Twenty Manning

Update of Rittenhouse spot is as cool as a locally grown cucumber.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Jul. 20, 2010

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Twenty Manning, when it opened in 1999, represented the height of cool here, a sort of New York-comes-to-Philadelphia spot, with resolutely black-clad patrons, dishes featuring that long-ago era’s touchstone, Asian fusion, and a vibe whose well-thought-out hipness was outdone only by the noise from the bar.

Oh, how times have changed.

In the 11 years since the heady days of Twenty Manning’s arrival, our definition of hip has shifted along with its cultural and economic context. Gone are the de rigueur $200 Helmut Lang T-shirts and LV-stamped everything that characterized and, in hindsight, ultimately condemned the era.

These days, comfort rules, from clothing to decor to the dishes that comprise what we now consider a desirable menu. In response to this—and in response to Twenty Manning’s correlative drift toward anachronism—Audrey Taichman and her chef and partner, Kiong Banh, overhauled the place. They shut it down in March, remodeled and redecorated, and switched up the menu to better reflect the way Philadelphians eat now.

The TMG burger is an effective case study for this shift. The beef comes with a pedigree (Pineland Farms), a firm moral framework (it’s pasture-raised and grass-fed), a minimalist seasoning philosophy (salt and pepper and nothing else), and just enough kitsch (Mickey D’s-esque special sauce, bourbon aioli far more interesting than anything the golden arches ever considered) to keep it from being too serious. There’s even a sweet, fluffy bun directly from Georges Perrier’s Main Line bakery, the most significant nod back to the good old days when the biggest mealtime choice facing a Rittenhouser was Rouge, Manning or Brasserie Perrier.

Aside from the problem of heft (even at eight ounces, it’s simply too thick to fit comfortably in the mouth—insert your own Michael Scott that’s-what-she-said here), this is a serious burger, possessing all the mineral tang and toothsome texture you’d want from non-industrial beef.

House-cured and -smoked Virginia trout was another comfort-y winner—deeply savory, still just the slightest bit moist, blessedly not oversalted and served with all the familiar fixings: wonderfully savory horseradish cream, onions, capers, greens and toasted baguette slices. It pulled off the old Proust/Ratatouille trick, too: My first bite transported me back to Sunday-morning brunches as a kid; all it needed was my mother to walk into the restaurant and start yelling at me to quit bullying my sister.

Of course, for all its successes, Twenty Manning is still a young restaurant, and there were some youthful stutters. Scallops, with an addictive roasted-yellow-pepper coulis, grapefruit supremes and spinach, were perfectly seared but a touch too salty, throwing off the balance of flavors on the plate. Magnificently crafted gazpacho, whose snappy texture reminded me of a looser version of granita, would have been perfect had the island of pineapple-basil sorbet floating in the center not been so sweet. The tomatoes that formed the base of the soup were plenty sweet on their own; the addition of the sorbet stole attention from what should have been the focal point.

As far as desserts, even they jive with Twenty Manning’s neighborhoodiness. The half-baked Toll House cookie, though a bit too sweet for me, will appeal to sentimentalists for its youthful sense of fun and to hipsters for its wink-wink irony. The local, super-seasonal berries in the cobbler were matched in impressiveness by the dough, fluffy and perfect.

So far, the city appears to have embraced the makeover, gutsy as it was. In fact, it seems to have attracted a wider range of guests than the old Twenty Manning did. On a recent Friday night, the place was populated by a spectacular cross-section of 2010 Philly. From simple black T-shirts to Tommy Bahama palm-tree prints, from corner-store wire-rims to Persol sunglasses, from respectable neighborhood ladies modestly buttoned up to younger women flaunting what their mamas gave them for the obvious pleasure of the more silver-maned members of the crowd, every make and model was represented, chatting, drinking, eating amiably.

It was all perfectly suited to the space and the new attitude here: Everyone blended in seamlessly with the more casual, comfortable, approachable feel. Which, these more egalitarian days, seems to be the new definition of cool.

Thank goodness for that.

Twenty Manning
261 S. 20th St. 215.731.0900.
Cuisine: New American.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 5pm-10:30pm; Sat.-Sun., 5pm-11:30pm.
Price: $10-$20.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Anonymous said... on Jul 20, 2010 at 06:45PM

“Look at the photographs by Arlene Love in the back of the restaurant. They show Philadelphian eating outdoors, with our best and worst manners. Love's sharp eye and sense of humor let us know we are being watched..”

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2. kate said... on Jul 21, 2010 at 09:02AM

“Two paragraphs about a burger, and then the briefest review of just a few other dishes? Most of this review was about what the patrons were wearing. More food, less "scene", please.”

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3. Mara said... on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:00PM

“Granita is a dessert, and comparing it to gazpacho is sloppy.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 21, 2010 at 02:02PM

“The food is outstanding. The decor is beautifully simple. The vibe is hip and relaxed. They really got this right.”

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5. Eric said... on Jul 22, 2010 at 12:12AM

“@kate Well, he comes from Philly Style and Affluent magazine. Scene is at least half of what they sell.

@Mara maybe he meant Sangrita, the spicy Mexican apertif served with Tequila. But yes, granita is a tasty frozen dessert, and nowhere near gazpacho.

Brian Freedman is a great writer and food critic, but I am bummed that his debut was a lesson on trendy clothing from a trendy neighborhood and big chested broads attracting older gentleman's affections. I get his angle about an evolving neighborhood and the flavors that follow, but this is a bit much.

What made Adam so great was his connection with us as food adventurers and real townfolk. The readership of PW is not the same as PStyle.

You're much better than this, Mr. Freedman. You wrote some of my favorite critiques ever put to print.”

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6. jstone said... on Jul 22, 2010 at 08:53AM

“This was awful. I miss Adam already”

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7. Rittenfood said... on Jul 23, 2010 at 11:32AM

“The Lobster Pot Pie is amazing and the Pork Chop is the best in the city. my wife and I had a great time. Very helpful and friendly staff.”

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8. dedwards said... on Jul 23, 2010 at 11:36AM

“I thought the pineapple basil sorbet in the heirloom tomato gazpacho was a whimsical twist on an old classical. bravo chef, this guy sucks at writing reviews.”


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