Philadelphia restaurants are switching kitchens this summer

Michael Solomonov (left) of Zahav, gives Erin O'Shea (right) of Percy Street BBQ, a taste of the Jersey shore ice cream sandwich she made. O'Shea made sandwiches (below) with vanilla and cherry ice cream.
Michael Solomonov (left) of Zahav, gives Erin O'Shea (right) of Percy Street BBQ, a taste of the Jersey shore ice cream sandwich she made. O'Shea made sandwiches (below) with vanilla and cherry ice cream.
Posted: June 24, 2010

ONCE THE FOOD Network turned chefs into stars, it became inevitable that they would next become guest-stars.

Throughout the area and throughout the summer, a variety of mostly local chefs will be creating dishes for their competitor's eateries. A combination of fun and marketing (dare we say, branding), for some it will be a one-night stand, for others a long-term relationship. For all of them it will be something different.

Beginning last week at Max Brenner's (15th Street south of Walnut), Jim Burke of James (824 S. 8th St.) has brought his fine dining sensibilities to the fun chocolate-inspired restaurant.

Keeping with Brenner's cocoa cravings, Burke and James pastry chef Kristin Wood created a brunch item of Chocolate & Chestnut Ravioli, with star anise whipped cream and two desserts - 1) a Chocolate Terrine with candied orange and toasted brioche and 2) a Chocolate bacon budino with smoked paprika ice cream and bacon brittle.

Love chocolate. Love bacon. Never would have thought of eating them together.

"It always creates something interesting when you combine two different styles," said Brenner, who sought Burke out after falling in love with his upscale but neighborhood-y restaurant. "And it's fun for the customers."

Burke said that "balance is important in all cooking," so his Max Brenner menu items feature combinations of tastes and textures. They're a bit smaller and pricier than Brenner's typically bountiful desserts, but they serve a different purpose and may please a more adventurous palate.

Burke's creations will be available at Max Brenner's throughout the summer.

Michael Solomonov's Zahav (237 St. James Place), is taking off its fine dining shackles next Thursday and bringing the taste of the Jersey Shore (in a much refined version) to Society Hill.

Taking a page out of Meme chef Dave Katz's invite-your-friends-over-to-cook-something-new dinners, Zahav's menu July 1 will feature a Crab Boil from Lucio Palacio of Xochitl, Ice Cream Sandwiches from Erin O'Shea of Percy Street Barbecue, French Fries from Pierre Calmels of Bibou, Fried Clams from Terry Feury of Fork, Popsicles from Peter Woolsey of Bistro La Minette, Hamburgers from Katz, Pizza from Solomonov and Hot Dogs from John "Chainsaw" Taus and Andrew Wood of Fork.

In keeping with its Shore theme, all the chefs will be wearing mullets, but all will offer a little twist from your standard boardwalk fare. Feury's fried clams, for instance, will be Cape May cherrystones, with Ritz cracker-crumb breading and lemon aioli. Not exactly Friendly's.

"Dave broke the ice," Solomonov said, when he invited a group of chefs over to Meme to create pork dishes. Since Zahav doesn't serve pork, Solomonov found the experience exciting - and communal.

"We have a good time cooking together," he said, noting that competing chefs being willing to work together is "one of the beautiful things about Philly."

Brenner echoed that, saying he tried to get a New York chef to create some dishes for one of his Manhattan restaurants and the idea got bogged down in negotiations.

"This is a competitive enough industry," Solomonov said, "that we don't have to be after each other all the time."

Plus, they get to learn from each other.

"Peter's [Woolsey] work with pastry dough is a joy to watch," said Solomonov, who added he was awed at the Meme dinner by Pierre Calmels pig's foot stuffed with foie gras.

"Working with people you respect so much is a positive thing," he added.

If liquor creations are more to your liking, on Monday at 7 p.m. Oyster House (1516 Sansom St.) will host seven of the city's top mixologists (formerly known as bartenders) who will pour newly-created alcoholic elixirs ($8 each) with a seafaring theme.

Drink mixers will include Katie Loeb and Andy DeGiulio (Oyster House), Preston Eckman (Adsum), Phoebe Esmon (Chick's Café), Al Sotack (Franklin Mortgage & Investment), Christian Gaal (Noble: An American Cookery) and George Costa (Southwark).

The drinks will be announced via Twitter @PHLoysterhouse.

Even national chains are getting into the act, a trend which might have started with Tyler Florence whipping up some dishes for Applebee's.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar (there's one in Radnor, one in Marlton, N.J.) invited Chef Jamie Gwen of Los Angeles and Tampa, Fla.-based James Beard Award winner Chef Jeannie Pierola to create dishes for their summer menu.

Gwen came up with Porcini Rubbed Filet Mignon, a broiled filet dusted with finely ground porcini mushrooms topped with an Italian Gorgonzola cream sauce, atop asparagus spears.

Pierola's Peppercorn Steak is a classic prime New York "Steak au Poivre," but it replaces the traditional rich cream sauce with "F17" steak sauce, made from molasses, honey, orange juice and chipotle peppers and 13 other ingredients.

Starr Restaurants is also getting into the act and they're putting a twist on the twist.

Next Tuesday-Thursday from 6-9:30 p.m., the restaurateur who brought Philadelphia Buddakan, Morimoto, Parc and others, will debut its new Pop-Up Restaurant Series with a visit from Amy Olexy of Talula's Table, the Kennett Square market/restaurant whose $90-plus prix fixe dinners leave foodies salivating.

For this three-night event, to be held at the former Washington Square Restaurant (7th Street, just north of Locust), entrées will be priced in the $20 range.

Seats for the Talula's event are sold out but Starr Restaurants promises there will be at least five more Pop-Ups so check their Twitter and Facebook accounts for details.

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