director. He looks like a football player, but handles a tangle of radicchio like it’s a baby bird’s nest. His shtick is age-old technique meets space-age science meets aesthetic uplift.

This afternoon, as is his style, Kulp’s killing a number, plating duck done three ways for his now-drooling audience.

Word of mouth is that the Chinese-inspired dishes they tasted five minutes later were both delicious and economical: meatballs made of leg and drenched in sauce made of liver, jewel-toned prosciutto cured, dried, and sliced playbill-thin, cross-sections of breast. The money note is the breast’s skin, which melts on your tongue like candy.

The students scrape their plates clean and have to break from salaciously licking duck fat off of their fingers because Kulp has reemerged from the wings. This crew deserves a hand.

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