La fin de “Semaine Restaurant,” septembre 2011
We closed up Restaurant Week [RW] September 2011 with a 4-course meal at Bistro St. Tropez! The restaurant resides on the 4th floor of an art design building (whose interior appears to have previously been a converted parking structure) that overlooks the Schuykill River. We had an early reservation at 5:30 pm (when the restaurant opens for the evening), so crowds were light when we arrived. There were plenty of options to choose from for each course of our meal, so it took a while for us to decide on our final dinner of the RW season.
All I can say is “excellent.” The rolls were served toasty hot–I practically burned my fingers handling one–and had a subtle pleasantly-yeasty flavor. Although light and airy, they still had bready substance. The pesto sauce was quite tasty and acted as the perfect accompaniment to drizzle over the bread (or completely dunk, depending on your tactic). Qingxin and Luke shared my happy enthusiasm for the bread. The servers were also very good about refilling our basket when it became empty, which is always nice. What a great way to start the meal! This put us in high hopes for the remaining courses.
While we had the option of choosing a bowl of melon gazpacho as a 1st course, we all went with the vichyssoise for its savory appeal. Unfortunately, we weren’t particular fans of this dish and it tempered our initial excitement for the food. Qingxin found it “not good” and the fact that it was a chilled soup turned her off immediately. Luke was a little more forgiving, saying it was “good, but started losing its appeal over time.” For me, it was like drinking lukecold milk. Brownie points for the architecturally-awesome bowl it was served in, though.
We all had different 2nd course appetizers, which gave us the opportunity to share and sample each other’s dishes. I chose the calamari, expecting a mixture of calamari rings and tentacles sautéed in a sauce. I did not expect to find two stuffed sacs that reminded me of bloated animal intestines. Clearly I did not comprehend the description the first time I read it (note that this is an issue that popped up during the course of our meal). In any case, I found the dish to be very unique, to put it mildly. I’ve never had anything like it before. The taste wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great; the squid was subtle when it should have had a more potent flavor. I didn’t like the filling, as the sausage was basically ground into hamburger meat (I had no idea the squid was going to be the CASING). Qingxin thought it was “very interesting,” especially the tomato sauce that was “like herby salsa”; Luke acknowledged that “it wasn’t prepared in the best way.”
Luke’s dish was only eaten by Luke; I’m not big on escargot and Qingxin politely declined sampling it. Luke thought the escargot was “good, but not wonderful. It had a very mild flavor. The sauce flavored with onions and mushrooms was bland for the potential it had. It was nice that all the escargot was de-shelled, though.”
This must have been the most polarizing dish of the meal. When we all read it on the menu, we thought “hunk of fish and rounds of scallops.” What came to the table was clearly neither of those, but rather a bundt cake-like ring of vibrant yellow mousse. Qinxgin bluntly stated that it “felt and tasted like a child’s Styrofoam play mat.” As for the other components of the dish, “the veggie leaves weren’t great. The crab salad wasn’t bad, but that was it. Overall, this was disgusting.” In fact, Luke ate the majority of it. He thought it “wasn’t completely like Styrofoam,” but had “an almost melted” texture on the tongue. It was “unusual by itself, since it quickly turned to mush and became unappetizing.” He stressed that “the olives, peppers, and other ingredients work together well in combining flavors.” Personally, I’d never had anything like this before; the one mouthful I tried told me I wouldn’t order this again either.
My main dish was quite delicious, a positive respite from the previous courses. I had my duck cooked medium (I’m too used to the thoroughly cooked, dark brown Peking duck of Chinese culture), which made it tender and easy to chew. The peach slices added a nice fruity sparkle to the dish. I do wish the vegetable side had a more “uplifting” texture, as it was very limp and dragged the light flavors of the dish down.
Both Qingxin and Luke ordered the salmon phyllo dish as their entrée. Luke reckoned it was good, but he “wasn’t crazy about it.” He hoped that there were less phyllo layers, as he found them “pointless” and didn’t think they contributed much to the dish. He felt “there was too subtle of a pistachio flavor in the sauce, and the white sauce dulled the flavors of the dish overall”. He was especially repulsed by the balsamic vinegar reduction, claiming it to be “weak, thin, and just vile.” Qingxin wasn’t as disgusted by the balsamic vinegar element, but she did think the sauces on the dish were weird. She didn’t taste any pistachio encrusted on the salmon either. Additionally, the zucchini cylinder accompanying the dish was “soggy” and not a good vegetable companion. For her, the dish “was not special” and she “wouldn’t get it again.”
Luke and I split the St. Tropez Cake and the Profiteroles, while Qingxin also got an order of the Profiteroles. Luke and I had high hopes for the cake. How can you go wrong with chocolate? There wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with this dish, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. Luke said “meh.”
I was disappointed with the quality of the puff pastries; it tasted like something I could buy at Frogro. The ice cream, on the other hand, was phenomenal. That’s not surprising, since it’s made by Bassett’s. You could have just given me a bowl of Bassett’s vanilla ice cream and I would have been in heaven! Luke was put off by the fact that he was “still chewing on the puff while the ice cream melted and evaporated” in his mouth; the puff “should instead be light and dissolve in the mouth.” He “needed another puff” to complete the serving (two wasn’t enough). He also “wanted more chocolate.” Qingxin had the opposite opinion, thinking that there was too much chocolate sauce. She did agree that the puffs were too dense, though.
The final verdict? While service was fantastic (our waiter was an entertaining fellow who gave us great theater recommendations), there were hits and misses with the food. I’m giving St. Tropez the benefit of the doubt that RW limited their offerings. I would potentially return in the future to try their regular menu; their “Coquilles” (pan-seared day boat scallops with lemon goat cheese risotto, radicchio, peas, herb sauce) and “Filet” (filet mignon en croute with mushroom and foie gras, red and green piperade, gruyere potato gratin, cognac truffle sauce) dishes on the À la carte menu sound great. For this meal in particular, though, I’d give it a ★★★. Qingxin wouldn’t return and assigned a ★★ rating. Luke was more understanding and, like me, would return to try the dishes normally on the menu. He awarded them ★★★★.
With that, we conquered another RW. All of us can’t wait for the delicious dining options that await us during RW January 2012!