From the outset we've been suspicious of the whole farm-to-table movement.
Our immediate reaction? Well, where the hell else does food come from except farms?
And we've always been advocates of hearty, basic food: steaks, chops, potatoes, pasta, etc.
But now the whole pure ingredients, locally sourced, sustainable, farm fresh (if not downright organic) movement has become so ubiquitous that it's hard to avoid.
And it's impossible not to find at least some references to locally grown ingredients even on the most traditional restaurant menus.
So it was only a matter of time before we went whole hog and found ourselves in a full-blown "fresh from the farm" eatery. That happened not too long ago when we walked into Talula's Garden on Washington Square in Philadelphia.
Talula's mantra is simple: Seasonal American food inspired by the home and the garden. With this straightforward mission in mind Aimee Olexy has partnered with Stephen Starr to create an open-to-the-park garden restaurant that serves the culinary delights of chef Sean McPaul.
Born in Philadelphia and raised between South Philly and South Jersey, McPaul is quick to describe himself as "a city kid," but simply eat his food and you'll know he'd feel right at home in the fields. His top-notch training, sincere respect for local ingredients and ability to maximize the beauty of the season on the plate help him excel as executive chef. "Potatoes don't dig themselves out of the ground. Farmers do that with the same love that we as chefs have when we cook the food. It's important to keep that in mind," McPaul proclaims.
We heard a lot about Talula's Garden and after a drinks at the sparkling high-ceilinged bar (first two photos above) we went into the garden (photo 3) for dinner.
The dishes are shown exactly as they were presented to us, from top to bottom: an incredibly light, fluffy brioche; pan-roasted Rhode Island calamari; foraged spring salad; New England cod with charred baby artichokes, spring radish, creamy cannellini beans, fennel, black olive, and sweet pepper vinaigrette and finally creamy butterscotch pudding with warm salted caramel and chocolate-peanut-pretzel praline. We guarantee you, you'll love every morsel.
Chairs, tables, dishes and silverware are mismatched and that just contributes to the serendipitous nature of the whole experience. Service was attentive and thorough without being haughty or intrusive. And since we picked a perfect night weather-wise, outdoor dining was the right choice (though plenty of indoor tables are available as well). The atmosphere is unhurried and friendly and the staff will go out of their way to please you. In the end, it's remarkably seductive and ultimately relaxing: perfect for fine food and good conversation.
Yes, dinner for two (with drinks) will run you about $100, exclusive of tip. But this is an exceptional dining experience in every sense of the word.
Though we're still not ready to re-read Thoreau or or start running through strawberry fields we can say without trepidation that life is good in the garden. Do it!