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Talula's Garden, Chef Sean McPaul and GM Aimee Olexy's Farm-To-Table Dining on Washington Square


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Jason and I are thinking about heading to Philly this weekend to catch a game (probably the Saturday 4:05).  We'll likely stay at the Holiday Inn by the stadium, and I imagine that we'll be able to eat and drink well enough at the ballpark, based on some comments above, that we won't need to go anywhere afterward for dinner.  Yea/nay?

Does anyone have a great brunch recommendation for Sunday AM?  Location doesn't matter, as we'll be packed up and ready to come home, so we'll just park wherever we can.

I haven't actually been, but will tell you that Talula's Garden was high on my list based on their website and recommendations from others, but alas, the rest of the folks in my group wanted to eat hand drawn noodles.

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      Given that Talula's garden sits all of a quarter mile from the Liberty Bell and a half mile from Independence Hall I didn't have high hopes. I never really anticipate good food in major tourist areas, sure there are exceptions to rule but I expect functional food at best.  When you arrive at the restaurant you can't help but feel like you're on a movie set, you have scenic Washington Square behind you (with the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier within shouting distance in addition to the aforementioned historical landmarks that define Philadelphia tourism) and you enter through a garden strewn with tables and decorative lights that transport you away from the hustle and bustle of center city Philly. (Although it seems to me that you trade the paint swapping of bumper to bumper to traffic for bumping into fellow diners as you move around the garden as they've packed as many 2tops in that precious real estate as they can). The inside is decorated in a sort of DIY farmstead way as the ceiling's redwood planks were salvaged from barrels at the Vlasic Pickle Plant in Millsboro, Delaware. The white-pine tables were fashioned out of floor joists from Wilmington's historic Queen Theater. Olexy rescued the granite used to top the cheese counter from an abandoned waterworks site by the Brandywine River.

      We were seated promptly and presented with menus (cheese, wine/cocktail, tasting menu, appetizers "Beginning" and main). Our server told us to that we were free to order cheese to start the meal off...so we did, rules be damned. There are over 6 different plates for you to order from, being creatures of habit we went with Gusto! A slow food study in rare Italian Cheese. A slate board arrived with homemade ricotta, lang la tur, parma straveccio, fog lie di nice, ubriacone and dolcette gorgonzola. The cheeses were artfully presented and accompanied by some candied thyme (which I had never had before and found lovely), raspberry jam, pignoli, and picante salami.

        Given that Talula's prides itself on the hyper seasonality of their menu (they change it every month) it is unlikely that your dining experience would be the same. Based on our experience it will still be delicious. For our appetizers we began with Pure Green Broccoli Soup, Crisp Golden Potato Skins, Garden Herbs, Parmesan and Potato FricoHandmade Spaghetti alla Chittara, Creamy Mushroom-Pinot Gris Sauce, Rosemary, and Hazelnut BreadcrumbsCelery and Date Salad, Shaved Fennel, Crunchy Spiced Almonds, Salty Sheep's Milk Cheese, Arugula, and Date Butter, Applewood Smoked Sustainable Salmon Salad, "Everything" Dressing, Lettuce, Pickled Pearl Onion, Rye Crisps, and Fingerlings and Braised Rabbit and Fazzoletti Pasta, Roasted Butternut Squash, Kale, Breadcrumbs, and Green Olive Rabbit Jus. Being gluttons for pasta my family found the spaghetti and fazzoletti to be of upmost interest, both were clearly made in house with expert care and were explorations in how to make a harmonious melody of flavors. Of particular note for me was the way the kitchen compensated for the fresh pasta by incorporated textural elements to keep the dish interesting. I don't think dates came off the back of a farmer's truck from Lancaster County but the salad was bright and lively (and perfectly balanced with the bitterness of the celery to balance the sweetness of the dates) that nobody seemed to care...as the perfectly cleaned plates can attest.

          At that point my family had already consumed more than was probably healthy but gleefully dug into main courses that continued to show a kitchen that understanding balance of flavors and textures. Honey Brined Boneless Pork Chop, Fall Scented Kuri Squash, Cripsy Confit of Spareribs, Charred Honeycrisp, Sage Cider Jus was the essence of fall on a plate, and when isn't the combination of pork and apples a good thing to be honest? My mother was worried about the pickled okra in "GardenBouillabaisse"...Roasted Scallops and Prawns,ShelledMussels,FreshFish,Saffron-CitrusBroth,PickledOkra,andCherryTomatoes but she didn't share a bite with anyone at the table so I'm going to go out on a limb and say she didn't mind. Seared Rare Line Caught Albacore Tuna, Braised Red Cabbage, Fennel Puree, Shaved Apple Salad and Juniper Scented Fall Vinaigrette likewise vanished before I could sneak a forkful. My vegetarian fiancé was also looking for those same fall flavors I had found in my pork entree and she found them in Maple BruÌ‚leÌe Heirloom Pumpkin, Steel Cut Oat Risotto, Rare Vegetable Collective, Pumpkin Seeds, Octoberfest Beer and Squash Sauce.  

        We were joking that at this point a crow bar would be required to pry our bloated behinds through the gates of the lovely garden to leave but the kitchen had been informed that our meal was one of celebration so out came dessertPeanut Butter and Jelly Doughnuts. Concord Grape Jam and Oozy Peanut Butter Creamy Butterscotch Pudding. Warm Salted Caramel and Chocolate-Pretzel Praline Melting Dark Chocolate "S'mores" & Smoked Ice Cream. Molten Dark Chocolate Cake, Charred House Marshmallow, Crumbled Graham Warm, Baked Cinnamon Apple Charlotte Cranberry Compote and Buttermilk Ice Cream were all delicious but the butterscotch pudding was the only one that was consumed in its entirety as at that point we were ready to run up the white flag and call uncle.

       For a celebratory meal Talula's hit on every note, the environment and ambiance were both relaxed enough for comfort while still maintaining an air of formality to let you know you were some place special. The staff (and there were a lot of them) were attentive, informative, polite but not intrusive. And the food was fantastic. What struck me about all the dishes was that there was always a balance to the plate, whether it was dessert or a cheese plate there was always a yin with a yang and a textural piece to go with something soft. You could tell that each item on the plate had been thought out and analyzed to maximize impact.

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