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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Talula's Garden

Talula's Garden
Forks: 6.3
Price: $$$

210 W. Washington Square
Philadelphia, PA

The concept of Talula's Garden is great--  delicate, organic, farm-to-table food that is prepared in a way that lets it's deliciously natural simplicity shine. I love this concept. Literally love, and I had been hearing wonderful things about Talula's for a while now, making it one of my number 1 spots to visit once I got back to school. I have to say after my first visit tonight, however, I am sadly disappointed. Or rather, I was underwhelmed. I was expecting a fantastic meal with the excitement of Agustus Gloop after he discovered Willy Wonka's chocolate fountain. And much like Agustus who was too eagerly expectant, I found that I was the same way with Talula's as well (minus cheese).

We started with the "World Travel" Cheese Plate, a plate, created by their in-house cheesemonger, composed of a variety of cheeses from around the world. Honestly, this was impeccable. Decorated with drizzles of honey, intensely sweet smears of peach jam, toasted hazelnuts, and fresh figs, this plate was unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as the cheese itself was the knowledge of our waiter. I felt like I was in a petite fromagerie in France. He knew it all, describing each cheese with perfection. Ali, Justin and I picked up on all of the notes he mentioned, ranging from the rich milkiness of the 7 year old aged gouda, to the mild hints of butterscotch flavor in the Rochetta. The cheeses themselves ranged from a luxuriously comforting triple cream Bourgogne, to a sharply tangy blue cheese. We ate the plate clean. This, I will be back for.
Okay I know I started with a negative intro but then raved about the cheese but the cheese deserves to be raved about. We ordered three appetizers to split among the three of us, figuring it would be the best way to get a copious sampling. The Glazed Colorado Lamb Belly with pickled baby carrots and turnips, and garlic-olive-oil hummus, was presented beautifully. The lamb belly itself, however, just didn't do it for us.  Justin and I thought it would have been more successful if it had been pork belly, as the lamb was missing that sweet smokey note that pork belly brings so nicely. The accompaniments were interesting, never would I have but lamb belly and hummus together and while they didn't form the most harmonious pair, the hummus was great on it's own.
Next came the Butternut Squash Ravioli. The filling, while tasty, was skimped on heavily. DON'T SKIMP ME. The ravioli dough was extremely thin and while I understand that they were going for a delicate textural theme, it came across as flimsy and tasted a bit rubbery. The brown sugar glaze nicely accented the squash, but was poured with a bit of a heavy hand, making it seem like *in the words of Justin* "more of a dessert."
Our final appetizer was the Stone Fruit Salad, composed of peaches, plums, organic greens, pancetta, almonds and a sweet onion vinaigrette. This was our favorite out of our trio. The peaches and plums were plump and ripe, and the pancetta was a great addition. I wish there were more organic greens in the dish as it was more of a "fruit salad" then an actual salad. Yes there was a smattering of a few greens, but they acted as more of a decor when their peppery and tasty flavor could have added a nice contrast.
As our first main we opted for the Braised Chicken with potato gnocchi, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil, and a chicken jus. The jus was heavenly. I could have sipped it as soup. The chicken was well cooked, juicy and succulent, but the dish was missing something. All of the elements on the plate were good, but it needed something to tie it together. Yes it had gnocchi, but there were literally three of them. Whether this addition could have been more gnocchi, a pile of rustic smashed potatoes or a lighter type of purée, the dish wasn't cohesive and was missing that connective element. It just seemed like chicken with some vegetables on it.
We also ordered the Hangar Steak with heirloom tomatoes and roasted potatoes, dressed in a burgundy beef jus. Our steak was colder then warm, and had absolutely zero flavor. As a dish I had heard raves about I was SAD! I kept eating it over and over again expecting to have an "AHA!" moment, but it never came. It lacked basic seasoning which no amount of burgundy jus can hide.
To accompany our mains we also decided to order some vegetable sides. These I had high hopes for, as I would assume a farm-to-table restaurant would do wonders with fresh vegetables. Our order of "Summer Abundance," aka squash and zucchini sauté, was wet. It was sitting in a puddle of it's excess liquid.
The Roasted Mushrooms Galore proved slightly better, as the cooking method brought out the mushrooms natural earthiness, but they also could have used a little more seasoning, or perhaps some more roasting to caramelize their sugars.
Finally dessert. I wanted to end on a sweet note, I just had too. After much deliberation, we chose the Petite Cookie Plate. First time in my life I've ever gotten a cookie plate by choice, by the way, because who gets a cookie plate? Apparently now I do, thank you Ali. Composed of a chocolate-caramel sea salt bar, a carrot cake whoopie pie, a pine nut macaroon and a chocolate-nut candy cake, the plate had it's moments. The caramel bar was luscious, with hearty flakes of salt offering an AWESOME salty sweet bite. The pine nut macaroon was also good, coming forth with a strong almond flavor and a nicely crumbly texture. The carrot cake whoopie pie, however, was NOT a whoopie pie. It was some cream cheese filling smeared between two hard carrot cookies that while tasting okay, was certainly not the fluffy moist whoopie cakes I was expecting.
I wanted this to be a rave so badly. Like so so badly. But sadly, twas not. It was just okay, like very okay. While we weren't able to sit in the garden, maybe if you do you won't notice the food's faults out there because it's so pretty. Service dragged and was a little slow also...not helping the cause. SO, I'm sorry to say I will not be running back to Talula's, except if it's for that cheese plate. The cheese plate alone gets a 10 just saying.  Besides the cheese, however, it is overpriced food that has the potential to be great, but just needs to be rethought/better executed because it is a concept that truly can be great.

tata Talula's

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