While walking down Chestnut Street to Paradigm Restaurant, my eye is immediately drawn to the two large yellow umbrellas shielding the restaurants outdoor tables. Although the tables and chairs under these attention-seeking umbrellas only seat four guests, they hint to me that I will likely be thrilled by what I find inside.
Upon entering Paradigm, the first thing I noticed was the bar. It was an enormous granite bar, lit in blue, well-stocked, and crowded with people. Clearly this is a hot spot in this Old City neighborhood: a trendy, hip, and fun destination. The people at the bar seemed to be having so much fun, for a moment I was tempted to delay our reservations to join them for awhile. Then I glimpsed some of Paradigm’s food as it passed me by, and decided that perhaps it was time to eat after all. We had built up quite an appetite walking through Philly’s Old City neighborhood, past the Fireman’s Museum, a multitude of city parks, cobbled streets, and art galleries.
We were immediately greeted by a friendly host and escorted to our seats. I was impressed by the black symmetrically lined tables and chairs and the staff dressed in black to match. We were taken to one of the large semi-circular booths along the right side of the restaurant. The deep red Italian velvet curtains framed these elegant booths and provided a feeling of privacy. The restaurant offers tables as well as booths, and can seat up to 95 people for a private sit-down dinner, or up to 175 for cocktail parties.
I was at once fascinated by the restaurant’s unusual custom-made Italian lighting. Some of the lights were slyly hidden in the glass vases of the room’s plant life, shining through the glass beads in the bottom. There were sconces on the walls, their pale beige matching the opaque free-form chandeliers dangling above us. The result was diffused lighting that give us ample light to read our menu, while remaining easy on the eyes and perpetuating the romantic vibe.
Our server greeted us promptly with a smile and gave us three separate menus to peruse: a drink menu, a wine list, and a dinner menu. Paradigm’s drink menu displayed a creative array of martinis, cosmopolitans, and margaritas. We slowly studied this as we dipped our fresh Tuscan bread into a fruity herbed olive oil. Although I wanted wine with dinner, I couldn’t resist starting with a Tangerine Margarita. To my delighted surprise, it was light and tart. So often, fruit margaritas can be very heavy and overly sweet, but not here. Paradigm’s expert mixologist had created a natural balance of sweet and tart, with an appealing pale orange color offset with a twist of lime. My dining partner ordered the Pomegranate Margarita, which was an eye-pleasing deep plum color and tasted equally as pleasing as my cocktail.
Our server Heather recommended we try the Hummus, which turned out to be an excellent suggestion. It arrived plated in a generous mound, with a well of olive oil in the center. Two black Greek olives topped the mound with a sprinkling of coriander to liven it up. We dipped into this delectable starter with the fresh grilled pita bread which was soft and flavorful. The hummus was light and fluffy, with just enough roasted garlic and lemon to enhance not distract from the taste of the tahini.
As our entrees would be arriving soon, we asked our server to bring back the wine list. Paradigm’s wine list contains an eclectic selection of wines: California wines intermingle with wines from South America, France, and Italy. Although Paradigm certainly offers some more expensive special occasion wines, including Perrier Jouet and Dom Perignon, most of the wines on the menu are very reasonably priced. Our server verified that Owner/Chef David Ciurlino searches out those exceptional wines that are both high quality and a good value. Our server helped steer us to the Sycamore Lane Pinot Grigio which Paradigm serves either by the glass or bottle. The Sycamore Lane was slightly more full-bodied than many of other Pinot Grigios; it possessed a lovely pear bouquet and hints of melon and citrus.
After a few sips of my wine, my Sweet Caramel Duck arrived. The thinly sliced duck breast was cooked to my ideal medium and was extremely moist and tender. The hint of orange liqueur in the surrounding caramel sauce helped to bring out the natural flavors of the duck. The dish was served with a sweet potato mash and freshly grilled vegetables. The sweet potato mash was very simply prepared, therefore showcasing the natural sugar of this root vegetable. The vegetables were freshly grilled and dominated by a colorful bell pepper placed atop the stack, half orange and half green with grill marks across it. The pure simplicity of the duck’s accompaniments helped to enhance the complexity of the Sweet Caramel Duck.
My partner ordered one of the day’s specials, Seared Ahi Tuna with a Citrus Salsa. The tuna was cooked to medium rare as requested. The outside of the tuna was seared, providing a tasty crunch as you bit through to the tender, melt in your mouth, pink inside. The Cajun spices were applied with a light touch, heightening without dominating the taste of the tuna. The citrus salsa was very fresh and had a tangy bite to it from the hot peppers. The tuna was accompanied by lightly sautéed spinach and grilled vegetables. The plate was a feast of bright colors, vibrant oranges, greens, and yellows that effortlessly captured my attention.
It was now time for dessert and we found it to be a difficult choice to make since Paradigm’s dessert menu is so extensive and varied. In addition to traditional desserts, Paradigm offers some special after-dinner liqueur mixes that sounded divine. I chose to order a decaf coffee, which our server made fresh for me, and the Godiva Soup. The dessert turned out to be a big bowl of velvety, smooth warm chocolate with a globe of pistachio covered vanilla ice cream floating near the center. The warm chocolate intermingled with the melting ice cream and mild taste of the pistachios causing the indulgent flavors to explode in my mouth. It was served with three large triangular “croutons,” which were dipped in cinnamon sugar. It is no wonder Paradigm won the Best of Philly award in 2000 for Chocolate Excess.
My partner ordered the Bread Pudding, which was made from croissants and topped with custard. The artistically presented square was light and airy, yet rich and decadent. There was also a hidden surprise to be had; a thin layer of chocolate ran through this attractive dessert. This small touch was just enough to give the dessert a hint of extra flavor. My dining companion unsuccessfully attempted to ward off my spoon as it kept reaching over to her plate.
Now at the end of our meal, we felt it was time to experience Paradigm’s famously entertaining and unique bathroom. Part of the fun of Paradigm is watching the look on peoples’ faces as they realize that the bathrooms are visible from inside the restaurant, unisex...and that they have glass doors. Luckily, our server had already given us a clue: we needed to lock the door and see what happens. Comically, once you lock the door, the clear glass clouds up like magic, giving you complete privacy.
As we were gathering up our belongings to leave, we vowed to come back to Paradigm and to try its sister restaurant Dolce (which features Italian Cuisine). The restaurant’s international menu is so varied we felt we definitely needed to try more of it. Perhaps we will try the Thai Duck Spring rolls, the Mediterranean Linguine or the Live Maine Lobster. Regardless of what we decide to order we know what our experience will be. There will be fun, music, laughter, and great food in a trendy yet elegant setting.