The newly revamped diner is stellar.
It was a perfect marriage--the Dude and the diner. When news broke that Mark Bee was purchasing the legendary but dying Silk City diner, it was hard to find anyone not outright thrilled by the prospect. After all, N. Third (Bee's other baby) is about as close as it comes to the perfect hang. Great food, friendly staff, high- and low-end beers and cocktails, and an interior that doesn't demand you take notice but impresses nonetheless.
It's almost impossible to have a bad night or disappointing meal at N. Third, and the only things missing at Silk City's pre-Bee days were a hard scrubbin' and a menu overhaul. Now it's been given both. With stellar results.
It wasn't easy. After purchasing the place, the long-haired, bearded, Big Lebowski-lookalike Bee closed it for the mother of all renovations--building the kitchen from the basement up, slapping on fresh coats of paint, rewiring, hooking up some fabbo red lighting, laying new pipe and--most spectacularly--adding a smattering of inspired mosaics, the most impressive made with shattered white china. The results rock.
But all the fancy newness would be for naught, of course, if the food sucked.
A couple appetizers go a long way in proving it doesn't, while underscoring the kitchen's remarkable versatility. Duck and mushroom spring rolls are crispy, delicious and served with both a spicy mustard and sweet chile sauce that's been artfully squiggled on a rectangular plate.
A couple pulled pork and sweet potato empanadas served on a generous bed of pineapple salsa next to a dollop of cilantro sour cream are wonderful too. A tiny smidge of cinnamon lingers in the nostrils after every bite, and a drizzle of chipotle honey help ramp up the perfectly fried empanadas' flavor profile.
There's a lot going on in both dishes. Sweet, spicy, crunchy, fluffy--the spring rolls and empanadas signal from the get-go that things in Silk City's kitchen are done with care.
A plate of tuna tostadas is also up in the appetizer mix, ordered from a page of specials tucked inside Silk City's menu, which changes daily and varies wildly. Those in search of trad diner nosh are well served by the likes of chili dogs with homemade potato salad, while more adventurous diners can have, say, the duck liver mousse or a prosciutto-wrapped pork chop.
But back to those tostadas (distraction is part of the Silk City experience--more on that in a sec). Quarter-inch cuts of slightly seared tuna sit atop individual colored tortilla chips and a tiny nest of white cabbage. They're good enough, but have a hard time vying for attention beside the fried competition I paired it with.
Next a bowl of chili takes center stage. I don't mind telling you that I have a strange fascination (read: unhealthy obsession) with chili, and have an impossible time not ordering it when I see it on a menu. Any menu. Believe me, I've been burnt by this unwritten rule many a night. I'll spare you the gory details.
Silk City's $6-for-a-big-ol'-bowl of chili is a downright bargain. In a few months I'll be bleeding this stuff.
A bowl of red chowder off the specials menu doesn't fare as well. It's a bit bland, but a touch of salt goes a long way.
A grilled chicken sandwich with a generous slap of pesto mayo is perfect--basil and bacon working together in harmony.
A roast beef sandwich is a sloppy mess, just as it should be. There's no way you're getting this thing in your mouth intact. Pull it apart, fork the beef, gruyere and caramelized onions, and dip them in a ramekin of jus. Put that meaty mix on a tear of sandwich bread smeared in horseradish, and mmm, bruschetta gone wild.
And now: Silk City's only problem. It's the distraction mentioned before. No matter what you order here--be it the roast beef sandwich of the gods or the bowl of chili that haunts your dreams--something will pass your table during the course of your meal that will make you wonder whether you screwed up.
This happened every time a heaping plate of meatloaf passed by, or a plate of fried chicken, or the skin-on crispy salmon served on a hearty pile of wasabi mashed potatoes and drizzled with Thai coconut curry sauce. So I went back and had them all. None disappointed, but again I found myself distracted by steaming bowls of clams, and plates of chili dogs or seared scallops. When dining at Silk City, it's best to keep your head down, eyes focused on what's in front of you. It's the only way to get through a meal without the nagging feeling you should've ordered something different.
Or you could just choose to not sweat it at all. What's the difference? You'll be back.
Silk City Diner and Lounge
Fifth and Spring Garden sts. 215.592.8838. www.myspace.com/phillysilkcity
Cuisine: Diner chic.
Sound advice: Pleasant.
Food: You'll be back.
Philabeverage: Veggie Pairings