4/19/2012 06:18:00 PM

Sneak Peek at Rittenhouse Tavern

The patio
​When Rittenhouse Tavern opens next week in the stately Art Alliance of Philadelphia building just south of the square, it will be something special for New York-based Restaurant Associates: an independent restaurant. Though the company operates over a hundred dining venues across the Northeast - in esteemed venues like Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Longwood Gardens - this project will be only a handful of stand-alone ventures for the company.

Thanks to the tapping of former Le Bec-Fin chef Nicholas Elmi to oversee the kitchen and Oyster House/Rouge/Lacroix alum Daniel Elliott to run the front of the house, the neighborhood tavern will be brimming with the unique flavor of Philly's food scene.

“We’re going to serve tremendous food made with outstanding ingredients and served with the utmost care, but in a casual, friendly environment,” RA vice-president Ed Brown says, adding “Real luxury is when you can enjoy a great meal without worrying about what you’re wearing, which fork to use or how you’re supposed to act.”

​Elmi, for his part, is excited to create food that isn’t restricted by the narrow definition of French haute cuisine. Innovation is apparent in bar bites like deviled eggs with scrapple, in which coin-size rounds of crunchy, housemade scrapple are topped with finely whipped seasoned yolks and a dusting of powdered whites. Most menu items rely on great ingredients and careful execution, rather than gimmicks. “The food that shows up on your plate is going to be what you expected you ordered, not some ‘deconstructed’ alternative,” Elmi jokes.

​That doesn’t mean the dishes lack finesse. Lemon peel is blanched no less than four times before becoming a bright puree that enhances fluke crudo with snappy shaved radish. A hanger steak finds unusual tenderness beneath roasted mushrooms and lightly caramelized onions, and is surrounded with doubly decadent potato-encrusted potato spears. At $29, that cut of beef is the most expensive thing on the entire bill of fare, which is rounded out with popular favorites like crab cake and fried chicken. Appetizers hover near $11, and range from pickled baby vegetables to portobella fries to crispy frogs legs.

​Offerings will change regularly, as local produce flows in and out of season, including herbs and vegetables grown in the garden out back. Watercress is now growing there, as is oregano, mint, kohl rabi and even strawberries. Enclosed by a brick wall and a wrought-iron fence, the rest of the patio has been refitted with flora and wood slat tables, providing 25 seats in perhaps the most serene and secluded outdoor dining area in Center City. Through a carved wooden archway, the interior comprises the back rooms one of Rittenhouse’s only remaining grand mansions. A famous aviary-themed mural that wraps around the small, main dining room has been carefully restored. Reclaimed wood forms the slab tables there and in a second space that can easily host private functions, and bits of elegant marble have been added to the bar area, home to just over a dozen stools and a quad of high-tops.

General manager Elliott's beverage program follows the philosophy of the eats: local-focused, high-end offerings, without a fancy price tag. A dozen each of reds and whites start at just $29 per bottle ($7 per glass) and none hit the $100 mark. Signature cocktails served in old-style glasses run $9-$13, and will feature a growing selection of whiskeys. Beer is bottled only, but includes several area faves, none higher then $6 each. Rittenhouse Tavern is open for dinner 5-10 PM, Sunday and Tuesday–Thursday and 5–11 PM, Friday–Saturday. Lunch and weekend brunch will be introduced soon.

251 S. 18th St.; 215-732-2412
Hanger steak


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