The contemporary elegance of Fork is evident as patrons step into the airy, subtly lit entryway at 306 Market Street between 3rd and 4th Streets in trendy Old City, Philadelphia. The unique hand-painted chandeliers--reminiscent of French impressionism--are beautifully blended with the contemporary look of the polished concrete bar, a focal point of the intimate restaurant. The New American style bistro boasts impressive tastes from around the globe ranging from the extensive, international wine list to the surprising local and international beer list to the cuisine that encompasses French, Italian, Spanish, and Australian influences.Read More ...
Fork debuted in 1997 as a contemporary American bistro, envisioned by co-owners (and former Wharton Business School classmates) Ellen Yin and Roberto Sella. At the outset, Fork was a vacant warehouse with 15-foot ceilings, exposed ducts, and cast iron columns—architectural features that have come to epitomize Old City’s loft district. Designer Marguerite Rodgers was hired to transform the place into a space that reflected both the artistic history and the contemporary appeal of Old City, and remnants of the old world were strategically and tastefully blended to create a classy, eclectic aura.
The resulting 68-seat restaurant shouts hip refinement. The Feng Shui-feel creates harmony as diners and barflies relax in the subtly lit dining area with a quiet, open kitchen located at the rear. The hand-painted chandeliers are unique and breathtaking. The transformation of Fork into its present state has made a dramatic impact on the neighborhood. Market Street has never been more vivid and attractive to individuals from many walks of life, ranging from twenty-somethings to a riper, more-seasoned demographic.
A stroll through the new addition to Fork, Fork:etc., located directly next door to the restaurant, set the stage for a delightful culinary experience. The gourmet shop not only serves appetizing specialty sandwiches, but also sells tempting sauces, baguettes, luscious cheeses, gourmet coffee, rich olive oils, and a variety of beautiful cookbooks, including Fork’s own: From Our Restaurant’s Kitchen. The cookbook, edited by Yin, was published in order to raise scholarship funds for local students who intend to pursue a career in the culinary field. The cookbook offers creative recipes, beautiful artwork from the restaurant, and photographs of staff members. Additionally, Fork’s Chef Thien Ngo, prepares a Wednesday night dinner at Fork:etc., a unique four course culinary experience that features spontaneous, lavish dishes and includes wine for $40. This lovely addition to the restaurant made a remarkable impression on my dinner companion and myself immediately prior to our dining experience.
The contemporary, upscale ambiance of the main dinning area was notable upon immediately entering the restaurant. Arriving a short time before our reservation, we relaxed at the trendy, modish bar made of polished concrete located in the middle of the restaurant. There is also a comfortable lounge area with a cushy sofa located at the front of the restaurant for those who prefer not to wait at the bar. Perusing the drink list, we noticed the variety of cocktails, wine and beer. For beer and wine enthusiasts, Fork is a dream come true. The noteworthy beer list includes several local favorites such as Dogfish Head Ale, Tröeg’s Hopback Ale and Flying Fish, ESB as well as Belgium’s Lindeman’s Framboise and Hoegaarden, the Czech Republic’s Pilsner Urquell and Germany’s Augustinerbrau. The wine prices range from very reasonable to somewhat pricey. There are several thirty dollar bottles as well as exclusive sparkling wines and reds, including a highly sought after syrah and sangiovese. Sella, a wine connoisseur, is not only a co-owner of Fork, but also the brilliant wine director.
The range of cocktails was alluring, and we decided to order two martinis, the Lemongrass Lemonade and the Fork Lift. Both of these mixtures were original and refreshing. The Kettle One Vodka was not overwhelming in either cocktail. The Lemongrass Lemonade had a light, summery taste topped off with a twist. The Fork Lift, made with pomegranate juice, was just sweet enough to be a bit tangy and delightful. After a few relaxing minutes at the bar, the pleasant hostess inquired as to whether we had a dinner reservation. We indicated that we had a 6:15 reservation and she let us know that we could be seated whenever we felt comfortable.
Our charming window seat looked out onto Market Street, a popular rue in the heart of Old City. The untimely spring weather made this the perfect location; we could feel a warm breeze from an open window. As we reviewed the wine list, I decided on a glass of Soellner, Grüner Veltliner, from Austria. Typically a Sauvignon Blanc drinker, I found this glass to be delectable, boasting subtle flavors of honeydew and herbs. My companion enjoyed an impressive red with subtle tannins, Pieque, Bierzo Mencia from Spain.
The unique dinner menus were presented in elegant, faux-chocolate leather menu cases. The daily dinner menu includes contemporary classics such as duck, lamb, veal and chicken as well as fresh seafood entrées, salmon, sea bass and a whole read snapper. The daily menu is prepared by Chef Thien Ngo, who must be recognized as Fork’s culinary inspiration. The simple chef, who rides his bike to work each day, grew up in Vietnam, where he began to learn the grassroots of his trade from his mother. Chef Ngo worked in Paris and then in many Philadelphia locations, preparing scrumptious sauces and soups. Although he may be considered somewhat of a recluse, Chef Ngo’s talents have come to fruition at Fork.
As an appetizer, we ordered the tempting Chef’s Selection of Tapas, which featured five tapas: spicy Spanish meatballs, marinated olives with capers, shrimp with a Vietnamese slaw, a fried oyster and a semi-hard cow cheese from Spain with fig jam. Each of these bite-sized dishes was the perfect amount to share. The two meatballs were subtly spicy but not overpowering, while maintaining a tangy taste that I’ve never experienced. The richly colored green olives were bitterly pleasing and nicely accented by the pungent capers. The three medium sized shrimp were nicely paired with a lightly creamy and mild slaw. The lightly breaded, fried oyster had a crispy texture and was paired perfectly with a creamy, white sauce. The smooth texture of the cheese portion was served with luxuriant, dark burgundy colored, mildly sweet fig sauce. Each of these small dishes was unique and surprising, but we concurred that the cheese selection was our favorite. Cheese lovers would be delighted to find a range of impressive international cheese selections from Burgundy, France, Northern Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, Spain and Portugal.
Our waiter efficiently took our entrée order as he promptly refilled our water glasses. My companion ordered the Rack of Lamb, medium, accompanied by palmetto greens while I decided on the Grilled Porterhouse Steak, medium rare, with a preserved citrus coulis aside braised black beans with ham and collard greens. The interval between our first and second courses was sufficient as we enjoyed a few minutes to digest.
The presentation of both entrées was exquisite. The porterhouse's deep color atop dark, luxuriant black beans and fresh, moist collard greens was unmistakable. The lamb was an attractive golden brown layered on top of vitamin-rich, palmetto greens and accompanied by a sweet ruby colored sauce. Although the lamb and the steak were both slightly overdone, we were pleased with the overall texture and quality of the entrees. I decided to return my steak and my waiter promptly and politely had the chef prepare the steak more to my liking. This change was done so swiftly that little was taken away from the overall dining experience. The porterhouse was a very generous portion that I was completely unable to finish. It was tender and juicy with a hint of sweetness provided by the citrus coulis. The rich, texture-filled black beans were the perfect accompaniment to the luscious steak. The lamb was crisp on the exterior while tender and fleshy inside.
For dessert, we shared a slice of raspberry cheesecake with a raspberry coulis, a sweet ending to a delectable meal. The cheesecake was rich, sweet and alluring, and just the right amount to share. I also sipped a cup of rich, fresh, hot coffee at the conclusion of the evening.
Sipping my coffee, I decided that business executives, trendy singles and couples as well as more conservative types would feel pampered and comfortable dining at Fork. The dress is smart-casual. The wait staff is attentive, professional and accommodating, and the setting feels intimately relaxing without being cramped or stuffy. For truly intimate affairs, Fork offers a private dinning room that can accommodate up to forty guests. Whether celebrating a special occasion, daring to impress on an intimate date, or ready for a stupendous night out in Old City, Fork is a find.
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