With over-the-top enthusiastic praise from our friends Paula and Mike Graham who recently patronized Blackfish, we were thrilled to get the Mistral group of eight of us back together for another dining experience. As soon as we all agreed on a date, Paula arranged a five-course tasting menu that was designed to fit our own personal preferences. I could hardly contain myself in anticipation of imbibing at this top-end, Zagat-rated establishment!
Kim Tomlin and I also became Facebook friends that same day.
Russ and Paula Graham are friends from way back.
According to famous Philly area restaurant critic Craig LaBan, Blackfish is anything but the next run-of-the-mill BYOB. It is a simple space, with white walls, contemporary pine-cone paper lights, and a frosted-glass porthole in the kitchen door that lends a vaguely nautical air. Located in downtown Conshohocken, PA, it is filled with appealing details, like the well-used cookbooks conspicuously stacked on shelves near the front, or the olive servers from bent spoons.
Caterer-turned-restaurateur Chip Roman was trained at Drexel and worked at both upper-crust restaurants Vetri (it took years for us to finally get a res in May a few years ago to celebrate Russ’s birthday at Vetri) and Le Bec-Fin. With a keen sense of serving the very freshest, he is known to drive to Cape May to fish for much of the blackfish (a.k.a. tautog) and black bass that serve as the restaurant’s signature dish—thus the name.
Jeff Boily and Mike Graham looking studdly!
Good friends and neighbors of the Grahams are Denise and Dan Marcalena.
First to arrive, Russ and I secured our table for eight in the back room. The reservation was for 5:30, way early for us, but they only do large table tastings early or late, like 9:00 which is really pushing the envelope. After we were all settled in and wine was poured, the waitstaff brought around a basket of homemade bread and chunks of foccacia, your selection being served with silver tongs. There was no menu to review since we were all having the same five-course tasting dinner (with one small exception.)
Mind you, I was not at all that thrilled when the amuse-bouche—a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre—was an oyster, one of my least favorite food items. However, I became a quick convert because this was an amazingly tasty little mollusk. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but are served gratis and according to the chef’s selection alone. So thank you chef!
Amuse-Bouche: Starting off the dining session was a complimentary oyster with a refreshing, velvety Persian cucumber and Meyer lemon foam on a bed of seaweed (which was just for looks and not necessarily edible.)
First Course: Sushi grade Hamachi Tuna Crudo with shoestring watermelon radish, daikon, wasabi and micro cilantro. The yellowfin tuna (Hamachi) is a species of tuna that is found in subtropical and tropical waters around the world. It is frequently marketed as ahi tuna due to their similar features; however, they are two different species.
Second Course: Flash-fried quail egg surrounded by gently smoked Scottish salmon and topped with an Idaho potato chip and micro-mizuna, a piquant, mild peppery flavor that is slightly spicy. Here it is shown both plated and deconstructed with the egg yolk oozing out. That singular, provocative potato chip was crisp and salty with a flavorful zesty kick.
Third Course: Blue crab risotto topped with baby tarragon that really popped against the bright red plate. This was Russ and my least favorite because risotto should be thick and creamy and this was a bit watery and rather bland. But that’s just our opinion…
Fourth Course: Roasted rabbit loin (both medallions and rib), white asparagus, and morel mushrooms. Rabbit meat is a little more “meaty” than chicken but like chicken it tends to take on the flavor of whatever you put on it. As picky as I was when younger, I do remember liking rabbit. Denise just adored the morel mushrooms.
Out of eight, Kim was the only one who did not eat rabbit so they gladly substituted hers with a braised beef short rib and a scallop with the same sides. Kim graciously offered Russ and I a taste of both her items (not so appealing in the photo below) and we concurred that the short rib and scallop were off-the-charts flippin’ good!
Final Dessert Courses: We actually were served two desserts—cinnamon sugar, berry-filled beignet over a crème anglaise; and a molten chocolate lava cake, the aroma of which was heady and decadent. Not a dessert eater, I offered mine to the others but most were too full to finish them off.
While none of the portions were what one would call large, we were all more than satisfied, in fact full, once the last course was delivered. Blackfish also offers a 7-course tasting if you are interested…
Blackfish opened in 2006 and has since been named “Best Restaurant” in Philadelphia Magazine’s 2011 “50 Best Restaurants” issue. It has earned a coveted “Three Bells: Excellent” review from The Philadelphia Inquirer’s food critic, Craig LaBan, who most recently named Blackfish among the area’s top five BYOBs for 2012, noting that “there’s a reason the white rooms of this contemporary storefront are perpetually filled with fine-wine-toting Main Line devotees…