July 17, 2011


Sharing meals with other people who love food makes each bite a little more enjoyable. We recently got together with some fellow Philly food bloggers 22nd and Philly, scheduling a Sunday dinner at Pumpkin. A cute, tiny restaurant on South Street that typically is a bit out of our price range ($8 for a side dish??) but offers a seasonal, locally-inspired five course tasting menu each Sunday for a rather affordable $35 (plus tax and tip).

Reservations are a must- the place only has a handful of tables- of which we scored the best, a four-top situated right inside the large front window. The space is simple and bright with a muted modern feel.

The five course menu offers two options for the appetizer, entree, and dessert, great for a pair of foodies- we were able to try every dish on the menu. The meal started out with a cold soup- a "green gazpacho" perfect for a warm summer evening. Bowls were brought out with a thin curl of cucumber, a few halved muscat grapes, pumpernickel crumbs, some edible flowers, and the best part- a scoop of creme fraiche sorbet. A thick blended soup was poured from a small ceramic pitcher over top, adding lots of earthy green elements such as sweet peas, cucumber, and cilantro. The combination of solid elements had an enormous range of textures and of course, the sorbet adding a soothing touch. The pumpernickel crumbs had a surprisingly strong presence- a bit gritty and nutty and totally fun. A described this dish in one word- fresh- which really encompassed the bright flavors that we continued to enjoy from our first bite to our last.

Bread service was offered alongside the soup- a few pieces of soft baguette and a shared bowl of oil infused with roasted garlic and a bit of chili. This exemplifies the "extra special touch" of each and every part of our meal- dishes were very carefully crafted without being overdone.

A & I split almost every dish pretty evenly, but I started out with the pork belly appetizer. To me, pork belly is a dense, fatty chunk of meat that can be a bit overwhelming, but this piece (a pretty solid chunk of it, no less) had elements of both pork belly (melt in your mouth fat) and my favorite type of pork- slow-cooked shoulder. The meat forked apart beautifully and the flavor was magnified by a tiny bit of syrupy glaze and a few pickled mustard seeds. A chunk of lightly pickled green tomato offered continuity to the vinegar flavor, while local white peaches upheld a subtle sweetness. This was one of our favorites of the meal- perfectly executed.

The other app option was the escargots which had an interesting combination of French and Indian influences. Five or six plump, tender snails held a spicy curry broth- similar flavors were also added in a light frothy foam. A few baby greens and thin, crispy cheese "croutons" added color and textural interest. Pureed charred leeks was spotted around the mollusks, but we weren't huge fans- a bit too bitter and burnt tasting; the dish would have been just fine without it.

Next up was the vegetable course- aptly named "peanut potatoes" based on the salty, soft, baby-sized potatoes that were the star of the show. A small amount of creamy, mild horseradish sauce was cool and spicy. Zucchini curls and slices added a bit of freshness and kept the dish light.

Of the two options for entrees, the skate isn't something I'm very fond of. A thin piece of fish that is typically over cooked and mushy, this piece was a little better- lightly seared, flaky, firm and buttery. A few baby squash and other bites of fresh veggies and two very different sauces completed the plate.

I gladly commandeered the other choice, a duck breast confit- dark meat and crispy skin sandwiching a thin layer of succulent fat infusing the meat with richness. Sweet plums and a pinot noir reduction sauce added a fruity, slightly spicy complement that cut through the richness of the meat. Crumbled chicory provided some nutty crunchiness. Again an absolutely perfect combination of flavors- each bite was better than the last.

Dessert is usually one of our favorite aspects of the meal, and Pumpkin didn't disappoint. However, both options were a little on the "boring" side- panna cotta and chocolate cake. I preferred the buttermilk panna cotta, a dense, smooth and creamy custard that was only slightly sweet with a hint of vanilla. Tart blackberries and white raspberries, a crunchy pumpkin seed granola and very finely ground coconut gave the dessert an essence of breakfast that I loved. A little creative twist to the standard panna cotta.

The chefs also took a few creative liberties with the chocolate cake, which was actually more of a fudgy brownie muffin crumbled over the plate. Small scoops of coconut and currant gelato kept the dessert chilly, and pureed dollops of black sesame added a surprise Middle Eastern/Asian flavor component- a little savory to balance the sweet.

The meal took a solid 2.5 hours to consume, with plenty of time between courses for our group to discuss the food blogging world, new restaurant openings, food cart offerings, and a few non-food related topics. The service was attentive without being overwhelming and the small capacity of the room kept the noise level to a minimum, perfect for getting to know new friends. The experience was truly a fantastic way to cap off a weekend- I'd definitely recommend the tasting menu to anyone looking for some really thoughtful renditions of more classic dishes.

1713 South Street
BYOB & Cash Only

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