Marigold Kitchen

501 S. 45th Street
(45th and Larchwood)
(215) 222-3699

This Gatsby-era boarding house used to mix Mediterranean flavors with a few pinches of former Salt alums and Vetri veterans. That’s all over but for Erin O’Shea, Marigold Kitchen’s newest and most formidable chef, who had been for at least two years slicing, dicing and creating at Marigold behind the scenes. In early 2008, Ms. O’Shea reinvented “Tara”fic cuisine in West Philadelphia.

The gold plaque outside the guard rail to the front porch entrance door says, “Built in 1907.” Your view might suggest earlier: whenever the Victorian mentality coalesced from Spruce onto Larchwood Avenue. The house is still grand with classic construction, but now its Southern exposure is the reason to enter.

I’d request seating in the first-floor front; its rear dining area is treacherously near the restaurant’s sole same-sex bathroom. The upstairs’ primary eating quarter, albeit changed in color from what used to be (pre-O’Shea) atrocious pea-green walls and beet-purple drapes, to clean and crisp gray walls and sunny golden-drapes, seems still too roomy and forlorn. A livelier ambiance downstairs is grounding. Penn professors and students abound in denim and Dockers, and chatty neighbors discuss nuttier Nutter-news philosophically.

Sprays of small flowers enliven crisp white tablecloths, which in turn, cover a dozen or so tables, each with a tiny votive candle. The light hardwood flooring resonates in an atmosphere of Southern hospitality as soon as your waitperson’s footsteps are heard bringing hot rolls and honey-butter to reside sweetly with you. Wine bottles, brought from home, are opened quickly by white-kangaroo-aproned black-shirted staff, whose service is impeccable throughout.

You can bet your Confederate Money on O’Shea’s soups. This summer’s menu exhibits “Carrot Soup with Pickled Fiddle Head Ferns” ($7). The moist crushed brined ferns are centered in a mounded dollop into a round deep tureen. After some humorous hesitation (that’s the soup?!), the server surprisingly provides a pitcher to fill the bowl’s interior circumference, surrounding and almost drowning the pickled fiddle in creamy soup. Amazingly, the color of the downstairs walls and the hue of the soup are identical: musky orange-carrot. The vegetable’s natural sweetness and flavor are enhanced with bubbling broth, cream and concern. One’s tongue glides among the carrot’s roots of perfection.

All at the table will be yelling to taste the grits you order. “Byrd Mill Stone-Ground Grits with Mussels Sautéed in Herb Butter” ($9) also causes your heart to scream at you. If you could combine couscous, polenta and risotto stirred by a leisurely Virginian who had no regard for the calories in butter, you can begin to imagine the results encountered before your eyes. The burbling underlayment is topped by a rustic red-honeyed splatter, upon which bare sleeping mussels snuggle. Vigorous ingredients seem virginious in symbiosis. Rhett and Scarlet accompanied by Ozzie and Harriet.

Other innovative and tastefully interesting First Course companions include, “Grilled Scallops and Crushed English Peas with Pecorino Cheese and Preserved Lemon”($10); or “Parsnip and Collard Green Fritters with Pickled Peach Aioli”($8). The former resembles an unskewered shish-kebob of one grilled scallop apportioned intermittently with verdantly emerald-green packed mushed peas. “Preserved Lemon” turns out to be only a drizzle of yellow dots on the plate. Moreover, someone just said, “Cheese!” over the serving, before smiling.

The latter Fritters show up as two tiny browned mounds upon a puddle of thick peachy liquid, all of which are huddled in one quarter of the large round plate. But for the thoughtfulness and lusciousness, I think there should be more bang for the buck, or at least a better descriptive de minimus announcement in proportion to what’s later displayed.

Entrées are not dissimilar. I would never miss the fish here, but I wouldn’t expect anything but conservatively sized provisions. The best of the school is “Slow Baked Halibut with Country Ham Broth, Fava Beans and Sunny Egg” ($24). It is extraordinary.

A two-inch high, three-inch long rectangle of pearly white halibut is baked so that its skin is a blintz. On its top, there sleeps a pompous sunny-side-up princess of an egg. The halibut is tickled by your utensil’s touch, trembling and spouting a visible vent of steam as its belly is exposed. Fish-flakes are porcelain in whiteness and silky as they separate susurrously. One hesitates to swallow, to allow a bit of the egg and surprisingly dark stream of yolk to bathe in the ham broth engorging your mouth. The self-inflicted groan you hear is yours. The fava beans remain green with envy.

“Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Arugula and Smoked Gouda Cream”($17) is another sublimely crafted meal, so long as you know that “with” means “sprinkled with,” and “cream” means “purposefully not overpowering cream.” The wild mushroom flavors inside each squared dumpling make Ms. O’Shea an ideal candidate for Secretary of the Interior.

Dessert must be the “Lemon Trio” ($7). A crock of lemon curd, lemon zest and lemon mousse is layered as pudding below a candied graham cracker crust. At a lick, you will pucker, salivate and swoon at your spoon simultaneously. It’s as if a lemon meringue pie misbehaved with a key lime pie to give birth to a citrus Dixie sensation. It will leave you a totally speechless lawyer, ...for a moment or two.


Copyright 2009 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back