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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Awesomeness Alert - Cocktails and Charcuterie at James

Update: sadly James has closed, and the chef has moved to NYC... 

The restaurant James has gotten its share of recognition as a destination restaurant for modern Italian food, a place to go for creative pastas like duck ragu with bitter chocolate and orange, Dover Sole with an egg on top, or perhaps to indulge in a tasting menu. We never think of it as a place to drop in and have a drink, maybe have a bite at the bar.

It turns out we should.

First: the cocktails are delicious. There's not a long list of them, but the specialty cocktails on the menu are quite interesting. The bottles at the back of the bar are high-quality, but not especially numerous, so the options may be more limited than at other cocktalian destinations around town, but the drinks they make are worth a trip. The Cava Cocktail '88' seems like it might be sweet and innocuous, but after an initial hit of fruit, the dryness of the sparkling wine rolls back in, the complex overtones from peach bitters lingering on the palate. Unexpectedly deep for something so pretty.

The Tommy Gunn mixes Tub Gin and absinthe with a touch of lime for a drink that's resiny, piney, herbal, and unexpectedly refreshing. This might just be the summer drink to beat. Served in a big old fashioned glass, it's one of those concoctions that evolves slowly over time, as the temperature changes and the slow dilution from melting ice alters the balance of power.

Despite the comfortable bar and inviting lounge area, James is a restaurant, and it would be a shame to ignore the talents of chef James Burke. There's a smallish bar/lounge menu, but they seem happy to serve selections from the main menu as well, even if you're sitting at the bar. This is one of those bars that's comfortable to eat at, and our bartender was every bit as informed and helpful about the food as the regular waitstaff, so there's little downside to eating at the bar, especially if you're a party of one or two.

The first thing that caught our eyes on the bar menu was the house-made charcuterie platter. It's becoming increasingly common to find interesting charcuterie or salumi in Philly, and in more and more places, some or all of the meats have been cured in-house. We're big fans of the salumi at Osteria, and we recently had a very nice selection of homemade charcuterie at Fork, so it's only after careful consideration when I say that this might be our favorite plate of preserved meats. I'm sure which specific items are included will vary over time, but we got two terrines, one made from rabbit, the other from pork. Duck prosciutto has become almost mundane around here, but this version was especially intense and tender. Porchetta, Sopressata and Rillettes filled out the plate, which was also adorned with two homemade mustards and a fennel mostarda. Accompanying was a dish of three pickles: ramps, radish and tiny cucumber, each marinated in a different brine. Each element was very good, but taken as a whole, it became our favorite charcuterie platter in Philly.

It could be all about the pickles...

824 S. 8th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:57 PM

    ooo! I've been meaning to try James but just haven't gotten around to it- I will definitely now though!