I often wonder how chefs and restaurateurs come up with the names for their places. October, Chew Man Chu opened on the ground floor of the Symphony House on South Broad Street. It’s a silly moniker, but there was nothing insipid about my delightful dinner.
The site that once housed Du Jour was gutted and turned into a colorful Asian space. There’s a large community table at the entrance, two small bars and comfortable tables.
Since Edward’s broken ankle saga continues, I dined alone at the marble-topped bar where Tina the bartender measured and mixed cocktails for patrons who braved the brutally cold night. “Kung Fu Panda” was playing on the flat-screened TV, and I sipped a perfect jumbo martini ($9.50) as I tried to decide which dishes to savor from chef/owner Tyson Wong’s kitchen.
Potato leek spring rolls ($7) were a playful Asian turn on European-inspired pan-fried pierogi. Tyson prepared a filling of creamy potatoes, mirepoix and leeks and napped them with a light hollandaise sauce. Crispy wrappers held the tasty concoction together. I asked Tina if I could have some hollandaise, which was homemade, on the side for dipping.
Since it was a frozen tundra outside, I needed some soup to warm me up. A big deep bowl of won-ton soup ($6) did the trick. The homemade wrappers were light and transparent. They were filled with a mixture of minced shrimp, pork, shiitakes and scallions. The light chicken broth was enhanced by minced scallions and a hint of ginger. If you have a cold, this is one fine remedy.
A man next to me was digging into a big bowl of chicken curry. At Chew Man Chu, you can select a protein and the type of curry sauce you wish. I kept this in mind as I advanced to the next dish.
The salt and pepper shrimp ($18.50) arrived sans shells, which made enjoying it much easier. Tyson took four jumbo shrimp and seasoned them with salt and pepper. They were quickly stir-fried and served with tasty shredded red peppers and scallions. He looked to France for the dipping sauce and came up with a slightly spicy aioli laced with garlic. He added some fresh cilantro to the dish, which enhanced the shrimp and the sauce. A large bowl of steamed brown rice came with the entrée, but white rice also was available.
The wine list features a number of moderately priced American and European whites and reds. I could not decide between a California sauvignon blanc or a Trimbach pinot gris. Tina gave me a sample of both and I immediately knew the Trimbach was the winner. Wines from Alsace are a fine foil for spicy Asian fare.
As I enjoyed the shrimp, Tina pointed out a young man at the bar across from the open kitchen. Tyson was preparing several courses for him.
“He is the executive chef at Lacroix at the Rittenhouse,” she said of Jason Cichonski, who replaced Matt Levin at the glorious restaurant founded by Jean-Marie Lacroix. (It is usually a good sign when you spot a chef dining in a restaurant on his or her night off.)
I ordered duck with red curry ($19) to go. The spicy curry is a mix of red peppers, red chili, paprika, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, garlic, onion and Thai basil. As soon as I arrived home and tasted it, I came to the conclusion Tyson knows how to spice up a dish without putting anyone’s mouth on fire.
But I am getting ahead of myself. After I paid my bill, I went over to meet the young man at the helm at Lacroix. We chatted a bit and I met Tyson, as well. The young chef was eating thin crepes filled with almonds and drizzled with honey. He gave me a taste. I found them light and delightful.
The restaurant is well-staffed with helpful and knowledgeable servers. Nothing on the menu exceeds $19. Portions are large enough to share and the flavor combinations Tyson and his staff put together hit the mark. Each dish was seasoned just right. No one had a heavy hand with salt or spices.
Sunoco's South Philly Stench
Will Brown Finds 'Common Ground'
Tony Danza Is The Boss
Light Rail Planned for Pennsport
Remembering Hardy Williams
A Failure for Ray of Hope?