Once upon a time, I dated an adventurous eater. On the second date, he suggested that we find a place to eat frogs' legs. Trying to appear bold, I readily agreed and, after some research, found Pif, chef David Ansill's first restaurant. Upon arrival, chef Ansill himself told us that while frogs' legs were not on the menu that evening, if we picked some up at the nearby Asian supermarket, he would have the kitchen prepare them. Several gruesome minutes later involving unexpectedly live frogs, we were eating said legs, perfectly done and yes, tasting faintly of ... chicken.
Because of that evening, David Ansill had worked his way into my heart (unlike my date). I followed his career as he evolved from Pif to Ansill. I listened intently to friends who went and described their adventures in offal and who felt that all of Ansill's offerings were pretty gosh darn tasty. And so as I surfed opentable.com at around 6 pm, I boldly made the reservation.
Ansill did not disappoint. Smoothly greeted by an attractive server who managed to be charming but not intimidatingly so, we followed his suggestions. Which entailed ordering the roasted beets with warm goat cheese (by far my favorite), the shrimp and avocado with crispy bacon and lobster roe, the house-cured smoked salmon with greek yogurt and dill, and ... the pigs trotters. Yup, at the suggestion of said gorgeous server, we were lulled into ordering pigs' feet. Personally, I thought his description that they were "sliced thin" and otherwise delectably prepared was reassuring in the way that I would not be able to associate the dish with its original form. As it turns out, the preparation was more difficult to enjoy than I had hoped. To me, it was reminiscent of scrapple without the crispy fried exterior. It was what it was, and I'm sure it was prepared well, but I just wasn't there. It was more at the end of a slippery slope that begins with dark chicken meat, heads into game, and then down to offal. It's a different taste, which begs the question -- did I want it to taste like chicken meat? Do I embody my fellow blogger philafoodie's observation that Philly isn't ready for molecular gastronomy? Well my friends, maybe. Maybe I'm not ready for it. I had been close to ordering the lamb's tongue when, after the pigs' trotters, I backed away from my brave face, my wannabe adventuresome spirit.
David Ansill was omnipresent throughout our meal, a fixture at the bar, wandering frequently through the restaurant, presumably back and forth to both the kitchen, occasionally pouring himself another glass of wine. It was at his suggestion that we ordered the squid risotto, flavored with ink and prepared with shellfish broth, as well as what he described as Ansill's self-described signature house dish, the Lamb Osso Buco sandwich. The "sandwich" turned out to offer a decadent, brioche-like bottom layer, immersed in lamb jus, topped with tender lamb. Exquisite. The squid was unexpected, with a peppery rich taste that was both different and pleasing.
The desserts left a bit to be desired -- at least my chocolate fondant, which was appropriately bittersweet, but too dense for my tastes. The maple mousse with ginger snap was delightful, but I still see Ansill's strengths in his smaller plates. I thought the value for the meal was excellent, with all of the options being between $7 and $16.00.
Bring your adventuresome spirit (or date), or a simple appreciation of a good restaurant, and enjoy.
Ansill is located at 627 S. 3rd Street, Philadelphia. www.ansillfoodandwine.com