Friday, February 15, 2013

Little Fish Review

For Valentine's Day, the GF decided to turn the tables on me and take me out for a nice dinner. When it comes to food, I usually do all the planning, but I've got to say - she knocked it out of the park. Let me present to you - my new favorite restaurant in Philadelphia - Little Fish BYOB.

Recently and newly ranked #24 on Philly Magazine's Top 50 Restaurants in Philadelphia, I'm frankly surprised it isn't ranked higher. Having dined at many of the other restaurants on the list, the ranking seems to be due to a lack of publicity surrounding this BYO in Bella Vista. Frankly though, the lack of pretension and fanfare is part of the charm of Little Fish.

Forgetting all the drama that has recently enveloped Fish, original chef Mike Stollenwerk sold Little Fish to his chef de cuisine, Chadd Jenkins back in September 2011. And without a doubt, Chef Jenkins was able to offer some of the most creative and fresh seafood dishes I've had since I last visited Le Bernadin back in 2009.

Little Fish is an intimate 22-seat establishment with handwritten menus that change on a nightly basis. It's all based on what's seasonal and available. The GF scored us a table that afforded us a great view of the chefs at work.

Bread Service

We started off with a nice white bread, which tasted fresh but was served cold. It was accompanied by a garlicky chimichurri, with notes of oregano, vinegar, and parsley. A nice change of pace from butter, and perfectly suited for the seafood that was to come.

Kampachi ($16)
Greek yogurt, grapefruit, jicama, cashew

The kampachi was characteristically meaty and toothsome. But the dish was augmented by the great salty and lime flavors imparted onto the fish. The cashew and jicama added great texture, while the mint and grapefruit balanced the smokiness of the dish. The greek yogurt helped to tie everything together.

Scallop ($17)
Almond, blood orange, fennel, chili

The GF enjoyed the scallop, which was one of the lightest dishes of the night. The fennel was grilled, imparting a smokiness to the herb. The blood orange added sweet tang to the dish, while the almond added necessary texture.

Octopus ($16)
Cabbage, kohlrabi, bacon, rye

This was easily my favorite dish of the night, and one of my favorite preparations in recent memory. The cephalopod had a beautiful grilled char, but the higlight? The inner meat was luxuriously silky. If you've ever seen Jiro Dream of Sushi, a documentary chronicling the most famous 3 Michelin star sushi restaurant in the world, you know that Jiro has his apprentices massage their octopus for 45 minutes to get a luxurious texture. I wouldn't be surprised if the star of this dish received similar treatment. It was that good.

The candied bacon added a nice savory and sweet counterpoint to the char of the octopus. The kohlrabi and cabbage added fresh elements to what is a surprisingly hefty dish. The croutons and rye added texture as well. A must order if it's on the menu and you've never had octopus.

Cobia ($32)
Grits, edamame, maitake, smoked tomato

This was the GF's first time trying cobia and knowing that she loved halibut, I recommended that she go with this. Prototypically meaty and clean - the cobia did not disappoint. The smoked tomatoes added tang to the dish, while the meaty maitake mushrooms added more depth and grilled flavor. The grits were nice and not overpowered with butter and the edamame was a change of pace texturally, adding clean notes.

Big Eye Tuna ($34)
Fregola, kale, oxtail, persimmon, caramlized onion

My big eye tuna, one of two types of Ahi, was delicious and prepared medium rare. It was perfectly meaty, with a smokiness on the outside. Sweet and savory oxtail was intermingled with silky fregola pasta, while the pop of persimmon added bright notes.

But the true star of this dish? The caramelized onions, which I realized was presented in a puree. Deep and savory, the GF and I could not get enough. I would easily buy a pint of this and drink it with some cheese and toast points.

Pineapple Upside-down Cake ($8)
Sesame ice cream, pineapple caramel

The only 'meh' of the evening was the dessert. They had two offerings for the night, the pineapple upside down cake and a panna cotta. We opted for the former and unfortunately, the cake itself was very dry and dense. I did appreciate the sesame ice cream which seemed to have a kick at the end - ginger, perhaps? The caramel was a nice touch - certainly infused with the essence of pineapple. But in the end, we should have said no mas.

Disregarding the dessert, the GF and I thoroughly had a wonderful meal at Little Fish. Creative and fresh - Chef Jenkins is certainly holding his own. Service was exceptionally friendly and helpful. The pacing of the meal was perfect for a Valentine's Day dinner. FYI - Little Fish offers a 5-course tasting on Sunday nights for only $33. There are two seatings - one at 5:30PM and the other at 8PM. Make sure to reserve in advance though - the word on the street is that these tables are booked for weeks! No surprise here, that's for sure.

Little Fish BYOB on Urbanspoon

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