July 25, 2013

Square 1682

Life has been hectic, and we've not only been neglecting the blog, we have barely even had time to get out and check out what's going on in Philly.  Thankfully, a lot of big-name restaurants have PR reps that kindly keep us in the loop with any fun events or major changes.  We were recently alerted to a menu makeover at Square 1682, the restaurant associated with Hotel Palomar.  We hadn't returned since our long-ago meal celebrating Earth Day; since then the restaurant has really changed its image, scaling back a bit and transitioning into more of a casual eating establishment with a focus on the bar.   Our mission was to find out whether this would reflect a change in the quality of the food. 

We settled into a spacious table complete with super cushy leather seats and a huge window ledge that I essentially moved into (ladies carry a lot of stuff in their purses).  We had two waiters taking care of us since one was still in "I'm new here" mode.  Together they were a tad overbearing but super sweet and great with timing.  When we told them we planned to share all of our dishes, they kindly split the "market seasonal soup" ($11) into two bowls.  Since last week was insanely hot, the kitchen made a smart choice in creating a cold pea soup.  The base of the soup definitely contained something extra starchy, providing a really thick texture and an undertone of starch flavor.  Whole peas, cubed canteloupe, fennel, and an impossibly thin and crispy piece of Serrano ham created lots of textural interest and hit that sweet spot of a salty-sweet balance.  We also really loved these ceramic lion bowls!

As we dug into our soup, one of our waiters popped by with a bowl o' carbs- a fun Middle Eastern-inspired crispy flatbread studded with black sesame seeds, a few pieces of herb dusted foccacia, and a crusty round roll.  It was fun to mix and match with the ultra-whipped butter and an olive oil dip.

The new menu kind of surprised us- we typically end up front-loading with interesting sounding appetizers and go light with the entrees.  However, all of the entrees at Square 1682 sound amazing- it was so hard to narrow it down!  The lamb short ribs ($18) were a great choice- these ribs were less meaty than traditional beef short ribs, but the meat was obviously treated with a lot of care. A slow roast encouraged the bones to shed their meat without argument, but there was still a noticeably crunchy exterior expertly painted with bourbon BBQ glaze.  The meat was served over fluffy Lancaster cheddar grits that really had more of a super-slow-cooked polenta texture as well as a fun summer corn succotash made with zucchini, red and yellow peppers, and a few microgreens.  The portion sizes here are generous, and the careful balance of meat, vegetables, and starch was achieved.

The side dishes are a little pricey (averaging $8+), but the "Bright Lights Swiss Chard" sounded far too good to turn down ($9).  The menu promised brie, beets, and strawberries- unfortunately our dish was lacking the beets, but the smoky, salty, earthy chard again reflected a knowledgeable chef who respects the quality of these ingredients and works magic to highlight their charms.  Creamy brie and sweet summer strawberries make pretty much any dish even that much better, amiright?

The other winning entree was the Skuna Bay salmon ($22), served with red lentils studded with crunchy bits of carrots and celery, charred fennel, and a citrus glaze.  The chunk of salmon was easily eight ounces or more, with crispy skin intact and providing forkfuls of brilliant orange-pink flaky meat.   Fennel is another one of those "can-do-no-wrong" ingredients in our book, and the char was just perfectly reflective of summer.  Again, it was nice to see some extra veggies packed in with the quinoa.

Although we were too full for dessert (thanks to an afternoon snack of a giant bag of chips + tub of guac for only $4 at Honest Tom's.. best deal ever but that's another story for another day), the peach and blackberry cobbler sounded like it would have been the perfect sweet ending to our meal.  Overall, we were really pleased with our second experience at Square 1682.  Compared with our meal three years ago, it seems that the food has gotten less "fussy" with more focus on balanced dishes made with quality ingredients and less focus on fancy cooking and plating techniques.  Fun fact: the restaurant is named after the year William Penn created Rittenhouse Square and its sister parks throughout the city.  I always thought it was the address... 

121 South 17th Street

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