Eat, Drink & Be Merry at George Sabatino's Stateside on Passyunk Ave.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 28, 2012

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Big shrimpin’: The Marvesta shrimp salad was char-streaked and smoky sweet.

Spotting the face of a familiar chef, server or manager at a restaurant on a Monday night is generally a good sign that you’re in for an at-least-decent meal. Finding yourself in a dining room full of them is about as confidence-swelling as it gets.

On a recent Monday, then, as the evening wore on and the bar grew busier, the stream of local restaurant pros first seemed to be a good omen. By the end of the meal, it had become something else: Deserved.

Executive Chef George Sabatino, with his deeply satisfying menu seems populated by a dish you’d love to eat (be careful of over-ordering), is making a justifiably positive name for himself among both restaurant professionals and civilians alike.

It all starts off with a belief that technically proficient food doesn’t have to be precious to be exciting. His rabbit rillettes, for example, borne in their mason-jar chariot, are moist and tender and speak vividly of their toasted brown coriander. But it’s the velvety lid of pear preserves, all cinnamon-y and warming, that makes it impossible to not wipe the inside of the glass clean with your bread.

Pickles also benefit from whiffs of unexpected spice. Sabatino plays with sourness, sweetness and perfume with an alchemist’s sense of fine-tuning. Beets are punched up with coriander and bay leaf; cauliflower makes a remarkable partner for raisins and turmeric. If you’re in the mood for a de facto pickle back to wash down your whiskey, this is the place to do it, especially considering Stateside’s generous whiskey offerings.

It’s with these more comforting dishes that Stateside is at its best. Pork liver terrine is a chunky, funky wonder, the gaminess of the organ both unabashed and primal in the best sense. Bone marrow and truffle sausage is the kind of dish that would give any self-respecting doctor nightmares. Loosely packed and rich enough to be the carnivore’s equivalent of freebasing umami rocks, it’s a great intro to marrow if you’ve never had it before. Bourbon-brined chicken is feathery and dizzyingly moist beneath its crisp lid of skin.

There are, of course, occasional dings in the armor. Smoked trout salad was excellent, but only for the first half-dozen bites. After that, it grew a touch too salty; the orange and blood orange segments weren’t quite enough to counter it. Unexpectedly, however, the charred broccolini with chili flakes found itself on the other end of that spectrum. Its generous dusting of citrus breadcrumbs, sneakily bright with lemon and orange zest, was a highlight, but the house-cured bacon wasn’t prominent enough.

Char-streaked and smoky-sweet Marvesta shrimp would have been better had they been removed from the grill a few seconds earlier. Still, they were quite flavorful, built on just a few good ingredients (house-made chili oil, preserved lemons, chives, shallots, a few more), and messy in the best possible way. Popping off the heads and sucking out the slurry of treats inside will leave your chin drippy and your shirt flecked with juice. As the weather warms, this is exactly the sort of dish that should fly out of the kitchen to guests drinking at the bar—I had them with an Evil Genius Good ‘n Evil Kolsch from Indiana; they were perfect together, and will be even better on an 80-degree night.

Desserts follow the same logic as the rest of the meal: Small portions and big flavors are the focal points. Pastry Chef Robert Toland’s smoked chocolate tart, all savory and deep, dances like Fred Astaire with its housemade marshmallow fluff. The ice cream sandwich, with its ginger snaps three ways and heart of frozen butterscotch mousse, begs for a final glass of porter to wash it down.

Don’t fight the temptation. Stateside seems custom-made for eating a little too much, drinking a little too much, and regretting none of it.

1536 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.551.2500. statesidephilly.com

Cuisine: Contemporary, casual American, focusing on domestic (and local) ingredients.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 5-10pm (bar open till 2am); Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm (bar open till 2am); Sun., 5pm-2am (kitchen till 9pm; bar menu till 1am).
Price range: $4-$23.
Atmosphere: Appealing and comfortable, with exposed bricks and black-and-white photos.
Food: Flavorful, technically accomplished and earnest.
Service: Just right—helpful and knowledgeable and unobtrusive.

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