a.kitchen 4 r.birthday

a.kitchen, is a highly acclaimed restaurant at AKA Rittenhouse Square on 18th near Walnut St. in Philly. Chef Eli Kulp and Ellen Yin of Fork collaborated on a new culinary concept, with Kulp reinventing the menus using the freshest seasonal ingredients in a simple, yet notable approach: flavor-forward cooking over lump hardwood charcoal. The technique is old-school in a way—just a red-hot smoldering fire—bringing a modern approach and attention to detail to each dish.

Char-grilled whole fish picture from a.kitchen website.

Identified by Zagat as one of Philadelphia’s “hottest tables” and having read a positive Craig LaBan article in the Philadelphia Sunday Inquirer some time ago, Russ selected a.kitchen for his birthday dinner. Looked at as a new adventure, and with all of the upbeat reviews, both printed and online, his decision was swayed. Our visit coincided with a beautiful Spring Sunday evening and upon arriving, we were seated at the best table in the house (in our humble opinion), straddling the open walls—still inside but enjoying the outside with streaming views of an eclectic mix of people (and their pets) as they strolled, ambled, or skateboarded on by.

Russ peruses the extensive wine menu.

Described in Philly Mag as “Perhaps the sexiest bar in Philadelphia complimented by excellent cocktails and a menu by Eli Kulp.”

After selecting a bottle of Spanish red wine from a very extensive wine list, our friendly waitress brought us a wooden box of paper thin bread crisps, seasoned with black garlic and spices, to nosh as we pondered the menu—full of small plates with huge flavors—right up my alley! She explained that patrons usually order with family-style in mind, sharing the plates as they are delivered in non-rushed fashion. So as twilight settled around us, we enjoyed a leisurely 2 1/2 hour dinner.

Black garlic and spiced complimentary bread crisps.

For starters we shared Grass-fed PA Beef Tartare: a well-chilled, grass-fed tri-tip steak seared directly over coals, then diced up into pieces that ranged from raw to caramelized. The course created cool textural interplay, and the flavors mixed in — gherkin vinaigrette, dry-aged beef fat, egg yolk, tarragon-and-chive-flecked Bearnaise aioli — made each bite fluctuate between luxurious and spicy. The tartare was served with crispy puffed potato skins dusted in malt vinegar powder. If I had to choose, this was probably my most favorite plate of the night!

Not looking like much, this Beef Tartare dish was beyond incredible!

Our other starters were the Spiced Cauliflower, with black garlic and avocado. Beautifully arranged in a mound, the spiced vegetable was cradled in a bed of creamy avocado, just the right counterpoint for the tangy flavors. And Fried Oyster Tartine with creamed collard greens, lemon, and crispy shallot, slathered on chunky slices of terrific bread that sopped up the flavors.

Starter plates of Spiced Cauliflower and Fried Oyster Tartine.

Both in the mood for lamb, we each ordered the large plate of Colorado Lamb, with “burnt” celery root, cabbage, and huckleberry bbq; and asked to share a side of Grilled Shiitake Mushrooms with seaweed and eucalyptus. When the lamb entree was delivered to the table, I was rather miffed at the small portion thinking it was two orders. But our waitress thought she heard we were “sharing” the entree, so she only put in for one order, which ended up being more than plenty anyway— dissatisfaction dissolved!

Entree of Colorado Lamb.

Shiitake Mushroom side dish.

Of course, being Russ’ birthday, he had to have dessert, which comes on a different menu. With little hesitation, he opted for the Goat Cheese Mousse with honey, blueberries and a crumbled graham cracker topping, nicely presented with a glowing candle on the side. Not a dessert eater myself, he did insist I try a taste, and it was wonderful!

Russ ready to dive into his Goat Cheese Mousse dessert.

As an added bonus, Russ had found a free, on-street parking spot just around the corner off of Rittenhouse Square Park. Would we go again? Yes, the restaurant did live up to it’s reputation—although the prices make it a special occasion destination.



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