March 12, 2012

Mica: Craftsmanship at Work in the Heart of Chestnut Hill

By now you've likely read or heard that Philadelphia's own Mica was recently named one of GQ magazine's 10 Best New Restaurants in America. You can probably understand, then, why I did a little jump for joy reading this and knowing that we already had a reservation. Demand is sure to peak in the next few months. 

For us, Mica lived up to its reputation for complex and creative dishes, handcrafted with perfection by emerging local star Chip Roman. Looking at the meal as a whole though, including the progression of small plates and service, it was mix of positives and negatives. In the end, I did walk away with admiration for the TLC put into every bite.

There are just a few options at Mica: the chef's tasting of five or seven dishes, or a fixed price for three or four choices from the main menu. The month's tasting ingredients are listed but you don't know how they'll be used. We went in February, so what you see below may not be what's offered another month. 

We opted for the five-course tasting menu at $75 per person. It came with a freebie dish at the beginning and end, so we really had seven courses. Don't know if that's the norm, but it certainly made us glad we picked the smaller option. Roman's complimentary Spanish mackerel ceviche was a perfectly fresh combination of light fish, grapefruit, cilantro and salsa verde, possibly even our favorite dish of the night. It set the tone very well. 

Spanish mackerel ceviche

Next up was fluke crudo with yuzu, a Japanese citris fruit and another ingredient that resembled baby chilies (missed the name, any guesses?). Also excellent. The yuzu added a nice, sweet flavor and it had just enough heat to stir up a little party on your tastebuds. The dish was up there with our favorite hamachi ceviche at Jose Garces' Distrito

Fluke crudo

The next two dishes were foie gras and veal sweatbreads. Ok, gourmands, please don't hate us, but this was simply too much. We totally expected to eat something of this nature at a place like Mica, for a price like Mica, and on their own each dish offered an impressive combination of flavors. But we all kinda looked at each other after eating the two dishes in a row and agree, I really hope the next dish is more... normal.

Veal sweatbreads
Foie gras

The thick round of foie gras came with a white chocolate power, banana cream and gingerbread. It was a really innovative mix of flavors that actually kinda felt like a dessert. At the same time, the foie gras was so rich it reminded us of a hunk of butter - on its own far too powerful, but on the gingerbread quite lovely. Follow that with a pile of veal sweatbreads, red bean sorrel, pear puree and shitake mushrooms, though, and it was just too much, too fast. The sauce grew on Bradd but he added that more mushrooms may have helped ease the odd texture of the sweatbreads. Including one or the other of these dishes would have been better. Or at least something in between (we asked for more baguette). 

The next course's roasted lamb saved the day. It was perfectly cooked and made us wish for more. A bed of celery root puree and trumpets was the right combination to round out this dish. Bradd absolutely loved it.

Roasted lamb

We thought the small but yummy pistachio creme brulee would be the satisfyingly light finale, but Mica surprised us each with a beautiful dark chocolate bonus dessert with candy twisted peanuts, kumquat, blood orange and vanilla-infused puree. I wasn't feeling overly full until I polished off this slice of chocolate heaven.

Chocolate dessert
Pistachio creme brulee

The service at Mica was generally average and we appreciated the pace of dishes so we didn't get stuffed too quickly. Although when you're paying $75 a person just for the meal, you should expect more. The waitress' explanation of the tasting menu was basically that Chef Roman is so great that you get what he says is best. A little more detail at the beginning and when each dish was brought out would have been appreciated. Why does Chef Roman think foie gras should be spread on gingerbread with banana cream? We found ourselves asking each time for a repeat of the ingredients to make sure we got it all. 

The water/wine pouring was also chaotic. Every time the waitress came to refill our wine glasses, the water guy was right there pouring at the same time. It crowded the table and was distracting. We confirmed with a trusted veteran of fine dining service that this is generally unacceptable.

As with many restaurants, the rule at Mica is everyone gets the tasting menu, or no one does. One of our companions was seven months pregnant, though, and asked very kindly if the restaurant would make an exception. She couldn't eat all the ingredients and didn't want to preclude the rest of us from the tasting experience. In our view, the immediate answer should have been "absolutely, not a problem" but instead the waitress said she had to check with the chef. He said it was fine, but was it really a big enough deal to ask? 

The verdict on Mica is that the tasting menu is chock full of rich flavors and creative combinations that make it worth the splurge, but our particularly rich tasting left us a bit overwhelmed at times. We enjoyed Mica more than Blackfish, though the latter is more likely for a revisit based on price alone. Chip Roman's attention to detail and eye (taste?) for unique flavor combinations is sure to keep him on the path to local stardom.

On a side note, we can also see why it is so hard for businesses make it in Chestnut Hill. We went there early on purpose to wander the streets but the main drag shuts down by 5:30 or 6:00 pm on a Saturday night. We made it to Penzey's for spices (massive collection of spices, worth a trip) but after that didn't have much to choose from. Chestnut Hill has tremendous potential to be one of the hottest shopping/dining areas of Philadelphia; hopefully the presence of places like Mica will help that come true. 

8609 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA, 19118 

Mica on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

A and J said...

gorgeous pics! that foie dish looks really intriguing.