Fork is one of those Old City institutions that’s been around since the neighborhood first became cool. But like so much else in that neighborhood, it’s changed…for the better. These days, there’s Fork etc. next door, a weekly dinner party, and a reputation as stellar as any in the city.
I remember my first visit there back when I was in college: The atmosphere was low-key and cool, the food good but nothing great. Memory, though, does strange things, and I’m not sure how accurate my recollection really was. Because last week, when I returned there after a five-plus year absence, I was pleasantly surprised: From the freshness of the ingredients to the friendly and professional service, I was, to say the least, impressed.
I began my meal with the warm Brussels sprouts salad ($9.50). These little cabbage-y balls of joy might be the most unnecessarily maligned veggie in the American diet. Most people have an almost visceral aversion to them, but when cooked right-as they were at Fork-they’re simply delicious. In this case, they were halved, lightly browned, and served with escarole, bacon, a poached egg, and cranberry-shallot vinaigrette. It was an American take on the frisÃ©e aux lardons salad, but heartier and more autumnal. Wherever it should be categorized, it made me happy.
Ms. M. had a salad of Belgian endive, arugula, sun-dried cherries, goat cheese, and crisp shallots in a honey-mustard vinaigrette ($9). The combination of ingredients wasn’t anything terribly novel, but the execution of the dish as a whole was spot-on.
I’m a big fan of whole fish, but many restaurants simply don’t do it right. I decided, however, to take my chances at Fork, and as a result, had what amounted to the Platonic Ideal of whole fish. This one was a striped bass that had been dusted with coriander and served with stir-fried shiitakes, tofu, onions, red peppers, and baby bok choy, all in a delicious hot and sour sauce ($26). The skin was crispy, the meat moist as could be, and the balance of flavors excellent. I even finished my tofu, a product with which I have deep philosophical and practical problems because of the joyless, veggie-reliant lifestyle that consumption of it often (unnecessarily) implies.
The pasta was excellent, despite the fact that we ordered it because its combination of flavors was simply too odd not to. A coconut and red wine-braised ragout of short ribs was plated with mustard greens and wonderfully wide pappardelle noodles ($19). The flavors were deep, well delineated and surprisingly clean, given the ingredients.
By this point we were too full for dessert, and coming up on our $100 goal anyway. (We ended up spending a grand total of $104.30.) So we simply decided to wash everything down with the few remaining sips of wine and soak in the atmosphere of the space. I won’t wait another seven years before I return next time.
Fork, 306 Market St., Philadelphia, 215.625.9425; www.forkrestaurant.com
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