Call it the Rollo-fication of Philadelphia. Nicholas Elmi is famously pairing up foie gras and cocoa at Laurel. At Avance, Justin Bogle has incorporated cocoa with veal sweetbreads. And now at Stateside, new executive chef Kevin D’Egidio is pairing chicken liver mousse and dulce de leche. You order it because of its sheer unusualness. You eat too much because it’s seriously delicious.
The dish works terrifically: The ethereal mousse is lent heft by the perfectly rendered dulce de leche, thinned out with a bit of coffee. And then, just as quickly as you pop a bite, it all melts and then vanishes on the tongue, leaving only the memory of that earthy-sweet dance to mingle with powdered brown butter and huckleberry jam.
At its best, the food here now walks the razor’s edge between heady comfort and unexpected exoticism. Octopus is poached with sake, fresno chile, ginger, lemongrass and more until it takes on the texture of a particularly meaty porcini mushroom, then gets hard seared and tossed with red pepper caramel: Magnificent.
The accompaniments, however, could have used more focus: Long-neck squash, smoked and cooked sous vide, lacked enough salt, yet the herby couscous was so over-seasoned that I feared my tongue would turn pruny. Desserts just barely missed the mark as well: Monkey bread was a bit too dry, though I loved the candied bacon, and semolina cake could have used a more assertive hit of the Madras curry that was frustratingly evanescent. But they were the few missteps at a restaurant that is both as good as ever and seeking out new avenues to please its guests.
The use of curry, for example, in an amuse-bouche of lamb rillette balls was perfectly calibrated, and against the sweet adhesive layer of meyer lemon puree connecting it to the petite slice of homemade brioche, it was a stunning way to start. Brassicas, which brought together broccoli rabe, Napa cabbage, kimchi, charred bok choy and fried, crispy turnip greens with the savory depths of XO sauce and the bright acid of pickled romanesco, is a great vegetarian option, even for carnivores.
Cassoulet, if the base reminded just a little more tomato-focused than I’d expected, was nonetheless excellent. Homemade andouille showed up like a surprise every other forkful, borne alongside black-eyed peas of heft and delicacy. But it was the single fried chicken leg riding shotgun that stole the show: Skin this crisp and flesh this tender is something to cheer—except when I was fighting over the last bite with my wife. (Note: She won.) Oysters were made new with a side cup of pomegranate mignonette, the fruit’s sweetness electrifying the briny bivalves.
It’s all washed down with a selection of beer and whiskey as complete and diverse as it’s ever been. And if you get there during happy hour, those drafts are half-off. A pint of floral, vaguely spicy Elysian Oddland Peppercorn Saison seemed custom made to accompany the curried lamb rillettes. The Crisp, from Six Points, worked well with nearly everything else. Of course, you could always go big and opt for a pour of the remaining Pappy Van Winkle 23 holding pride of place behind the bar. It’s $125 for a two-ounce pour—but then again, it’s Pappy 23, so justification is easy if you have the cash and don’t feel like spending money on unnecessary things like food and rent for the rest of the week.
There is just so much to love about Stateside—there always has been, and that remains the case now. D’Egidio’s elevation to the helm has resulted in new items and ways of working with ingredients, but the honesty and focus on freshness that have always made Stateside so beloved are still there in abundance. That dulce de leche, it turns out, isn’t the only sweet spot in this East Passyunk standout. It’s as good as ever, and that’s as sweet as it gets.
1536 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.551.2500. statesidephilly.com
Cuisine: Elegant, soulful preparations, often with an international flair.
Hours: Dinner: Sun.-Thurs., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5pm-midnight; Bar: Sun.- Thurs., 4:30pm-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 4:30pm-2am.
Price range: Most dishes under $20.
Atmosphere: Like the casual, sophisticated neighborhood bar/restaurant of your dreams.
Food: Internationally inspired, finely wrought and overall very successful.
Service: Warm, knowledgeable and friendly.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014