Philly's insatiable food cognoscenti packed Pier 9 last night to take in the fourth annual Audi FEASTIVAL, a convergence of live performers and close to 80 local bars and restaurants benefitting Fringearts. Here are just a few tidbits I culled from working the well-dressed, well-fed crowd.
Photo by Neal Santos
- From a.m. on, organizers were stressed about the gloomy weather and its threats to the fest's hoppin' outdoor element, including a Federal Donuts tent, step and repeat and the incredible Strange Fruitdance troupe, propped up on poles more than 16 feet up in the air. There was a brief but intense rainstorm early in the evening, and thankfully almost everyone inside managed to stay dry. Exception: the Vernick Food & Drink table, situated under an apparently leaky portion of the Pier 9 roof. For a brief moment, chef/owner Greg Vernick and GM Ryan Mulholland resembled the sad cartoon rock from that Zoloft commercial, but thankfully their friends at the neighboring Morgan's Pier table were able to keep their brandade with peekytoe crab high and dry.
- Speaking of Morgan's Pier, which hosted last night's impromptu after-party: You might be wondering what chef George Sabatino is getting into after the summer destination closes for the season. For right now he's staying in the Avram Hornik fold, helping develop what he calls an "anti-gastropub menu" for the newly reopened Boot & Saddle on South Broad. He also teases that he's locked in a location for a restaurant of his own with cocktail-slinging wife Jennifer. Couldn't get a street address out of him, but it'll be in Center City; 85 seats with a six-seat chef's counter. Target opening month: April 2014. Keep an eye on this guy.
- Lou Boquila, chef of FEASTIVAL co-chair Audrey Claire Taichman's Audrey Claire, repped his Filipino heritage well with an adobo pork belly dish garnished with puffed jasmine rice and garlic puree. Boquila, who also celebrated a birthday yesterday, is one of the only guys in Philly playing with Filipino flavors right now. (Twisted Tail's Leo Forneas is getting it in too.) I've had the great pleasure of collaborating with him on a series of so-themed classes at COOK — check out their blog for some of his recipes.
- The Marigold Kitchen table peddled proper push pops made with peach and foie gras, a dessert treat David "PhilaFoodie" Snyder was particularly keen on. They do offer these at the restaurant, which recently went a anti-a la carte route.
- Nick Elmi of the coming-soon Laurel was set up across the way from his Top Chef: New Orleanscastmate Jason Cichonski's Ela table. He served corned duck rillettes, layered on sweet feuille de brik layers with squiggles of plum vinegar gelee, a good representation of what to expect from his East Passyunk BYOB. "We'll be French, but we want to incorporate American flavors, too," he said.
- Pierre and Charlotte Calmels of Bibou, in attendance as guests, were excited to chat about their second restaurant. The couple's taking over the Art Alliance's Rittenhouse Tavern, last run by Elmi.
- Chris Kearse of Will served one of the evening's most refreshing dishes, a green pea gazpacho topped with verjus foam. This fall, he's bringing back "Tuesday Tastings" at his BYOB — the third Tuesday of each month sees the daring chef riffing on a single seasonal ingredient. For September 17, he's doing a five-course, $55 Jersey corn-themed menu.
-Chatted with Jason Evenchik, owner of Vintage, Time, Bar, Growlers and the new Garage, about his next spot, a restaurant at 914 N. Second in NoLibs. Time's Sean Magee, who's been killing it off 13th Street with a widely varied menu (kung pao bone marrow!), will be transferring to this still-unnamed spot, complete with rooftop garden, set to open in about eight months. The approach will be "really ingredient-driven, showcasing what we are growing year-round and also focusing on the product that we have available to us in Pennsylania," says Magee, who promises spontaneous tasting menus and booze pairings. His current sous chef, Alex Fareri, will take over as Time's exec when he leaves.
- Slinging quadrilateral al taglio slices in their bright-red tees, it was difficult to miss the team from the newly opened Pizzeria Vetri. They've been ripping it over on Callowhill — to the tune of 600 pies a day, apparently.
- It was awesome to see beloved industry vet Anthony Gualtieri, knocked out of commission last year while he was riding his bicycle, back on his feet. He'll be the GM of the fast-approaching Taqueria Feliz, Tim Spinner and Brian Sirhal's new Manayunk restaurant. "I haven't worked in a service in a year," said Gualtieri, one of the most positive guys in the biz. "I'm itching to get back."
- South Philly Tap Room/American Sardine Bar chefs Scott Schroeder and Mark Regan wore matching white prep aprons over black T-shirts in lieu of the standard-issue FEASTIVAL button-up whites. "We can't wear chef's coats," Schroeder explained. "It's hot and we're fat."