Part of the fun of restaurant dining is the experience. And Fork—in Old City Philadelphia—is most definitely an experience.
I was in town recently (more book research) and had the pleasure of meeting an old friend for dinner. She asked where I wanted to dine and I let her choose. With the wealth of restaurants in the neighborhood, I knew she couldn’t go wrong. She chose Fork.
I arrived at the restaurant a little early and sat at the bar for a drink. With it being a blistering hot July, I was looking for something cold. Under “bubbly” on the cocktail menu, I thought the martini bianco (lillet white, peach bitters, club soda) sounded good—and it was. About the time I finished, Marge came in and we were seated. She ordered the Aperol cocktail (aperol, orange bitters, sparkling wine). I’d never heard of Aperol but it seems to be pretty hot right now—or at least the umbrellas with “Aperol” printed on them on sidewalk tables think so.
After that lovely drink, what would ordering dinner bring us? We started with Caputo Brothers’ stracciatella toasts (“charred and pickled eggplant”). Under the eggplant was the toast; above was the stracciatella (a cheese—that’s where the Caputo Brothers come in), lemon, and more eggplant. Beautiful and delicious.
Fork is not a place where bread arrives in a basket with little plastic butter containers (or even the more modern olive oil to drizzle)—our bread was served on a board and looked like tiny little bagels, with homemade cream cheese on the side.
Dinner was very difficult to choose. Our server asked more than once if we had questions, which was appreciated. Fork’s menu is … I’m not sure how to describe it. A little mysterious, perhaps? Part of the experience certainly. (This is not a criticism, but if you want something that describes your food completely before you order it, Fork is not the place to go.) Here you need to trust the chef.
Marge chose the smoked cioppino (“cuttlefish and razors, braised celery, grilled sourdough”). I had to get something different, of course, and ordered the lavender gnudi (“Shy Brothers’ cloumage, summer fricassee”). According to what I have since read, gnudi is like gnocchi but with cheese instead of potato. Cloumage is a special “fresh lactic curd” from Shy Brothers Farm in Massachusetts. What arrived on my plate were six little balls of very delicate pasta and cheese with a flavor of lavender. Not huge, not heavy, just perfect.
Cioppino = fish stew, right? I would hate to use such an ordinary description for what came to the table. The server presented Marge with a large white bowl containing a little pile of vegetables, a little pile of razor clams, and a little rectangle of fish. Then the server took a carafe of tomato broth and poured it into the bowl. Beautiful!And really flavorful. I wouldn't hesitate to get that on a return trip.
Servings here are of a size that you can have both an appetizer and dessert. I wish more places were like that. So we had the pleasure of enjoying more Fork. Marge ordered the lemon curd (“grapefruit-jasmine soup, vanilla sorbet”). I had the rhubarb chess pie (not on the menu at the moment), a tiny tart with a little rhubarb ice cream on the side. When the lemon curd came, again it came deconstructed; the server poured the grapefruit-jasmine soup into the bowl.
Throughout the meal Marge and I had time to talk to each other—we weren’t rushed, we didn’t have to yell to hear each other, no one cleared plates before we swallowed a last bite (I really hate that last one). It’s no wonder that Fork has won many awards and is among the top restaurants on my Total Foodie friends’ lists. Fork is more than just very good food, though; it is an experience. Trust the chef.
Smoked cioppino above; lavender gnudi below.