Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Audrey Claire

When it opened over ten years ago, Audrey Claire ushered in Philadelphia's wave of excellent, cozy BYO restaurants. Proud to be living a few blocks away at the time, I dined there frequently, when I could get a table. Although I hadn't been there in several years, I was looking to show off some of the true gems of Philly this past weekend and it came to mind as an affordable, beautiful restaurant, in a great location. While I am pleased to report that Audrey Claire is still those things, the food suffered a few missteps.

We began with a dish I remembered enjoying, the spicy hummus with house-cured salmon and herb-vinaigrette mesclun flat bread. Just as I remembered, it was amazing. The salmon was delectable, with a fresh, rich finish to the taste and nicely balanced against the remaining ingredients. The flat bread was exquisitely fresh and thin, providing the right backdrop to the ingredients.

For appetizers, I ordered an item off the antipasta menu, the beets with truffle oil and caramelized shallots. All of those ingredients sounded pretty good to me, but together, the earthiness of both the beets and truffles was too much. The caramelized shallots didn't cut those flavors enough for balance or contrast. I found it disappointing.

MOR's octopus salad was better, in that the octopus itself was fairly tasty, with a hint of balsamic that nicely offset the grilled flavor of the meat. It was a bit overdone, though, for my taste.

In keeping with my sense that appetizers are always better, our entrees, or "bigger dishes," as the menu names them, were less appealing. Pictured below, MOR's crab cake reportedly tasted like it was once frozen and failed to deliver on the delicious crab cake front he was craving. (This, I should add, supports my theory that Philadelphians don't know how to make crabcakes, although that could be my snobbish Marylander background talking.) My rainbow trout crab florentine was better, but not spectacular. The fish was unevenly cooked and the flavors, while good, weren't extraordinary enough that I wanted to finish the dish.

I still love certain things about Audrey Claire that have not changed: the hipster clientele that remind me how urban and wonderful a city Philly can be, the bustle of the place, even though the din can be overwhelming (and somewhat typical of the BYO scene), and the open kitchen and prep areas. The setting is amazing; the restaurant embodies beautiful weather with its green windows, open to the expanse of the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood corner. Next time, however, I might just stick to admiring it from a distance.

Audrey Claire is located at 20th and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia,

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